Fresh, Fast and Refreshing: Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad

Fresh, Fast and Refreshing: Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad

You’ve got no idea what to make for dinner, you’re staring at a half-empty refrigerator with a rumbling belly and hungry family to satisfy, but inspiration suddenly strikes! Tomatoes, mozzarella, balsamic and a little pasta? Sounds like time to make a simple, delightful pasta salad. You’ve got everything you need on hand to make a quick bruschetta while pasta bubbles and balsamic vinegar reduces, so dinner will be done in just 10 minutes. With the hot summer definitely upon us, fast and fresh is definitely the way to go!

Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad from Mancktastic!

I cannot stress enough how simple this dish is to make. Do you know how to boil noodles? Can you watch liquid bubble away? Can you quarter cherry tomatoes? Then you, too, can make this delicious pasta salad that’s way better than anything you’d grab at the deli or salad bar. The secret is the depth of flavor the reduced balsamic vinegar imparts into the pasta, combined with the pops of mozzarella and the fresh herbaceousness and brightness of the quick bruschetta. When you use a small pasta, you can create the perfect bite of fresh tomato, tangy coated pasta and chewy mozzarella. If you’re in the mood for even more savory flavors, try oven roasted tomatoes in place of the bruschetta and top with melty broiled mozzarella rounds.

Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad from Mancktastic!

This would be a great side dish for Bruschetta Chicken on a hot summer’s day. I’m also planning to prepare a big batch of this for potluck dish to enjoy with family and friends at the Fourth of July! If I stick it in a big ol’ blue bowl, it’ll be extra patriotic 🙂

Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad from Mancktastic!

Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad

  • 8 ounces mini penne
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ½ cup plus 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 8 ounces fresh ciliegine or other small mozzarella balls, drained
  1. Pour ½ cup of balsamic vinegar into a small pot over medium heat. Allow vinegar to reduce, stirring occasionally, until it coats the back of a spoon (about 5-7 minutes).
  2. Cook and drain pasta to package directions and set aside
  3. While the balsamic vinegar reduces and pasta cooks, combine cherry tomatoes, 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar, olive oil and dried oregano. Stir until all tomatoes are well-coated and place in refrigerator.
  4. Combine pasta and reduced balsamic vinegar, stirring well to coat the pasta. Add tomato mixture and mozzarella balls, stirring to distribute well. Serve topped with additional oregano.

Bruschetta-Caprese Pasta Salad from Mancktastic!

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Melty and Poppy: Creamy Caprese Pasta

Melty and Poppy: Creamy Caprese Pasta

Maybe I had mentally dozed off during our weekly marketing meeting or my mind had wandered off to someplace more interesting than the small talk after we wrapped up the webinar, but my brain suddenly snapped back into focus as soon as I heard it… “caprice salad”. What? I had to ask my boss to repeat himself and explain what he was talking about. “You know, the salad with the tomatoes and mozzarella; a caprice salad.”

Before he’d even finished, I was doubled over in laughter. “Like a Chevy Caprice? I think you mean a Caprese  (ka-pray-zey) salad… and you call yourselves Italian.”

Of course, this is the same man that swears gnocchi is pronounced yonky, so I don’t know what I was expecting.

Creamy Caprese Pasta from Mancktastic!

Ever since that meeting, I can’t help but laugh to myself when I see a menu or recipe with Caprese in it 🙂 This pasta dish’s deliciousness is no laughing matter though! Call it Caprice, Caprese and Catie for all I care, this is a one tasty baked pasta.

Creamy Caprese Pasta from Mancktastic!

Simple spaghetti noodles are coated with a sauce spiked with cream and cheese, tossed with mozzarella balls and grape tomatoes, topped with more of the same and baked until bubbly and delicious. The baked tomatoes are warm, oven-roasted pops of flavors while the melty, gooey cheese melds perfectly with the simple and creamy sauce. Unlike many pasta casseroles that may weigh you down with that carby feeling, this dish stays light and filling at the same time.

Creamy Caprese Pasta from Mancktastic!

Creamy Caprese Pasta

  • 1 pound spaghetti or other thin pasta
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese + more for garnish
  • 4 ounces mozzarella balls
  • 1 pint of grape tomatoes
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Prepare pasta al dente according to directions.
  2. While pasta is cooking, heat tomato sauce over low heat in a large saucepan. Once warm, stir in heavy cream and grated parmesan.
  3. Drain pasta and combine with sauce until well-coated. Add about ¾ of the mozzarella balls and grape tomatoes, stir to combine and pour into a baking dish.
  4. Top the pasta with the remaining tomatoes and mozzarella, adding additional parmesan cheese as a finishing touch.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly.

Enjoy this as a side or a main course; add protein for a heartier dish.

Creamy Caprese Pasta from Mancktastic!

Based on a recipe from How Sweet It Is

Lean, Fresh and Unexpected – Mexican Couscous Bowl

Lean, Fresh and Unexpected – Mexican Couscous Bowl

Generally, I try to avoid dinners completely comprised of cans and boxes. They tend to be full of sodium and questionable ingredients that don’t fill you up in the long run. I’ve found the exception, though, in the quick and fresh Mexican Couscous Bowl! It combines the protein and fiber of couscous and black beans with nutrition of tomatoes and corn, topped with the spice of salsa and melty cheese. It’s super-simple and quick to through together, plus it’s something you can feel good about feeding your family without sacrificing taste!

Mexican Couscous Bowl

  • 1 box garlic couscous
  • 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, with juices
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 quarter of a lime, juiced
  • ½ cup salsa of choice
  • 1 cup mexican blend cheese
  1. Prepare couscous to package directions, then transfer to a large skillet.
  2. Add black beans, tomatoes, corn, salt, lime juice and salsa to the couscous skillet. Turn heat to medium and stir for 3-5 minutes, or until all ingredients are heated through.
  3. Add half of the cheese to skillet and mix until melted through.
  4. Divide couscous among bowls and top with remaining cheese.

Mexican Cous Cous

This unexpected flavor and cuisine combo is a real winner! The Mexican flavors work very well with the small couscous pearls, creating a hearty dish that will fill you up with healthy protein and veggies. Feel free to replace the frozen and canned components with fresh equivalents!

Click here to download a PDF of this recipe!

Based on recipes from Annie’s Eats

Bruschetta Chicken

Bruschetta Chicken

Every time I turn around it seems like my friends and family in the North are getting blasted with snow and cold this winter. While it might not be inclement in Houston, we are dealing with some strong, cold winds that make nighttime lacrosse games a little less than comfortable. But it’s March! We need to start believing in seasonal change so it comes to us.

Let’s start with a fresh and delicious dinner that evokes Springtime in your mouth with fresh cherry tomatoes and a delicious balsamic reduction! This recipe starts with a quick and easy homemade bruschetta which is tossed atop grilled chicken breasts for that outdoor cooking feel, then finished in the oven with melty mozzarella and a sweet/savory balsamic glaze. Just close your eyes and pretend you’re enjoying this fresh and tasty dish on your back porch while a cool Spring breeze washes over you : )

Bruschetta Chicken

  • 10 ounces cherry tomatoes
  • 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 4 ounces mozzarella medallions
  1. Set oven to broil and move oven rack to the top position.
  2. Cut the cherry tomatoes into quarters. Combine quartered tomatoes, 1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.
  3. Pour 1 cup balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan then bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium then simmer and reduce until vinegar is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 10 minutes.
  4. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and cook on a grill pan until cooked through, flipping halfway through. Transfer chicken to casserole dish, then top with bruschetta and 1 ounce of mozzarella medallions each.
  5. Broil until cheese has melted then drizzle with the balsamic vinegar reduction.

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This is a fresh and flavorful dish, combining pops of fresh tomato, the tang and sweetness of balsamic vinegar and the luciousness of melty mozzarella cheese, all on top of a lean and delicious grilled chicken breast. It’s great for days when you’re longing for Spring in the middle of winter or a hot summer’s afternoon.

Based on recipes from Iowa Girl EatsOur Best Bites

Click here to download a PDF of this recipe!

Venison Ragu

Venison Ragu

As you know, yesterday Bill and I’s third dating anniversary! Since it was such a special occasion and our first regular night at home in more than a week, I decided we needed an extra special dinner in honor of the special day : ) One of Bill’s fellow lacrosse coaches had kindly gifted us with some ground venison from a hunt he’d been on last year, so I decided that it was the perfect base for a fancy dinner treat!

This recipe combines the rich flavors of lean venison, red wine, and beef stock along with the fresh brightness of tomatoes and spinach to create a delicious ragu sauce that envelops and compliments the hearty rigatoni pasta. It was cold and rainy last night, so this was the perfect meal for both celebration and comfort.

I hope that your family can enjoy this tasty and uncommon dinner soon!

Venison Ragu

  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound ground venison
  • 3 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3 ounce can, tomato sauce
  • 2¼ cups beef stock
  • ½ cup red wine
  • ½ Tablespoon sage
  • ½ Tablespoon oregano
  • ½ Tablespoon parsley
  • 1 ½ teaspoon brown sugar
  • 28 ounces diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups frozen spinach
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • Reggiano cheese for garnish
  1. Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat in a deep saute pan and brown venison till cooked through. Remove browned venison and set aside.
  2. In the same pan, add the remaining olive oil and garlic, sauteeing for about 3 minutes, or until fragrant. Add tomato sauce, beef stock, and wine, and stir well to combine. Bring to a boil.
  3. Add tomatoes, spinach, sage, oregano, parsley, and brown sugar to the sauce mixture. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer while you cook the pasta to the package directions. Drain pasta and set aside.
  4. Combine 3 Tablespoons flour with the cooked venison and mix well so the flour coats the meat. Return the browned venison with the flour to the pan and stir. Simmer for another 5 to 10 minutes until thickened.
  5. Add pasta to the saute pan and combine with the sauce. Top with Reggiano.

 

8494381765_2caac72dd0_zRed wine and beef stock combine to create a great depth of flavor with the tomatoes and spinach! If you don’t have easy access to vension, you could easily swap it out for lean ground beef.
Based on recipe from In Sock Monkey Slippers

Click here to download a PDF of this recipe!

White Wine Chicken Skillet

White Wine Chicken Skillet

As I said on Monday, we had our lovely neighbor Keri over for dinner Sunday night. Dinner in our apartment is, by necessity, a casual affair; we don’t have a dining table yet and Bueller doesn’t have good manners when it comes to begging/getting in your dinner business. So, when Keri comes over, I throw together something we can enjoy while sitting on the couch (along with a dessert like the Peanut Butter Crispies from earlier this week).

This week’s dinner was a tasty pasta skillet inspired by a recipe from Iowa Girl Eats, but adapted to meet what we were craving and had in the kitchen. Frozen corn joined little pasta, along with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and a white wine sauce we doctored up with our favorite herbes de Provence and some thickening flour. When it all came together, we had a delicious dish on our hands that Keri and I both took for lunch the next day! This recipe can really take any veggies or protein you throw at it to your tastes; try spinach, peas or even asparagus in it and you’d have something yummy on your hands : )

White Wine Chicken Skillet

  • 3 cups orchiette pasta
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 4  boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons minced garlic
  • ¾ cup white wine
  • ¾ cup chicken broth or water
  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1 Tablespoon herbes de Provence
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ cup feta cheese
  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, adding frozen corn to water for the last 5 minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cut chicken into bite-size pieces and season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat butter and olive oil on high in a large skillet until melted and combined. Add chicken pieces to the skillet and brown on all sides until done. Set chicken aside.
  3. Reduce heat on the skillet to medium, add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, making sure to not let the garlic burn. Add the water/broth and wine, stirring to get all the good bits off the pan. Cook until reduced by about half, then add flour and herbes de Provence, stirring well so no lumps form.
  4. Turn off the heat, then add the cooked pasta, corn and chicken, plus the tomatoes and feta to the skillet and toss until well-coated.

The corn, tomatoes and feta give this pasta a fresh kick, even in the middle of winter. With protein from the chicken, grains in the pasta, two vegetables and dairy in the cheese, this is a nutritionally well-balanced meal to enjoy!

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Click here to download a PDF of this recipe!