Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Guest Post From Rachel, The CHG Gourmet: On Pasta and Improvisation

Have you ever had a day where your insurmountable project is due in 48 hours, and you have about a thousand calls to make, and equally as many errands to run, and you just haven't had the time to food-shop or clean the house (much less yourself), and you keep saying to yourself, "If I can just not sleep until [*flips through calendar*] a week from Saturday, everything'll be fine..."?

(I'm sure a lot of you out there could add, "...and the kids are sick, and I need to get my transmission fixed, and the dog ate something florescent blue--please don't ask how we know." To you fine people, I tip my hat.)

Whatever your circumstances, we've all hit the wall from time to time. I don't know about you, but in these instances, hunger and frugality forces me to break out the dreaded "I" word: improvisation.

Since I'm doing my best not to order out, and Jeff and I are both so swamped that we don't really have time to spend on a grocery store visit, I've been trying to mine the depths of the pantry and overcome my quasi-fear of full-on meal improvisation. So far, so good.

While I wouldn't say my "I"-word recipes are particularly upscale, they've been fast, tasty, satisfying, up to CHG standards, and have somehow enhanced my feeling of resourcefulness. Over the past few days, it's kind of like I've earned my Eagle Scout merit badge for fridge-foraging.

Case in point:

Whole Wheat Penne With Grape Tomatoes, Mushrooms, Navy Beans, and Sausage
Makes 1 entree serving, or two large side servings
[Note: This recipe could be altered in a thousand different ways based on what you've got lying around. Me? I just used what I had on hand, so don't feel beholden to the ingredients list. Experiment, have fun, and don't be afraid of the "I" word! -- Rachel]

3 oz. whole wheat penne (or any non-spaghetti whole wheat pasta)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1/2 cup canned navy beans, drained
1 link Aidells Portobello Mushroom Chicken/Turkey Sausage, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
Several sprays of Pam

1) In a medium pot, cook the pasta in boiling water for about five minutes.

2) Heat a medium-sized pan coated with cooking spray over a medium flame, until hot. Lay the sausage in the pan in one even layer, and cook until the first side browns, about five minutes. Flip to cook the other side until just brown, several minutes more, and remove to a separate bowl.

3) Pour a small amount of pasta water into the sausage pan, and over lowered heat, scrape the fond (that awesome brown gunky residue) off the bottom with a wooden spoon to form a murky brown liquid that just covers the bottom of the pan.
[Note: I know it looks a little gross, but trust me--the flavor it imparts is worth it. - Rachel]

4) Add the tomatoes and mushrooms to the sausage pan, and simmer until softened and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes.

5) In the pasta pot, replace the water with the vegetable broth. Simmer the pasta in the broth until the liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
[Note: If your veggies are starting to dry out, you can add in some of this broth.]

[Other note: The whole wheat penne I use tends to be pretty tough, so even a longer submersion still leaves it pretty al dente. Feel free to adjust times according to your texture preferences. - Rachel, again.]

6) Drain the pasta, and add to the tomato/mushroom mixture. Add the beans and sausage, and cook to warm through, about two minutes. Combine and serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Weight Watchers Points Value and Price per Serving
about 273 calories, about 5.9g fat, Points Value: 9, $2.13

3 oz. whole wheat penne: 270 calories, 2.3g fat, $0.47
1 cup grape tomatoes: 30 calories, 0g fat, $0.75
1 cup mushrooms, sliced: 15 calories, 0.2g fat, $0.45
1/2 cup canned navy beans: 90 calories, 1g fat, $0.23
1 link Aidells Portobello Mushroom Chicken/Turkey Sausage: 140 calories, 8g fat, $1.75
1 cup vegetable broth: 10 calories, 0g fat, $0.16
Several sprays of Pam: negligable calories and fat, $0.02
SINGLE SERVING TOTAL: 555 calories, 11.5g fat, $3.83
DUAL SERVING TOTAL: 277.5 calories, 5.75g fat, $1.92

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