One-Pan Pasta Dinner

Simple, quick and delicious. I'm in!

Simple, quick and delicious. I’m in!

Have you seen the one-pan pasta recipe that’s flying around the internet? It’s a great way to use fresh tomatoes and basil that are so good right now.The idea is that everything goes into the pan and cooks at once. Although I think it’s been around for a long time, Martha Stewart Living recently published the recipe and got the buzz going. I read about it at Smitten Kitchen where Deb complained that the pasta was on the mushy side of al dente and revised the recipe using farro as the main ingredient. That farro version is truly delicious will go into my favorite dinners notebook. In fact it was so good that I became curious about the pasta version and tried Martha’s recipe. Deb was right. By the time the sauce had reduced enough, the pasta was too far gone.

Bring it all to a rolling boil, stir for 10 minutes and eat

Bring it all to a boil, stir,eat.

I wanted to make this recipe work. The idea of a true one-pan meal that is healthy, easy, quick and really good was so appealing that I couldn’t resist trying. Paul would happily eat pasta every night so he was thrilled with my repeated experimentation. I’ve always wondered why you need so much water to cook pasta. It takes forever to come to a boil and then it all goes down the drain except a half cup or so that might be used to thicken sauce. Well, it turns out that you don’t need gallons of water and best of all you don’t have to drain the pasta or wash the colander! My changes to Martha’s recipe include using a heartier type of pasta and reducing the amount of water.

The finished product.

Dinner is served!


I’ve tried lots of one pot meals and have rarely been satisfied. This one’s different. It’s not a compromise, something you’d only want to make when you’re short on time. Thanks to the principles of evaporation and absorption, it works and it’s darned good! We’ve served the final recipe to two sets of guests so far and everyone loves it. It’s beautiful, ridiculously simple and can be prepared ahead of time. Use a hearty, high-quality dried pasta and the results will make you happy! I haven’t experimented with whole wheat or other pastas, but suspect they would become too soft. Let me know your thoughts if you try alternative pastas.


One Pan Pasta that Works (Adapted slightly from Martha Stewart Living)

3-4 servings as a main dish, 8 as a side


 12 ounces dried penne rigate, small rigatoni or orecchiette

1 large red onion sliced thinly, root to stem (about 2 cups)

12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes halved, or quartered if they’re large

4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced

2 generous sprigs of basil plus torn leaves for serving

2 tablespoons olive oil p;us more for serving

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

4 cups of water

Grated parmesan for serving


Place all ingredients except parmesan and torn basil in a wide skillet with straight sides (If you’re prepping ahead, don’t add the water until you’re ready to cook). Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Set the timer for 8 minutes and continue to boil, stirring often. Test the pasta for doneness at 8 minutes and cook another minute or two if needed. Serve with torn basil, parmesan and olive oil.

NOTES: Yellow or white onions will work just fine. Red ones look and taste great and add nice texture. If you want to double the recipe, make two batches side-by-side for best results. A wide dutch oven will work if you don’t have a straight-sided skillet. Evaporation is important so it must be a wide pan. Finally, if you want to use fresh chopped tomatoes, the plum variety is best. For juicier tomatoes, reduce the water by 1/4 cup.  If you want your pasta on the soft side, add more water after the 8-minute test.







World’s Best Bacon

Back in June I won a pie-baking contest and one of the prizes was a pound of bacon. A pound of  bacon may not seem that exciting, but when it’s Benton’s Bacon it changes everything. It’s slow-smoked over in Madisonville, Tennessee with hickory wood. The only ingredients are bacon, salt, sugar, black pepper and smoke combined according to a secret family recipe. I’ve heard people say that Benton’s is the world’s best bacon and they sometimes have to wait a month to get an order of the delicious stuff. As you can imagine, Paul and I were feeling a little pressure as we tried to decide what to do with this fabulous bacon.

IMG_2852BLTs seemed like the way to go on a late July afternoon. Tomatoes don’t really come in here in the mountains until August and the world’s best bacon had already lurked in the freezer for a solid month, so we settled for some excellent slicers from a nearby county where it’s flatter and warmer. Daring people that we are, we flaunted tradition and chose a locally made bread over toasted white slices. The handmade bread was 50/50 white and wheat Carolina Ground flour, with a rustic texture and a top crust of sesame seeds. It’s made by Tara at Smoke Signals Bakery. She even grows some of her own grains.

World's Best Bacon in the pan.

World’s Best Bacon in the pan.

IMG_2867As soon as that hickory scented smoke start coming off the bacon, I was hooked. The slices stayed nice and thick and caramelized beautifully. Only two slices needed for a divine sandwich. Even Paul, who has a hollow leg when it comes to food, agreed that  a few slices were enough. Smoke Signals bread, Benton’s bacon, mayo, beefy red tomato slices and a little salt and pepper pretty much add up to heaven on a plate.

Waiting for the bacon.

Waiting for the bacon.


Heaven on a plate!

Heaven on a plate!


I could tell you about the black bean salad we had on the side, but let’s face it; nothing else really matters when you have the perfect BLT in your hand.  The bacon had just the right amount of hickory smoke, a firm texture and crisp edges that made it the main character. We swooned. After we’d picked ourselves up off the floor and finished a sandwich plus an unadulterated slice each, I went right to the computer and ordered more Benton’s Bacon. What kind of person orders bacon on the internet you might ask? All I can say is don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Did I mention the ultra-flavorful bacon grease that was left in the pan?  When I was a kid, Mom had this silver canister with a lid that sat beside the stove. It had a strainer in the top that you poured the grease through to get remove the cooked bits. The strained grease was stored in the bottom and used to flavor beans, greens, cornbread and lots of other good things.

Many years ago I quit saving, deciding that I would be healthier without that bacon grease. Thank goodness I came to my senses a while back and started saving again. It only takes a small spoonful to add lots of flavor to a dish and it’s really a shame to waste all that goodness. That little bit of Benton’s grease has flavored pots of home-grown collard greens and kale and some delicious spoonbread made with our own eggs and Long’s Valley Farm cornmeal.

Guess you could say Benton’s is the bacon that just keeps on giving!


Nothin’ Beats Beans,Greens and my Mom’s Cornbread

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

Just picked Russian kale and collards.

To use my Dad’s phrase, today I had a cravin’ flung on me. A craving for beans, greens and cornbread and the cornbread had to be the lacy-edged fried kind. It’s made from a batter consisting of cornmeal, salt and water and cooked on the stove top in a thin layer of vegetable oil until the edges are lacy, crispy and brown. That’s what cornbread meant to me as a child. The other kind of cornbread we ate was oven-baked and contained cornmeal, eggs, salt and baking powder and soda. My grandmother called it egg bread to distinguish it from the skillet type. Generally, we used yellow cornmeal for the egg bread and white fine-ground for the skillet type. Both were stone ground and neither of the cornbreads contained sugar.

I decided to go right to the source and called Mom. She’s been making cornbread for 60+ years and knows her stuff. My folks love the holy trinity of beans, greens and cornbread and accepted an invitation to dinner almost before I got the words out of my mouth! A few hours later while the fellows devoured a bowl of black-pepper pistachios, Mom and I got down to business. I’m lucky to have a local source for yellow  stone ground cornmeal from heirloom corn. It’s ground fairly fine so was suitable for this recipe, even though it’s yellow.

IMG_2838The bad news is that we don’t measure anything in this three ingredient recipe except the cornmeal. Mom does it by feel. I think you can too. We mixed two cups of fine stone ground cornmeal with 3-4 generous pinches of salt and added water until the mixture started to look more like batter than dough. Then we added a splash more liquid so the batter would spread in the hot oil. We tasted the batter to check the salt level and added a little more. Salt is a personal thing so do what seems right to you. Since this was a new cornmeal to Mom, we did a test batch and then cooked the whole batch. In the old days, we used a cast iron skillet, but today it was ceramic non-stick.

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That's my Mom!

Mix the cornmeal and salt with a fork. That’s my Mom!

The batter takes shape.

The batter takes shape.

Check out those edges!

Check out those edges!

The vegetable oil should be about 1/8 inch thick in the pan. When it’s good and hot, drop in a very tiny bit of batter. If it doesn’t crisp up pretty quickly, turn up the heat. Eat the sample and check for salt level. For the full-sized sample, drop about 1/4-1/3 cup of batter into the oil. It should spread some so that the edges become irregular and lacy. Add more water to the remaining batter if this doesn’t happen. Be patient and let it sizzle for a while. Mom only turns hers once, but that takes some practice. When it looks pretty solid, carefully turn the cornbread and cook the other side. It should be brown and crispy when done. Drain on paper towels and serve.

IMG_2846The cornbread was the perfect complement to the rest of the dinner: pinto beans, greens cooked all afternoon, sliced tomatoes and white rice. Condiments included chopped onion for the beans and hot-peppers in vinegar (made last summer) for the greens. We ate on the screened porch and it was good! Then we took our full selves out to tour the garden and visit the chickens. Finally, we headed for the front porch rocking chairs to watch the sunset. No dessert required.

Thanks, Mom.


Sister’s Pie-panic Calmed by Onion & Lemon Sponge Pies!

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Guyere, onion and mushroom pies

Pie seems ever present in my life recently. All the pie chat moved my sister, Mary, to face her personal Pie-panic and she asked for my help. It takes a brave woman to face pie fear and I was confident that we could have a homemade-crust breakthrough!

We got together on a Saturday afternoon for the Pie-panic therapy session. She requested an onion, mushroom and gruyere savory pie. Lemon sponge pie seemed like a great idea for dessert. We made two of each single-crust pie so that we could feed our parents and spouses that night. The evening was a big hit and I expect we will do it again before too long. We just have to let the cholesterol clear a bit since there is a stick of butter in each single crust. Luckily, Mary brought some excellent red wines that may have offset some of it. And had large servings of a delightful green salad and served fresh berries on the lemon sponge pie to redeem ourselves.

photoThere were a couple of snafus along the way.  The first was leaving my student unsupervised. Somehow, in a matter of  minutes, an extra cup of flour ended up in the mix. Measuring distraction can happen to anyone, especially when you’re doubling a recipe, but since this dinner had a friendly audience, we decided to forge ahead. A little extra water and butter saved the day.  Then I realized that one of my four pie plates was at a friend’s house on the other side of town. While the dough chilled, I popped down to nearby Weaverville to get one. Mary sliced all the onions for the savory pies while I was gone. Here’s Sister’s take on the Pie-panic session and the onion slicing tips I gave her.

Our goal, bringing Pie-panic to the surface and then sinking it for good, was accomplished. The crust was much crisper and less flaky than usual but in spite of that, the resulting dinner was top-notch. As society columnists in small Southern newspapers used to say : “A good time was had by all.” I just love that phrase. Sums things up nicely doesn’t it?

So let’s get down to the recipes. My pie crust mantra is keep it cold, keep it cold, keep it cold!.  There’s a great basic crust that works for sweet or savory pie that I adapted slightly from the Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. It’s simple, super flaky and easy to handle. It’s my go to crust. For the onion filling, I checked out a bunch of recipes. Some were too elaborate, some were too bland and none seemed perfect. So I just used my noggin and made one up. Lemon sponge pie recipes are everywhere. It’s an old-fashioned pie so lots have accumulated over the years. It tastes almost like lemon bars but creamier and a nice brown crust that develops on top as it bakes. Yum!  Don’t forget my pie crust tips.

Enjoy your pie dinner!

Dana’s Plate Go To Pie Crust (adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)

(makes one double or two single crust pies)


2 1/2 cups of flour

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon table salt

2 sticks chilled unsalted butter (8 ounces or 1 cup)


  1. Cut the chilled butter into 1/2 inch cubes and place in the fridge for a few minutes. In a large, wide bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Retrieve the cold butter pieces and scatter over the dry mixture. Using a pastry blender or two table knives, cut the butter into the flour until the largest pieces are the size of small to medium peas.  Variation in size is a good thing.
  2. If the butter has warmed up, refrigerate for 10 minutes. Drizzle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and uses a plastic or floured wood spatula to stir it together just until a ragged lump is formed. Then use your hands to knead the dough a few times, incorporating any loose bits as you go. Working quickly so that the dough stays cool, form the mass into a ball.
  3. Divide the dough in half and wrap each half in plastic wrap. Flatten the wrapped dough into discs. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to a week. To freeze, add another layer of wrap or place in a resealable plastic bag for up to two months. To use, defrost in the fridge for a day.
  4. Generously sprinkle flour over your counter or other rolling surface and the rolling pin. Unwrap a disc (leave the other in the fridge until you need it). Place it on the floured surface and sprinkle more flour on top. Instead of rolling out this very hard disc, whack it a dozen times with a floured rolling pin. Lift and rotate the dough after every couple of whacks. If the dough sticks, use a bench scraper or spatula to get the dough off the surface and sprinkle the surface with more flour. If the dough gets soft, scape it onto a cookie sheet or piece of plastic wrap and get it back into the fridge for up to 10 minutes. You’ll have a larger flat disc after the whacking. Flour the pin again and roll, lift and rotate the dough until it reaches the desired size and shape according to your recipe.


Savory Onion and Gruyere Pie


1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 large onion halved root to stem end and thinly sliced in the same direction

8 ounces sliced mushrooms

1/4 cup wine (white, marsala or madeira)

One teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

salt and pepper

6 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated coarsely

Pastry for a single crust pie


  1. Add olive oil and butter to a large skillet or wide dutch oven and melt the butter. Add all the onions and stir to coat with oil/butter mixture. Continue to cook over moderate heat, covered, for about ten minutes until the onions are softened. Stir a couple of times. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned and very soft. Add a splash of water if the onions begin to stick. This will take 45-60 minutes. After 30 minutes, add the sliced mushrooms, thyme, salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. Add the wine to the browned onion mixture and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat.
  3. Roll out your pie crust to 1/8 inch and transfer to a 9 1/2 inch glass pie pan. Trim crust overhang to one inch and turn under itself. Crimp or finish crust edge as desired. Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork several times.
  4. Line the crust with foil and fill will dried beans or pie weights. Bake for 15 minutes, remove the foil and weights and cook about five minutes longer. The crust should be golden brown. Cover the edge with foil or a crust guard if it starts to get too brown.
  5. Spread 2/3 of the Gruyere into the crust and cover with the onion mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Gruyere on top of the onions.
  6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and onions are sizzling. Let the pie cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.




A Simple Garden Dinner

Sunday night, after socializing on the 4th, 5th and 6th of July, we had a simple supper at home. Just the two of us and some veggies from the garden.  We’ve had more than twenty inches of rain in two months so the plants are really happy. The summer squash grew so quickly, it was like watching time-lapse photography! The dinosaur kale hasn’t slowed down since the mercury has stayed at or below 80 on most days. There’s a bountiful crop so far. Here’s how the veggie dinner came together.

Lacinato or dinosaur kale and summer squash fresh from the garden.

Lacinato, or dinosaur kale, and summer squash fresh from the garden.

The KALE leaves were mostly tender so I rolled stacks of them long ways and sliced across the roll into half-inch ribbons. A few leaves had big stems so I chopped them in half-inch pieces too. The kale went into an inch of salted water and braised for 20 minutes with the lid on. Then I uncovered it, let the liquid cook away and finished it with a squeeze of lemon juice and a few red pepper flakes.

For the SQUASH, Barb Swell inspired me with her Log Cabin Cooking blog. Her parmesan-fried summer squash is a quick, easy and nearly perfect dish for one or two people. It tastes almost like a southern squash casserole without the extra fat and prep time. This squash was so good I wanted it all for myself. Paul is lucky he saw any of it!

Parmesan shards for the squash

Parmesan shards for the squash

Then there were the FINGERLING POTATOES, earthy and delicious, from friends John and Melissa’s Highgate Farm up the road in Marshall. John is a regular at the Weaverville and East Asheville tailgate markets and always has lots of great naturally grown produce.

Here’s a simple method for cooking fingerlings. I believe it’s French in origin.  For two servings, add a tablespoon of butter, a good splash of olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt to a small to medium dutch oven and set over medium heat. When the oil/butter is good and hot, add enough fingerlings for two people. Give them a stir to coat and cover.

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Earthy fingerlings from Highgate Farm

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Just a few more minutes of browning to go!

Try not to peek for at least 10 minutes, 15 if you’re strong. Then stop by every 4-5 minutes and give the pan a few good shakes to turn the potatoes and prevent sticking. Use your kitchen timer if you tend to get distracted. Do a fork test around 20 minutes for doneness. Adjust the heat as needed for browning. Total time depends on the size and number of potatoes, but estimate 20-30 minutes for two servings. Magically, the little fellows will cook in their own juices (with a little help from the butter). If you’re patient, they will be creamy on the inside and crispy-brown on the outside. You can add a dash of lemon juice, a few chopped chives or a grind of pepper to them on the plate, but it’s not really necessary.

You can make these for a crowd. Add a bit more oil, butter and salt, but don’t go crazy. The potatoes release a fair amount of liquid as they cook. And use a larger dutch oven. Surface area is important here. A double layer is fine if you’re very good about shaking to rotate the potatoes. Otherwise, they will steam but the top layer won’t brown. Stir them if you have to and allow more cooking time. Be sure to use a thick bottomed pot, preferably cast iron, for this recipe. I use Creuset. You can use any potato cut into a large dice if you don’t have fingerlings. These taters are so good, you could make a meal of them!

Our dinner was heavenly. Sometimes after a hectic weekend, simple pleasures really are the best.

P.S. Paul is away tonight and I picked a squash today. Guess what I’m having for my solo supper!































Prize Winning Tourtiere (Quebecois Meat Pie) Recipe

Here’s the Tourtiere recipe adapted from Saveur Magazine’s 150 Best Recipes in their 150th issue. It’s this pie that won best in show at the Retro Pie Contest. I realize that there are accent marks in Tourtiere and Quebecois, but unless I can figure out how to insert them, there won’t be any this time! No disrespect intended. This is home cooking at its best.

I can’t wait until a cold day next winter to whip up this pie that is full of spices and cider. The buttery crust is really flaky and has a rustic look.  It’s a good make ahead recipe, keeps well and is excellent left over. This could become a Christmas Eve tradition at our house!





2½ cups flour
1½ tsp. dry mustard powder
½ tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
16 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
Juice of 1 lemon

1 egg, mixed with 2 tbsp. milk, for egg wash (optional)


1½ cups finely chopped russet potatoes
2 tbsp. canola oil
1½ lb. ground pork (or combination of pork and ground beef or turkey)
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 small yellow onions, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups apple cider or hard cider
3/4  tsp. celery seed
3/4  tsp. ground cloves
1/2  tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4  tsp. ground cinnamon
3/4  tsp. ground ginger
3 bay leaves
3/4 Freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp. kosher salt


1. Whisk together flour, mustard, zest, and salt in bowl; add butter, and using a pastry cutter or 2 knives, cut mixture until pea-size crumbles form. Leave some bigger crumbles too for flakier crust. Add lemon juice and 7 tbsp. ice-cold water, and stir with a fork until dough just comes together. Don’t overwork. Transfer to a work surface, and form into a ball; divide into two halves and form each into a disk. Wrap disks tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

2. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan of water to a boil; add potatoes, and cook until tender, about 6 minutes. Drain, and mash until mostly smooth; set aside. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add pork, and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, onions, and carrot, and cook, stirring, until soft and pork is well browned, about 20 minutes. Add cider, celery seed, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, bay leaves, and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, and stir in mashed potatoes; let filling cool completely. IMG_2312



3. Heat oven to 400°. Place one dough disk on a lightly floured work surface. Give the disk 20 good whacks with a floured rolling pin, turning 1/4 turn every two or three whacks. Add more flour to work surface and pin as needed. Roll out with the rolling pin, turning periodically to prevent sticking, until ¼” thick. Transfer to a 9″ pie dish, and let excess hang over edge. Pour filling into pie dish, and smooth top. If filling has been chilled, stir over low heat to bring to room temp. Don’t heat more than that. Whack and roll remaining dough disk until ¼” thick, and place over filling. Trim dough sheets to within 1″ of edge of pie dish, fold edge underneath itself, and crimp with your fingers or a fork, if you like. Brush with egg wash if desired, and using a paring knife, cut four 2″ slits in the top of the pie. Bake until pastry is golden brown and filling is heated through, about 50 minutes.

NOTE: Tightly covered filling and tightly wrapped crust can refrigerated for 48 hours. Bring filling to room temp by stirring over low heat for a minute or two. Let filling cool to room temperature if it gets too hot. Pie slices keep well in the fridge for several days. In summer, it’s good at room temperature. To reheat a pie, bake in a 250 oven until warmed through.



Friday Night Sky


Early Friday evening it rained hard. Afterward, I looked out at the sunset and decided photos were in order. I grabbed my iPhone and dashed outside. The sunset was indeed spectacular, but when I turned around and looked east, I gasped. There was a huge and perfect rainbow, no wait! It was a double rainbow!  That’s enough words for this post. The pictures of the evolving, cloud-filled sky, east and west, over a 10-minute period will speak for themselves.






























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 The End