(Special thanks to Clayton, who came up with that awesome, recipe specific graphic for today’s column. Clayton, you’re awesome.)
Welcome to Don’t Shoot the Food, a semi-regular series where I combine my love of gaming with my love of cooking and eating.
I was tremendously lucky to have a mom that not only encouraged me to cook but let me run hog wild in the kitchen so that I could become comfortable cooking. Cooking can be a scary thing, not from a safety perspective but from a failure perspective. I mean, what could be worse than making a meal for people and your meal ends up sucking out? Well, lots of things, but it certainly doesn’t feel like that when you see that your hour and a half of cooking has resulted in something inedible. So this week’s Don’t Shoot the Food is for all of you scared cooks out there. This is a meal that’s very hard to screw up, looks great and tastes awesome. Take my hand. Let’s do this.
Years ago my sister came to visit and she brought with her this recipe that she couldn’t stop raving about. She wanted me to make it for dinner one night because it was the best thing she’d ever had. I looked at it and it was a photocopy from where, I don’t know, of a recipe for Pumpkin Chorizo Ravioli in Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce. Now, my sister was a vegetarian and not a Barnes MacGyver, make a steak out of a squash vegetarian so chorizo was definitely off the menu. Second, no one in my house was going to eat anything with pumpkin in it, so that was off the menu and third, the ravioli was hand made, something neither I nor my sister knew how to do. So I asked her about all of this and she told me that she doesn’t make the pasta, she just makes the sauce. This, my friends, is why it’s important to communicate, because had I slaved over making hand made ravioli filled with stuff no one was going to eat, I’d a been pissed. Instead of the ravioli, she used cheese tortellini, which, as substitutions go, was pretty far off base, but tortellini was far more convenient and totally meat free. Armed with this knowledge, I made the dish and hot damn if it wasn’t just plain awesome. Since then, it has become a staple at my house and quickly became one of my wife’s favorite meals.
The joy of this meal is that it’s easy, so you can make it after a tough day at the office or school or whatever. It’s meat free, so it works for your mixed diet friends. It has a really nice presentation so you can look like you know your way around a kitchen and finally, it tastes great. As a dish to help usher in a new era of cooking confidence, it’s a winner. With that being said, let’s get to it.
Cheese Tortellini With Roasted Red Pepper Cream Sauce
Makes four generously large portions with plenty for leftovers
You will need a blender for this one, so clean out all of the margarita gunk before getting started.
1. One 9 oz and one 20 oz package fresh cheese tortellini – We use the Buitoni brand. It comes in a green package in the fresh pasta section, usually over by the cheeses and yogurts. It’s a little pricey but it tastes good and I’m not a fan of dried tortellini. I have made this before with just a 20 oz package but I find having more pasta helps the sauce coat more evenly and there’s more to eat later.
2. One 7 oz jar of roasted red peppers in brine – Do not get peppers that are in olive oil as they make the dish taste funky. I used to be able to buy 7oz jars, now all I can get is 12 oz or 16 oz jars. Very upsetting. What I do is get a 16 oz jar, use half of it and then freeze the other half in a Ziploc freezer bag. Waste not, want not.
3. 1/4 cup chopped onion – To make things even easier, use frozen onions and just thaw them under cold, running water. When I make this dish, if I’m using frozen onion, I double the amount due the fact that the frozen onions seem to be much smaller, in volume, than the fresh ones. So, if you go the frozen route, use a 1/2 cup, thaw it out and drain well.
4. 1 cup heavy cream
5. 1 tsp dried basil
6. 1/2 tsp black pepper
7. Chopped walnuts for garnish
8. Shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish
1. Get a very large stock pot, fill it with water and get it boiling. You need enough water for all of the pasta but don’t fill it up too much. When the pasta cooks, it will swell up and make kind of a barrier that hides the roiling, tumultuous water underneath. Sometimes that water busts through and spills all over the counter. Not pretty. You want to leave a good four or five inches of empty pot at the top.
2. While the water is coming to a boil, take the peppers with their liquid, and the onions and combine them in a small saucepan. Put the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer the pepper and onion mixture for five minutes.
3. By now your water should be boiling so add all of the pasta. When the aforementioned pasta barrier appears, periodically take a spoon and push the pasta at the top of the pan down so that it gets cooked in the water. Cook the pasta for as long as the directions say. Shouldn’t be long. Maybe nine or ten minutes.
4. Once your peppers and onions have simmered enough, remove it from the heat and pour all of it into a blender. I have a handheld blender I use for this and it does an awesome job. Blend the mixture until smooth, but not completely liquid. You don’t want any discernible chunks but it shouldn’t be like water either.
5. Pour the blended mixture back into the saucepan and add the heavy cream, basil and pepper. Stir well to combine.
6. If the pasta is still cooking, put the sauce on very low heat, as low as you can, just to keep it warm.
7. Once the pasta has cooked completely, pour it into a colander and drain it well. Once it is drained, pour it back into the stockpot.
8. Pour the sauce into the stockpot with the pasta and mix well. Make sure every glorious pasta nugget gets coated with sauce.
9. Now here comes the fancy part. Spoon some of the pasta on to a plate and garnish it with chopped walnuts and the shredded Parmesan. You can garnish it with some fresh basil of you like, but I usually don’t have any on hand so I don’t. Look how pretty that is!
Serve right away and enjoy. Now, wasn’t that easy? Crisis averted.
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