Posts tagged ‘tomatoes’

Rigatoni with Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Mozzarella

Have you ever had rigatoni pasta?

It’s like penne, but larger, and the ends are cut straight rather than at an angle like penne. Because the whole inside is larger, more chunky sauces can get inside the pasta, which is always a good thing. Good and delicious.

I love trying different pasta shapes. Now that I’m back in the U.S. this is much easier to do. I don’t know why, but if you get pasta in an Italian restaurant (or any restaurant) in Japan, 99% of the time it’s spaghetti. It doesn’t matter what kind of sauce it is, it’s almost always going to be spaghetti. I got so tired of spaghetti in Japan, so I’m having a great time now fixing different types of pasta.

Did you know there are over 500 different types of pasta in the world today? That boggles my mind. But in a good way. I dream of trying them all… Much like I dream of trying every type of cheese in the cheese section at Whole Foods. Mmmm, cheese… That’s my new year’s resolution for this year. That and to exercise a whole lot in order to burn off the calories from all the cheese I plan on eating.

While I don’t know all the 500 different types of pasta out there, I found a site, here,  that introduces quite a few, and describes what kinds of sauces they go well with.

I tried another Jamie Oliver recipe last night. This one is adapted from a recipe in his cookbook Jamie’s Dinners.

It’s a nice, chunky vegetable sauce with tomatoes, eggplant, onion, and garlic in it. You mix in fresh basil leaves and chunks of fresh mozzarella right at the end, so when you serve it, the basil has gone all fragrant and the mozzarella is just turning into melted, stringy delight. All in all, it’s a nice, hearty vegetable pasta dish, with some lovely cheesy goodness as well.

Rigatoni with Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Mozzarella

(serves 4 – 5)

  • 1 lb. dried rigatoni pasta
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large eggplant, cubed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans of tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 bunch fresh basil, leaves shredded, stalks diced
  • 4 Tbsp. cream
  • 7 oz. fresh mozzarella
  1. Heat 4 – 5 Tbsp. of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add cubed eggplant and stir to coat eggplant in oil evenly. Cook eggplant for 8 – 10 minutes.
  2. Add onion and garlic and cook for 4 – 5 minutes more.
  3. Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and diced basil stalks. Simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain pasta, reserving a little of the water (about 1/4 – 1/3 cup).
  5. Season pasta sauce with salt and pepper to taste, and add cream.
  6. Add pasta and reserved water to sauce. Add torn up pieces of mozzarella cheese and shredded basil leaves. Mix everything until pasta is well coated and mozzarella has started to melt. Serve immediately.

January 26, 2012 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

Marinara Sauce

If you’re like me, then you probably love Italian food. Namely pasta.

I love pasta; all the different shapes and sizes, all the things you can mix it with, and of course all the sauces.

Sadly, pasta has gotten a rather bad rep, ever since the no/low carb diet craze hit years ago. I believe, however, that like all things, it’s all about balance.

If you eat a pound of pasta all by yourself every day, then you’re probably not doing your body any favors. But if you eat a pound of pretty much anything every day, it’s not going to be very good for you. Balance and variety are so important.

If you have a modest portion of pasta, eat it with a healthy homemade sauce made with whole ingredients, balance it with other foods such as vegetables and protein, and maintain an active lifestyle (i.e. you exercise on a regular basis), then there’s really nothing wrong with pasta at all.

I always strive for balance (in all things, not just food), so as much as I love pasta, I don’t eat it every day. I don’t hesitate to eat it, or feel guilty for eating it though.

One of my favorite go to pasta sauce recipes is a simple marinara sauce. I love tomato sauces with my pasta, and marinara sauce is about as classic as it gets. It’s also very versatile as you can add so many things with it to change it up.

Capers and olives to make it more Puttanesca like.

Chicken, shrimp, tuna; just about any meat or seafood will work.

Just about any vegetables will work with it.

Add a little vodka and a little cream to make a vodka sauce.

The options are endless.

But if you want a simple marinara sauce for your pasta, or you need it for another recipe like pizza, calzones, eggplant parmesan, or lasagna (like I did the other day), then this is a great, speedy sauce for that as well.

First, add a couple lugs of extra virgin olive oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add one diced onion, and saute until it becomes tender, about 4 – 5 minutes.


Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 red chili, diced (or 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes), and 1 tsp. dried basil. Saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.


Add 2 (14 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes and simmer for 5 – 10 minutes. Add 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar, season with salt and pepper to taste, and you’re done! If you want a smoother sauce, you can whiz it in a blender, but it isn’t necessary.

Marinara Sauce

(serves 2 – 3)

  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red chili, diced -or- 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 (14 oz.) cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Add a few Tbsp. of oil to a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic, red pepper, and basil, and saute for another 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Add tomato, and simmer, uncovered, for 5 – 10 minutes.
  4. Add balsamic vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

January 13, 2012 at 1:16 am Leave a comment

Good ol’ Fashioned Tomato Soup

Fall is coming. For some it’s already here, and in other places…well…the temperature has actually dropped to below 100 degrees! Wohoo! Time for a jacket! And still other places, like Texas, are too busy to notice or care whether it’s fall or not, because they’re on fire and trying to do something about that. Power to them.

Here in Eastern Japan, it’s gotten slightly cooler (general high in the 80’s), but not really cool enough to go, “Fall is here! Woohoo!”, revel in the chilly mornings/evenings, bust out the fall clothes, or start making chili and corn bread.

I’m so ready for it, but it’s just not here yet. I want to make chili and corn bread, I want to start wearing fall clothes, and I want to be able to stop using my air conditioner. But I must be patient. Fall will come eventually, and I’ll be so ready when it does!

Actually, now that I think about it, I’ll be getting a preview of late fall/early winter next weekend, when my husband and I and two of our married friends head to Nagano to go hiking in the Japanese Alps. They’ve already had frost! I can’t wait!

For those of you who are fortunate to already be enjoying the lovely fall season, and for those who don’t care and simply want to pretend it’s already fall, here is a lovely, but simple tomato soup recipe.

I don’t remember where I got this recipe (I’ve had it written down on a recipe card for awhile, and I’ve changed it a bit to suit my own tastes), so person who’s recipe this is, I’m sorry, I have forgotten you. But I still love you even if I don’t know who you are, because at some point in time I found your recipe, and I like it a lot. Amen.

I know a picture of tomato soup doesn’t make for the most exciting food picture in the world, but trust me, this is good soup.


Tomato Soup (serves 4)

  • 2 cans of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/2 carrot, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 c. broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped (or 1 – 2 tsp dried basil)
  • 1/2 c. milk or cream
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and cook until tender, and 8 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and cook for another 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Add the broth, tomatoes, bay leaves, sugar, and vinegar. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour.
  4. Blend in a blender (or use an immersion blender) if desired. Add milk, basil, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve with a light drizzle of olive oil on top.


September 9, 2011 at 11:37 am Leave a comment

Pasta with Vodka Sauce

I had a dream last night that I was “The One” (I tend to have a lot of these…), and I was traveling with Gandalf, who was leading us through the wilderness to my destiny. I’m still not sure what my destiny actually was, but it involved a lot of traveling. In the first part of my dream we traveled through the arctic wilderness, complete with mass amounts of snow and glaciers. We then made it back “home” temporarily, home being some kind of large school, where we met up with my husband and one of Gandalf’s wizard comrades, before the four of us embarked on the second part of our quest. Thinking that we would be heading back out into the arctic, I packed all my winter gear, but when Hisa and I met up with Gandalf and his wizard buddy, I found them in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses, and discovered we were headed to the West Indies. By this time, we were already on a boat, so it was too late to go back and get the proper clothing, so instead I got really mad at Gandalf and chewed him out about it, telling him that he was SUCH a guy, because only a GUY wouldn’t think to tell me what kind of clothing I would need for our trip!

A few minutes after that I woke up.

Just sayin.

*ahem* Moving on, I made pasta with vodka sauce the other night for dinner. If you’ve never had it, it’s a delicious tomato cream sauce. I love it. The alcohol in the vodka cooks off, so no, it’s not alcoholic (I can just hear some of you cursing under your breath right now). The vodka gives it a lovely flavor, and if you don’t have any vodka lying around, you can always substitute white wine. It’ll still be really good.

I’m told that this recipe is originally from Cooks Illustrated. There have been various versions circulating food blogs, but here’s my adaptation of the recipe. 🙂

Pasta with Vodka Sauce

  • 16 oz. dried pasta (any kind will do)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 2 – 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or 1/2 red chili, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 (18 oz.) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (18 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1/3 c. vodka (can substitute white wine)
  • 1/2 c. cream (can substitute milk, but will need to thicken sauce with flour or corn starch)
  • 1 lb shrimp (can substitute chicken, or leave out altogether)
  • 2 – 3 Tbsp. chopped basil leaves
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, and boil pasta according to package instructions.
  2. Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for an additional 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Add diced tomatoes, salt, tomato sauce, and vodka, and mix well. Simmer for about 8 – 10 minutes (this is when the alcohol cooks off).
  4. Add the shrimp (if using), and stir until cooked through.
  5. Turn off heat and gradually add the cream.
  6. Add the cooked pasta and basil, and mix well. Serve.

We enjoyed our pasta with a lettuce, asparagus, and toasted walnut salad with vinaigrette dressing, and a lovely rose wine.

June 9, 2011 at 10:07 am 2 comments

Ratatouille, a dish for all veggies (unless you’re Julia Child or a talking mouse)

My closet smells like syrup.

I’ve thought this ever since we moved into our current apartment, over two years ago.

Hisa swears he can’t smell it though. It’s just me. And we keep our closet open all the time, so it’s not like our closet isn’t being aired out all the time.

Not that I’m complaining, because who doesn’t like the smell of syrup, right? Syrup reminds me of pancakes, and pancakes make me feel all warm and happy inside. Almost every time I go to my closet to get something I end up thinking, “Mmmm, pancakes…”.

That would make a great air freshener don’t you think? If you had a syrup air freshener in your closet, you could feel warm and happy every time you went to your closet like me! And if you were really lucky, it would even make your clothes smell like syrup, so all day the people around you would end up feeling warm and happy (Either that or they would randomly start licking your clothes and nibbling on you *cough*)! I smell a business franchise here…

I think perhaps I shall never solve the mystery of why my closet smells like syrup, and why I’m the only one that can smell it, but at least in provides incentive to make pancakes for breakfast every weekend.

Mmmmm, pancakes…

*        *        *

I don’t recall ever having ratatouille before until my husband made it for dinner a couple of years ago. Since then I’ve been hooked. I love the combination of vegetables and the burst of flavor you get from each of them. It’s great to use fresh summer vegetables for, but I usually end up making it all year round with whatever fresh veggies I can get.

That’s another great thing about ratatouille, there are no rules really (unless you’re a French chef, Julia Child, or a talking mouse that is). There are traditional ingredients like tomatoes, eggplant, onion, garlic, zucchini, and bell peppers, but you don’t have to adhere exactly to that. You can put in whatever fresh veggies you want.

The key word here is fresh. Don’t put in anything frozen or canned (besides tomatoes). Just don’t. It’ll hurt me and it’ll hurt you, and we don’t want that. Listen to your inner Julia Child/talking mouse and use fresh veggies.

A lot of people also argue about the proper technique for cooking ratatouille. Some say you should individually cook each vegetable before adding it to the pot. Some say you should layer all the vegetables. Some say you should bake it. Some say not. Some say you should just throw it all in a pot at once and be done with it.

I say. Choose whatever method floats your boat, because it’ll probably taste fine whichever you choose.

I like to saute the veggies individually before adding them to the pot. I think it brings out the flavor of the individual veggies more, but that’s just me. If you prefer to just throw all the veggies in the pot then power to ya.

Also, you don’t really need a whole lot of seasoning for this dish. The star of the dish should be the flavors of the fresh veggies, not the seasoning. I usually just add a little basil and oregano, and then salt and pepper to taste. That’s why it’s so important to use fresh, in season vegetables.

So here’s my ratatouille recipe. Again, feel free to substitute vegetables. For example, it’s really hard to find zucchini in Japan, so I don’t usually include it. I even left out the eggplant once when all the grocery stores in my vicinity were mysteriously out of eggplant. Other veggies I’ve used before include asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, and yellow squash. Go with the flow (and season). And use fresh veggies.

Ratatouille (serves 2)

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 c. fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 eggplant (or about 5 Japanese eggplants), halved, quartered, and sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper (2 – 3 Japanese piiman), chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 2 whole tomatoes diced (or one can diced tomatoes – this is the only non-fresh veggie I think it’s okay to fudge on)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil (or handful fresh basil, chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano (or handful fresh oregano, chopped)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat about two tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about two minutes. Add garlic and cook for about one minute. Turn heat down to low/med-low.
  2. In a separate skillet, heat another tablespoon of olive oil. Saute each remaining vegetable separately (except the tomatoes) over med-high heat for 3 – 4 minutes. You want the vegetables to get slightly browned, but not lose their crispness. After sauteing each vegetable, add it to the pot with the onion and garlic.
  3. Add the tomatoes, basil, oregano, and bay leaves to the pot, and mix. Raise heat back to medium and cook until vegetables tender, about ten minutes. Remove bay leaves, season with salt and pepper, and serve with fresh bread.

May 19, 2011 at 9:40 am 3 comments

About Me

My name is Rachel. I'm a small-town girl born and raised in Oklahoma, currently living in Japan, who likes cooking, baking, reading, working out, and traveling. Join me in my culinary adventures, my domestic doings, and the story of my life, one day at a time.

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