Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

It’s been a while. Before I start, I want to point out that there’s the slightly new & more streamlined format for The Picky Gourmet posts. It’s gonna go like: short introduction to quell the general online jokes about bloggers talking too much when people just want the food (ha), the coveted recipe itself, followed by any suggestions or possible substitutions, & finally all the process photos are at the end for the visual learners.

OK, the elephant in the room here is that my big return to blog recipes happens to be right when grocery stores are the last place most people want to be. I hope everyone out there is staying safe, washing hands & keeping calm during this time while we are all trying to deal with this virus.

The good news is, this recipe happens to use a lot of ingredients you might already have on hand. Well, as long as you didn’t blow your whole grocery budget on toilet paper. Surprisingly, for a dish that is full of fresh, herbaceous flavor, the only things you actually need from produce are an onion & garlic (which I feel like most people have laying around anyway). Everything else is a pantry pull!

So let’s fire up the oven, hunker down with a glass of wine & make a…

Spinach & Artichoke Pasta Bake

  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1/2 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 16 oz whole grain rotini pasta
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 8 oz frozen spinach, thawed & drained of excess moisture
  • 6 oz jarred artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated pecorino cheese
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Peel off the “paper” of the garlic, chop off the top & place it on a piece of tin foil. Drizzle the garlic with olive oil & close the foil around it. Roast for 45-50 minutes. Let it cool & squeeze the roasted garlic into a small bowl & mash with a fork. (Here is a quick little video from The Kitchn if you have never done this before & are unsure).
  2. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, cook the diced onion in a Tbsp of olive oil over medium heat, about 5-7 minutes until they become translucent & develop a golden brown color. Set aside to cool.
  3. At the same time, you can also cook your pasta on the stovetop as well. Cook about 1 minute less than package instructions. Once it’s done, drain the water & season the pasta with a touch of olive oil, half of the dried basil & oregano (1/2 Tbsp of each) & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  4. Bring the oven down to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, cooked onions & spinach. Add in the roasted garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, half of the parmesan & pecorino cheeses (1/4 cup each), with the crushed red pepper, the rest of the dried basil & oregano, & a pinch of salt & pepper.
  5. Gently fold the pasta into the ricotta cheese mixture until well incorporated. Transfer to a 9×13 baking dish & top with the mozzarella cheese & the remaining parmesan & pecorino.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown & bubbly. A minute under the broiler can help develop color at the end, but keep an eye on it.

Suggestions & Substitutions: obviously any pasta can be used here, as long as it isn’t a long noodle like spaghetti. Ziti, penne, cavatappi, anything like that would be great. I like using the whole grain here, because there’s so much flavor & cheese, why not sneak in a little extra fiber in there? Since this is a vegetarian recipe, protein infused pasta would be another great choice.

The key with these specific pantry ingredients is taking away the excess moisture. Obviously, frozen spinach needs to be thawed & have all that water squeezed out of it. I used the sun-dried tomatoes that come in a packet, but if you already have the jarred/oil-packed kind, just dab them with a paper towel. The tomatoes & artichoke hearts (which I always buy in a jar) don’t have to be bone dry, but just enough to avoid too much oil in the mixture.

While this makes a great meatless Monday or vegetarian dinner, if you want some added protein, throw some cubed rotisserie chicken in there or even some crumbled sausage. And if you want to cut back on the cheese, you could skip the top layer of mozzarella. (I mean, I wouldn’t, but no judgement.)

And a final note on the cheese. I personally love the funky, strong flavor that pecorino adds to the dish. If you don’t have pecorino cheese or don’t feel like spending the extra money, you can use all parmesan. I just beg you to grate it yourself instead of using the green tube can.

And that’s that! Stay healthy, stay safe & keep cooking.






Easy Pumpkin Ravioli in Brown Butter

First off, I hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday. We had a really low-key Halloween, drinking pumpkin beers, watching Hocus Pocus (which gave me a great costume idea for next year… yes, already planning it) and handing out candy. It didn’t stop me from dressing up in my cozy corgi onesie costume though!


The trick or treaters loved being greeted by two pups at the door

Next order of business is my kitchen is finally, finally, FINALLY finished! If you follow me on Instagram and check out my stories, you already saw it, but here’s the big reveal for the second time!


Before & after


Insert heart-eye emoji

If you don’t follow me on Instagram, you should. I’ve been working with a lot of cool companies and brands and expanding my influencer status lately. I always seem to have a fun promotion and codes for you to save $$$ on things I love.

OK, enough of that business. Let’s get down to the other business. It’s November now, and Halloween is over, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on pumpkins! After all those holiday sweets though, I decided to whip up a light, savory pumpkin dish… then drown it in brown butter.

  • 8oz pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • 8oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 24 frozen wonton wrappers
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh sage
  • freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  1. Mix together the pumpkin, ricotta, garlic powder, sage, thyme, cinnamon & 1 egg with a pinch of salt & pepper in a bowl.
  2. Lay out half of your thawed wonton wrappers on a clean, dry surface. Create an egg wash in a small bowl by whisking together remaining egg and about 2 tsp of water.
  3. Place 1 tsp of the pumpkin/ricotta mixture in the middle of each wrapper. Brush the egg wash around the edges & use the other half of the wonton wrappers to top the 12 raviolis.

    Gently push all the air out & seal them. *At this point, you can place them on a parchment lined sheet tray to freeze them. You will have plenty of filling left to make a big batch to save.
  4. To make the brown butter sauce, melt the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat, constantly stirring. If you let the fat of butter settle on the bottom, it will burn. Once it becomes light brown (about 4-5 minutes of cooking), remove it from the heat & add the minced garlic & sage, still stirring to keep it moving. Carefully transfer to glass measuring cup or bowl to stop it from continuing to cook in the hot pan.
  5. To cook the ravioli, bring heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the ravioli 3-4 at a time without crowding the pot, for about 3 minutes, until they are tender. Use a slotted spoon to remove gently them from the water. (They are delicate)
  6. Serve with a generous drizzle of the brown butter & the grated parmesan to your liking.

It’s nutty, it’s sweet, it’s savory, it’s light, but also buttery and indulgent… It’s a perfect fall meal.

I’ll be honest. I originally tried to make my own pasta dough and do more a traditional ravioli, but I don’t have a pasta sheeter (yet) and I couldn’t get it as thin as I needed. They were OK, but eh, just OK. There’s also something oddly more elegant about how the wonton raviolis look, so I think it’s a win-win: easier & prettier.


Right out of a fancy restaurant… or not.

Using the wonton wrappers is a huge shortcut. It makes it so easy to crank these guys out like an assembly line. Like I said before, you will have plenty of leftover filling if you want to make more than 12. I suggest 3 raviolis for an appetizer serving, or 6 for the main dish of a meal. If you have a bigger family and want to make more than that at one time, double up on the brown butter recipe.

I think making a bunch of these and freezing them before Thanksgiving would be a great plan for an unexpected appetizer. If you don’t want a bunch of pumpkin ravioli in your freezer, save the mixture and add it to a marinara sauce for a surprising autumn twist on spaghetti night or use it in a pumpkin lasagna with some alfredo sauce. Pretty much anywhere you would use ricotta, you can use this for instant fall flavor.


You can keep the leftover filling for a couple weeks in the fridge

For most of my life, I thought pumpkins were just for Jack-o-lanterns and pie. I think a lot of people only really encounter pumpkin in sweeter dishes & desserts, so this is a fun twist on an otherwise ordinary pasta dish. Obviously, you can fill those wontons with any kind of filling you like… cheese, spinach, meat, whatever you’re into. It’s insanely easy to make them this way, so go crazy. I have big plans for the rest of my wrappers.

What do you think? Have you ever tried pumpkin ravioli? Would you want to? If you try out this recipe, I think the outcome will surprise you. Give it a shot, while I get back to work on another fall recipe!

Spicy Cajun Pasta Bake

Wow! Time has been flying. I can’t believe summer is right around the corner. I mean, it is kind of hard to tell in California sometimes, since it’s pretty much always 70 and sunny where I am. (Not complaining!)

While my husband was on deployment, I dropped twenty-something pounds. I did it by exercising consistently and eating small, healthy meals during the week. But this isn’t a fitness blog, I still hate working out with a passion and I’m not going to start polluting your newsfeed with inspirational quotes over sunsets and pictures of salads.

You came here for the weekend food. The cheat day food. Because, come on, you can’t expect me to count calories on Saturday and Sundays! I need cheese, people.

If you have followed me for a while, you know I also love spicy food. If it’s something I share on the blog, I always make sure to have a toned down version for those who aren’t fans. Well, this time, there’s no mild option. There’s no healthy option.

This is my spicy cajun pasta bake.


“I’m not sorry.” -Beyonce

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper
  • 1 white onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  •  oz box of penne pasta
  • 4 oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 8 oz shredded colby jack cheese
  • 2-4 oz blue cheese crumbles
  • green onion, cilantro or parsley to garnish (optional)
  1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the garlic, red pepper and onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring often. Add the bell pepper, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes while stirring, until veggies are slightly tender. Strain out excess liquid and set aside.
  2. Cook pasta to package directions, until al dente. Strain out the water and return pasta to the the pot. While warm, add the cream cheese (preferably room temperature) and cover.
  3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Once the cream cheese has melted enough to be easily stirred, mix in the partially cooked onions and peppers, hot sauce, cayenne, paprika, oregano, basil and 6 oz of the shredded colby jack cheese.
  4. Transfer to a greased 13×9 pan and top with the remaining colby jack and blue cheese, to your liking. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve garnished with chopped green onion, cilantro or parsley if you choose.

I mean, it DOES have vegetables. And green stuff.


So healthy, until smothered in cheese.

This recipe started out going down the road of a buffalo chicken mac and cheese, but then I passed by the produce section and that idea was out. I did keep a nod to the original plan by keeping the blue cheese crumbles in the mix.

Alright, I may have gotten away from myself that there’s no way to tone this down. Cut out the cayenne and pepper flakes if you want, maybe add a little extra garlic instead. You are an adult (I assume), so cook what you like!

This is a great meal to make at the beginning of the week if you want leftovers for a few days or to feed a crowd. There is nothing light about this pasta, so pace yourself!

What are your biggest cheat day cravings? Let me know, or send me a pic if you make this or any of my recipes! I’ll be back in a couple weeks with something new to kick off summer!

Chicken Parmesan Perfection

Every now and again, I have to give you something simple and classic. I share some creative recipes, but let’s be real. I don’t cook like that every night, it would be exhausting. So today I’m sharing my original go-to.

Chicken Parmesan is one of those recipes that everyone should have under their belt. It’s a family dinner favorite and easy to make. Actually, it was one of the first real meals I taught myself to make back in college. Of course, back then, my signature dish included Shake & Bake, breadsticks out of the freezer section and a severe lack of seasoning.


Photo taken with a potato quality phone circa Sept 2006. My sad first attempt at chicken parmesan. Thank you roommate and boyfriend (who is now my husband) for choking this down.

Thankfully, things have changed.

Now don’t get me wrong, if you don’t have a lot of time, there’s nothing wrong with using some supermarket shortcuts for chicken parm. That’s why everyone has their own way of making it. No matter how much or how little time you want to devote to cooking, anything covered in sauce and cheese is going to be satisfying.

For this recipe, I’m just going to explain how to make the chicken. I feel like at this point, I don’t need to tell you how to boil and sauce a side of pasta, or put together a salad. Both of those things are great accompaniments, but really you can make whatever you like.

Now I have the urge to toast up some bulkie rolls and make chicken parm sandwiches… hmmmm.


Ready to go in the oven!

  • 3 large boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried organo
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup italian breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups marinara sauce
  • 6 slices of fresh mozzarella
  1. Lay the chicken breasts flat and carefully cut them horizontally in half, creating two wide, thin pieces. Cover in a sheet of plastic wrap and pound the chicken out to an even thickness. Remove plastic and season with salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion and oregano.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat to 350 degrees. In a bowl, beat the eggs. In a separate bowl, combine italian breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs and parmesan. Dip chicken into eggs and then into breadcrumb mixture, coating well.
  3. Carefully lay in the chicken breasts, two at a time, as to not crowd the pan. Fry for about a minute on each side, until they begin to turn golden brown. Set aside onto paper towels and a wire rack to drain excess oil.
  4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees while the chicken cools slightly. Thinly spread a couple spoonfuls of marinara sauce over the bottom of a pan, that’s preferably lined with foil. Place the chicken directly on the sauce and spoon more marinara over the cutlets, covering the top. Place a generous slice of mozzarella on the center of each piece.
  5. Cook for about 12 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and cheese is fully melted. Broil on low for an additional 2 minutes to achieve a browning effect on the mozzarella. Serve immediately with you choice of side.

I know some people get freaked out by the frying step. It’s not a big deal, and trust me, it makes all the difference. It instantly crisps the outside, locking in the juices and flavor.


Fresh out of the oil, looking gorgeous

Another place I don’t think you should skimp out on is the cheese. Using fresh mozzarella instead of the shredded kind is night and day. Shredded cheese generally has chemicals on it to keep it from clumping (hence that waxy feeling). It also keeps it from melting the way it should. Fresh mozzarella will literally envelop the the chicken, in beautiful, creamy, melty goodness.


Cheese, glorious cheese

My breading mixture is a little odd, but after many trials, this is the combination I like best. The italian crumbs add the seasoning and flavor you want, the panko adds texture and the parmesan, well, that makes it chicken parmesan.

The shortcut here is sauce. There are plenty of great tasting, organic pasta sauces out there. I would recommend something with a thicker consistency, so go for something labeled homestyle or chunky. I also opted for a sauce with roasted garlic, but anything will do.

Sometimes if I have extra ingredients laying around that I need to use or lose, I enhance a store-bought marinara. I’ll mix in some fresh chopped basil, roasted red peppers or sauteed onions. It’s not a necessary step, but it’s a good way to use up produce if you have it.

This is a great beginner recipe to start with if you are looking to get into cooking. It’s right where I began. But you can choose to take my advice, based on years of guess work. This chicken parmesan tastes like one you would get in a restaurant. I promise!

I’ll be back in two weeks with a fun new recipe that would be the star of any brunch. Until then, let me know if you try out this dish or any of the other Picky Gourmet recipes. I love to hear from you!

Recipe Redux: Healthy Pasta

I’m rounding out this block of recipe redux posts with a look back on a couple of posts from last January when I began exploring healthier ideas to pasta dishes. I love pasta. A lot. I could eat it all the time, but sometimes it’s nice to take a lighter approach.

You can check out my past posts: healthy alternatives to pasta and a recipe for shrimp and zucchini noodles.”

It’s funny, I’m seeing a trend among some of my friends that since the spouses all deployed a few weeks ago, everyone is starting up diets. It makes sense though. It’s easier to eat better when you are just cooking for yourself. Also, I feel like the last month or so my husband was around we were making the most of our time together, which included dining out and a few overindulgent nights of drinking and fun. Even outside my little circle, diets seem to be big right now with the holiday season coming up fast. Everyone is trying to drop a couple pounds before its time for turkey, pie and all that good stuff.

This week I played around with spaghetti squash and zucchini noodles. Let’s talk about the differences. Both are great alternatives to pasta, and low in calories. A cup of the squash is around 40 calories and a medium zucchini has around 30. I wouldn’t recommend saving and storing any cooked squash for the next day, but zucchini noodles can be made ahead of time and stored for a couple days in the fridge. As for taste and texture, both really take on the flavor of what ever other ingredients or sauces you use to dress them up. Squash has more of an aroma to it though. I look at them essentially as angel hair (squash) versus fettuccine (zucchini). You can’t go wrong with either.

Spaghetti squash doesn’t take much more than a knife and a fork to prepare. Poke a couple small holes into the squash and microwave it for about 4 minutes to make it easier to cut in half. It made it much easier. Then I removed the seeds and roasted the squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and italian seasoning for 45 minutes at 400 degrees. Zucchini on the other hand will require some kind of spiralizer, unless you want to cut it into small strips by hand.

I use zucchini noodles a lot. Spaghetti squash not so much. I have a couple friends who swear by it though, so for my first go with it, I used my old recipe.

I just replaced the zucchini noodles and added a little baby spinach into the mix. It was really good, but texturally I think I am more of a zucchini noodle kind of girl. But I look forward to trying so more recipes, maybe something with a heartier sauce or that uses the oven.

A couple days later I decided to flip the script. I made zucchini noodles and swapped shrimp for some sea scallops. I like to cook my scallops, seasoned with salt and pepper, in a small skillet. I melt a little butter with some garlic and fresh herbs like sage, basil or rosemary (whatever I have on hand) to sauté them in, just a couple minutes on each side until they turn a light golden brown.

For the zucchini noodles, I sautéed them in a separate skillet with a little olive oil, minced garlic, salt and pepper. After a couple minutes, when they start to become tender, I toss the noodles with a basil pesto sauce. If you can manage both skillets at the same time, this dish only takes about 5 minutes to put together, and it looks and tastes like something from a restaurant.

I apologize for the lack of an exact recipe to follow here, but that’s kind of the point. Both of these veggie noodles are easily added to your favorite pasta recipe. Keep it simple and use them with marinara sauce and meatballs, or alfredo sauce and grilled chicken. They are extremely adaptable, so don’t over think it. Also, since they are so much healthier than regular pasta, you won’t feel guilty about a little extra parmesan cheese on top.

I hope you liked looking back at some of my past posts with me. I plan on doing some more of these sporadically in the future, but next up will definitely be a brand new recipe for you all… I just have to to get back into my kitchen and figure out what it’s going to be!

Homemade Pasta with Chicken & Summer Vegetables

It’s been a little while since my last post! Summer is in full swing which is great, but it’s a little bittersweet. My husband is getting ready to deploy overseas again in the near future, hence my lack of posts. I’ve been trying to focus on spending time with him and some of our friends who are also heading out to new assignments.

I’ve still been cooking, but I’ve been playing it safe, using lots of recipes I have already posted and cluld make with my eyes closed. But then a wonderful thing happened, and my creativity was restored. If you follow me on Instagram (which you should, 4500+ followers get access to almost daily posts and tips from me there), you may have already seen: I finally got my pasta press for my KitchenAid mixer!

I set it up the second the FedEx man handed me the box. My first go was good, the dough was a little dry, but it cooked up beautifully. I made bucatini and started simple, using it in cacio e pepe. I was instantly hooked once I took that first bite and the fresh pasta practically melted in my mouth.


Cacio e pepe, with some pan-seared scallops on the side

Today I have a slightly more involved recipe that I came up with for my homemade pasta. It’s a light and colorful summertime meal using some of my favorite vegetables. And of course, you can use whatever pasta you want, fresh or boxed. No judgements here!

Yields 4-6 servings

  • 16 oz rigatoni
  • 4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, halved & sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 summer squash, halved & sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 4 oz asparagus spears, cut to 1″pieces
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 2 tsp dried thyme leaves
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 Tbsp garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino romano cheese, plus extra for garnish
  • salt & pepper to season
  1. Cook pasta to al dente texture and set aside, reserving the pasta water.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place veggies in a single, even layer in a 9×13 baking pan. Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and season with thyme, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir to coat.
  3. Heat the other 2 Tbsp of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium heat. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes, turning once or twice, until they are opaque and slightly underdone. Add the chicken to the pan with the veggies and roast all together in the oven for 15 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, reduce the heat on the stovetop to low and add the shallot, garlic and butter to the remaining oil in the skillet or wok. Once the butter has melted and become fragrant, add the chicken broth, white wine vinegar and lemon juice. Bring the heat up to medium until it reaches a low boil.
  5. Reduce the heat to low and let it simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the parmesan reggiano cheese and cook for 2-3 more minutes, stirring constantly until it’s melted and well incorporated. (If you prefer to thicken the sauce a little more, add the reserved pasta water a Tbsp at a time until you reach your desired consistency.)
  6. With the heat still on low, add the al dente pasta to the sauce and toss to coat. If there is room in the pan, add the chicken and vegetables. If you have to, toss everything together in a large serving bowl. Serve immediately, with (optional) extra pecorino romano sprinkled on top.

I think pasta dishes in a light sauce are great for a summer meal on the porch. This meal is hearty and filling, but is fairly guilt free. There’s very little butter and cheese when you think about it spread out over 4-6 servings. You could always skip the chicken or substitute it with something like mushrooms if you prefer a vegetarian meal. Trust me, this recipe makes a lot of food that could easily feed a family, or provide you with a quick lunch for the next day (or two!).


Use red, orange & yellow tomatoes for even more color

This is not a pasta recipe that relies on the sauce to be the star. Instead, everything works together to enhance the flavor of the vegetables. It just tastes fresh.

Also, if you don’t have pecorino romano cheese, Parmesan would work as well. Pecorino romano has a slightly stronger, saltier taste in my opinion, but they both work in the sauce and as a garnish. I actually just happened to have fresh pecorino romano left over from the cacio e pepe I made, as that is the cheese traditionally used in that dish.

As for the homemade pasta, I followed the standard recipe of 2 cups flour, 3 eggs and a pinch of salt. Make sure to wrap up the dough and let it rest for at least a half hour. Other than that, my KitchenAid does the rest of the work for me! But again, any kind of pasta you want to make or buy is totally fine. I like rigatoni for this recipe, because the noodles were a similar size to the rest of the ingredients, and I like that uniform look.


Rigatoni straight from the pasta press, waiting to be boiling

Is anyone else a fan of homemade pasta? If so, what is you favorite dish to make with it? I mean, I feel like it would be a challenge to find a recipe with fresh pasta that isn’t amazing, but I’d love some more ideas so I can keep experimenting!

As we roll into the last month of summer, I hope you are all finding time to get outside and enjoy yourselves! Until next time, have fun and eat well.

Fettuccine Alfredo with Chicken & Spinach

OK friends, it’s going to be a short and sweet recipe post today. I have a busy week with a guest coming to town and then I’ll be spending the holiday weekend in Las Vegas (woo hoo!). When I know I’m leaving town, I don’t like to go grocery shopping and end up with a bunch of food I can’t make in time. Instead I like to clean out the fridge and use food that would otherwise be bad when I return from my trip. I had heavy cream, spinach and fresh rosemary on hand which was screaming to me “fettuccine alfredo!”

Pasta always lends itself to a quick and easy meal. I don’t like to use jarred sauces though. Homemade just tastes so much better. I love making alfredo sauce because it uses only a few pretty standard pantry items that I always have around, like butter and grated parmesan cheese. I also literally always have pasta in the cupboard. I’ve tried a lot of combinations and it took quite a while to figure what I think is my perfect alfredo sauce recipe. I had it down, but then yesterday, I think I made it even better. The addition of spinach and rosemary that I needed to use or lose took it to a new level.

Yields two (big!) servings.

  • 8 oz fettuccine
  • 2 Tbsp canola or vegetable oil
  • 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt & pepper for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup chopped spinach
  • 2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp lemon pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  1. Cook pasta until al dente and set aside. You can do this ahead of time or while you are making the sauce.
  2. Heat canola oil in a medium sauce pan over medium heat. Season both sides of the chicken with garlic powder and a pinch of salt & pepper. Cook chicken for 8-10 minutes, turning once, until cooked through. (If you have to cut it in half to fit into the pan, do so. You want to use a pan you can make sauce in, so avoid a skillet.) Remove from heat, slice into bite size pieces and set aside.
  3. Leave the oil and brown bits in the pan and add the butter. Let it melt over medium-low heat and use a metal spoon or spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan. Add the chopped spinach and rosemary and stir for a minute until the spinach starts to wilt.
  4. Add cream, garlic, lemon pepper & salt. Let it come to a low boil, then reduce heat. Simmer for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce starts to thicken.
  5. Add the parmesan while on low heat, then bring it to medium. Stir continuously for about 2 minutes until the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat, return the chicken to the sauce, then the pasta, and toss until well incorporated. Serve immediately.

If you can’t fit all the chicken and pasta in the sauce pan, you can pour the sauce over everything in your drained pasta pot. I just prefer only getting one pot all sauced up.

My husband wasn’t too excited about the spinach at first, but with all that creamy, cheesy sauce, he was happy in the end. The spinach adds a nice little texture to the dish, and it’s a simple way to get some extra greens in. It almost makes fettucine alfredo a health food! (A girl can dream…)

The biggest secret for my recipe is using the same pan for the chicken and the sauce. All those brown bits and juices that get incorporated into the butter as the base of the sauce create so much flavor. Between that and the rosemary, the finished dish actually has a faint scent of a whole roasted chicken. I feel like a lot of restaurants just throw in bland, unseasoned chicken in with their pasta and hope the sauce covers it up. My way has everything working together, and it’s pretty darn tasty. My wary husband actually said this was the best fettucine alfredo I had ever made.


Ready for the close up

Like I said in the recipe, this makes two big bowls. For a table of 3 or 4 people, you could actually just add a second chicken breast to bulk it up a bit, then serve this in smaller portions with a salad and garlic bread. Feel free to double up the recipe if you have a big family, just know that this isn’t great for leftovers, so I try not to make more than I need at a time. You can absolutely save it, it will be fine, but fettucine alfredo is always best right off of the stove because the sauce separates over time and loses its creamy texture.

Let me know if you try out this, or any other Picky Gourmet recipes. I love seeing pictures and getting feedback! I hope everyone has a great 4th of July weekend. I know I will. Make sure to follow me on Instagram & Twitter to see my foodie adventures in Vegas!

Ravioli Zucchini Casserole

I really had a hard time naming this one. I toyed with calling it shortcut lasagna, or baked ravioli, but I settled on dubbing it a casserole. Whatever it is, it’s a fun and easy dinner great for a weeknight or to feed a family, that sneaks in some veggies amongst all that delicious sauce and cheese.

This recipe is also versatile. If you have read my other posts, I love giving people options and shortcuts, because everyone is different. Different schedules, different pantries, different tastes. Since I used to be an unbelievably picky eater, I think it’s important to let people have some room to play around.

Yields 6-8 servings

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil (+extra, optional*)
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 24 oz marinara sauce
  • approx 20 oz package ravioli
  • 2 large zucchini, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella
  • fresh basil
  1. Boil water in a medium to large pot.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute until fragrant. Add chopped onion and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until translucent.
  3. Pour marinara sauce over the onions, reduce heat to low and stir until combined. Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and remove from heat to cool.
  4. When the water is boiling, add the ravioli and cook about 1-2 minutes less than package directions for an al dente texture. In the last 3 minutes of the pasta cooking, add the sliced zucchini. Drain and let cool. (*After draining, tossing with a little olive oil can help prevent sticking)
  5. While the sauce and pasta cool, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray
  6. Spread 1 cup of the sauce evenly over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle on half of the Parmesan cheese. Arrange half the ravioli evenly in one layer over the sauce and sprinkle on half the mozzarella cheese. Arrange all the zucchini slices, evenly in one layer. Take some basil leaves and spread them out on top of the zucchini, as much or as little as you like.
  7. Use the rest of the ravioli to create a layer over the zucchini. Pour the remaining sauce over the whole dish and sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes, until cheese is melted and let rest for at least 2 minutes prior to serving. Garnish with fresh basil.

Here’s a visual on how to arrange the layers

Ravioli bakes are not a new thing, a lot of people have done it before with just sauce, pasta, cheese, sauce, pasta, cheese. It’s a quick meal that pleases most. You can use cheese or meat ravioli, whatever your preference.

By adding a whole chopped onion to my sauce, it gives it more of a thick texture and a noticeable crunch. You could alway substitute with finely chopped bell peppers or mushrooms to get that extra vegetable element. If you don’t have time for prep, cheat and get a super chunky jarred pasta sauce.

I love zucchini and think it’s really what makes this dish special, but it would completely work without it. To slice it you either need a mandolin or a really sharp knife and patience. I don’t have a mandolin, so start by cutting the two ends off, cutting the zucchini in half, and then very carefully slicing it into thin strips. By halving the zucchini it makes it easier to slice by hand and also easier to get through when you are scooping out portions of the finished dish. Worst case, you could slice it into coins like you would a cucumber, it will just take longer to layer and you won’t get total coverage like you would with retangular pieces.

This is not what I would call a totally healthy dish, but if you have kids, it’s an easy way to sneak in some fresh vegetables. You can also easily feed 6 to 8 people with this dish by serving it up with a simple salad and maybe some garlic bread. Since its just my husband and I, we portion it out and save what we don’t eat for leftovers. It holds up very well in the fridge.

Overall this requires a little more time and a little more mess than the standard ravioli bake, but it’s those extra elements that really make this more than just a big block of sauce and cheese. Adding in just a couple vegetables and fresh basil takes it to the next level of texture and taste. It’s also fun to dig in and see that bright green layer of zucchini right in the middle. Try it out! I promise it’s easy and everyone will end up with a clean plate.

 

 

 

Bruschetta Chicken Pasta

I wasn’t planning on posting this recipe, because honestly I just threw it together. But it turned out so delicious, and it uses the leftovers from my last post. I HATE throwing out food so last night I made this dish from what I had in my fridge and pantry and it ended up being lovely.

Yields 4 servings

  • leftover bruschetta (see previous post)
  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • approx. 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • approx. 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • box of your favorite pasta
  • fresh parsley, grated Parmesan (optional)
  1. Strain the bruschetta and put the reserved liquid in a measuring cup. Set the tomatoes aside. Add equal parts (about 2 Tbsp each, but you have to eye it) of balsamic and red wine vinegar to the same measuring cup until you have a 1/2 cup of liquid combined. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine basil, oregano, garlic powder, salt and pepper and rub evenly on both sides of the chicken breasts.
  3. Get your water boiling to start cooking your pasta at this point. Whenever the pasta is done, set it aside but make sure to reserve a 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  4. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken for about 1-2 minutes on each side, flipping once to get a light sear. Transfer chicken to a baking dish and in the oven for about 10 minutes, until cooked through.
  5. While the chicken is baking, use the same skillet with the reserved pan juices. Heat over medium-low heat and stir in the minced garlic for about 1 minute. Add the vinegar mixture and increase the heat until it comes to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the last minute of cooking, add the lemon juice and 1/4 cup pasta water.
  6. Serve chicken over the pasta. If you want to slice the chicken like I did, make sure it has a few minutes to rest so you don’t lose all the juices. Top the chicken with the leftover chopped tomatoes from the bruschetta and drizzle the sauce over everything. Add some parsley and Parmesan if you’d like.

If you don’t have leftover bruschetta, you could always grab a premade one from the store or, if you have the time, make a small batch. I like that the tomatoes marinated for a day before I prepped this dish, you if you can plan for it, try and give them some time to soak up that flavor. If you have leftover bruschetta but think it’s not enough, just chop up an extra tomato or two and stir it in before straining.

Since the sauce has oil and vinegar in it, there will be some separation if it sits untouched, so make sure to keep stirring, especially right before pouring it over the finished plate.

I used white fiber penne as my pasta, simply because it’s what I had on hand. Any pasta would be fine though. Linquine or fettuccine might have made it a little easier to twirl up and get all those tomato chunks, but both of our plates here were clean by the time we finished! My husband isn’t the biggest balsamic fan either, but he loved this dish. The flavors all combine really well, so it’s not being overwhelmed by one ingredient. Such a fun way to reuse my leftover party food!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}

 

Healthy Pasta

I am obsessed with pasta. Between that and pizza, it’s safe to say if I had to choose one cuisine for the rest of my life it would be Italian. I’ve even joked that if I could change my last name to whatever I wanted, it would be Mozzarella. (Actually, I wasn’t joking. I so would.) But I digress!

The sad truth is that too much pasta isn’t the healthiest of diet plans. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a healthy home chef, but it’s nice to have some alternatives. Here’s a countdown of my top three favorites:

Number 3: Spaghetti squash. While delicious, they can be a little daunting. To cook them you have to cut them in half lengthwise (carefully, they can be hard to get through), scoop out the seeds and roast for about 30-45 minutes. It becomes tender enough to scrape the “meat” of the squash into strands that resemble angel hair pasta. Bonus! You can use the shell of the squash as a bowl and top with sauce, cheese and whatever else you like. Easy clean up!

Number 2: Whole wheat pasta. Essentially the same as any boxed pasta you would normally make. The color is a little darker, the texture is a little less tender but dressed up with sauce and veggies the taste is great. A cup of whole wheat pasta can have around 25% of your daily fiber, not to mention more vitamins and less calories than the regular pasta. Bonus! This is as easy as skipping the regular pasta at the grocery and picking up a different box. Same preparation.

Number 1: I think you can guess by the photo. Zoodles! Zucchini noodles are my new obsession. Zucchini is one of my favorite vegetables as it is. In noodle form, they only take a couple minutes to cook and come out beautifully tender. Zoodles also have like NO calories. OK, about 30 calories per medium zucchini. You can manually cut noodles with a veggie peeler or splurge a bit and get a spiralizer like I did. Bonus! The spiralizer is so fun! Also zoodles can last in the fridge for 3-5 days in an airtight container. Sometimes when I have leftovers, a couple days later I will make a dish and use less whole wheat pasta than the recipe calls for and add the zoodles for the last two minutes of cook time. Half whole wheat pasta, half zucchini, all delicious.

Tomorrow I’ll be posting a recipe using my beloved zoodles. stay tuned!

{follow me on twitter & instagram: @thepickygourmet}