October 23, 2014

Orecchiette with Sausage, Swiss Chard and Bell Pepper + The Skinnytaste Cookbook

A couple of weeks ago, I happily tore open the Amazon.com box that held my copy of The Skinnytaste Cookbook by my fellow food blogging friend, Gina Homolka. I had pre-ordered it soon after Gina announced that it was available and although the wait felt like an eternity, it was well worth it. I've had my nose buried in it since and most of the pages are now sporting neon colored flags for recipes I want to try (soon...in my new! kitchen!).

I've long been a fan of Gina's blog, where she creates healthy, nutritious and flavorful recipes. She has a practical food philosophy of eating seasonally, including whole foods in all your meals, and controlling portions. In her book's introduction, Gina outlines specific ways we can make adjustments to how we cook and eat, encouraging you all the way. I'm in need of making several improvements in how I eat and cook, especially after the stress I've been under the last year and a half. I've often lost sight of portion control (hello, stress-eating) and consumed too much salt, fat and carbs. I've started to feel it in how my clothes fit and how I feel overall. Her book couldn't have come out at a more opportune time for me. 

As tempting as it is to dive right into reading all the recipes, I highly recommend you read "The Skinny Basics" at the beginning of Gina's book. She gives you invaluable information on how to stock your refrigerator and pantry, how to portion out servings of food, how to make calories count and how to stay motivated for long-term success in keeping up healthier eating habits. Another feature I especially appreciate is that all of the recipes in the book are tagged with an icon to designate if the recipe is Vegetarian, Gluten-Free, Quick, Freezer-Friendly, or Slow Cooker-friendly. I'm a fan of all these types of recipes, so seeing these icons next to each recipe is helpful.

I loved discovering many Italian-inspired recipes throughout the cookbook. Dishes such as Chicken Pasta Caprese, Tuscan Panzanella Salad with Grilled Garlic, Sauteed Broccoli Rabe with Garlic and Oil, Italian Escarole and White Bean Soup, among so many others, are on my list of recipes to make very soon.

Gina's recipe for Orecchiette with Sausage, Baby Kale and Bell Pepper appealed to me instantly when I first read through the cookbook. Orecchiette are one of my favorite short pasta shapes-the name means "little ears" (how cute is that?). I ate orecchiette for the first time on a summer vacation in Italy's Puglia region (the "heel" of the boot) and I instantly loved the cupped shape that catches the sauce. Because I'm not the biggest fan of kale, I swapped it out for red Swiss Chard-one of my favorite greens-which is also a nutrition powerhouse and like kale, is easy to prep and cook.

Now, let's talk about whole wheat pasta... Most of Gina's pasta recipes all call for whole wheat pasta which is definitely a more nutritious option, but I've never been a fan-every brand I've tried has always tasted like dust. Gina recommends DeLallo brand whole wheat pasta. Although I was reluctant to buy whole wheat pasta again, I've never come across a DeLallo product I didn't like, and I was not disappointed--it's outstanding and I've since stocked my pantry with a variety of DeLallo's whole wheat pasta. I'm converted!

This pasta dish comes together easily and quickly which makes it perfect for a weeknight dinner. Sweet Italian chicken sausage is a lean option that is packed with a lot of flavor. The whole wheat pasta has a subtle nutty flavor, but it doesn't overpower the flavor of the vegetables and sausage. You can't enjoy a bowl of pasta without a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano, which adds the perfect finishing touch. And make sure to put The Skinnytaste Cookbook on your holiday wish list; you'll love it!


Orecchiette with Sausage, Swiss Chard and Bell Pepper
Adapted from The Skinnytaste Cookbook by Gina Homolka

2 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
1 medium red bell pepper, small dice
5 garlic cloves, finely minced
Freshly cracked black pepper
14 ounces fresh sweet (or hot) Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
6 cups Swiss Chard (or baby kale), finely chopped
10 ounces whole wheat orecchiette
1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add in 2 teaspoons of the salt and stir to dissolve. Return the water to a boil.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the oilive oil, onion, bell pepper, garlic, remaining 3/4 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to your taste. Cook until the vegetables are soft, stirring often. Add the sausage and use a wooden spoon to break the sausage into bite-size pieces. Cook until the sausage is lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add in the chopped Swiss Chard and cover the skillet, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Uncover the skillet and cook until the Swiss Chard is wilted, tossing often so the vegetables do not burn. Turn off the heat and cover the skillet while you prepare the pasta.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and stir frequently to prevent it from sticking. Cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. As the pasta is nearing the end of the cooking time, turn the heat back on under the skillet with the sausage and vegetables. Use a spider or large slotted spoon to remove the cooked pasta out of the cooking water and transfer it directly into the skillet of sausage and vegetables. After all the pasta has been added to the skillet, add 1/3 cup of the hot pasta water to the skillet and raise the heat to medium-high. Toss the pasta, sausage and vegetables well, letting the liquid evaporate. Turn off the heat and add in the Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano) cheese and red pepper flakes (if using). Serve immediately with extra grated cheese.

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