Sometimes I wish I didn’t work from home just so I could pack a lunch. When I did work in an office I used to looked forward to my mid-day meal. Even though I’d made it myself, opening the various containers always felt a little bit like Christmas. But having some fun-to-eat, quick-to-heat up lunch fare is a good idea for those of us who work from home, too. Many days I don’t start thinking about lunch until I’m so hungry that I just start raiding the fridge and that’s never a good way to enjoy a meal. These mac and cheese muffins make a great quick lunch option.
I got the idea to bake mac and cheese in individual portions form “The Sneaky Chef” by Missy Chase Lapine. She bulks up otherwise not so heathy recipes with lots of vegetables, a trick I use a lot too, but since they’re mostly for kids they’re a little on the bland side. I borrowed her idea of using sweet potatoes, carrots, and eggs in place of the usual milk, butter, and flour roux, but, since I don’t have any picky-eaters to deal with, I spiced it up a bit and even threw in a bit of green. I’m sure any mac and cheese recipe could be made into muffins. They would be a great for picnics or potlucks.
You can used canned pumpkin (not pie filling) instead of the sweet potato and carrot puree. The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for the muffins. The leftovers can be frozen for future use.
Sun Oven mac and cheese will dry out if it’s not covered so it’s easier to use ramekins or silicone molds placed in a baking pan rather than a muffin tin.
Pancetta is an Italian bacon. It’s not smoked and has no sugar added. Purists will tell you that you must use pancetta (or the even harder to find ‘guanciale’) to make a true Amatriciana sauce. I used to be one of them until I got tired of spending excessive time and money tracking down exotic ingredients. American bacon may add an untraditional smokey flavor to the sauce but it’s still good.
Amatriciana Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 pound pancetta or bacon, diced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans imported whole Italian tomatoes with their juices, chopped
Freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese for serving
Dried porcini mushrooms are packed full of flavor so a little goes a long way. I’m lucky, whenever I’m running low I get a friend in Italy to send me some. If you don’t have an Italian connection they’re still worth the hefty price tag, even if it’s only for special occasions. Be careful though, the market has been flooded with low quality impostors that lack the distinctive intense flavor and have a slightly bitter after-taste. Look for porcini that are imported from Italy or France and avoid those sold in bulk of unknown origin. The most common use for these mushrooms is probably risotto, but sometimes I like to use them in red pasta sauce. When I do I always save the soaking water to use for risotto the next day.
Tomato Sauce with Porcini Mushrooms
Well it turns out that as much as I love them both, combining pasta and pie may not be the best idea. I’m not really surprised, even in Italy it’s not a very popular dish. I may play with the concept in the future.
I’d like to come up with a savory pie that has an Italian flavored filling, but given the high calorie content of pie crust (which came out incredibly good for this pasta pie) it will probably be a while before I tweak this recipe. I’m thinking along the lines of a vegetable filling, maybe tomatoes, eggplant and zucchini, and less pasta.
Pie and Pasta. My two favorite foods. Well, in Italy they do make pasta pie. I never really thought of it as such, in Italian it’s called Pasticcio or Timballo depending on the region, and it’s not baked in pie tins so it has a different shape, but it’s pasta baked in a crust or in other words, pie. In Italy you’re most likely to find it in the Emilia-Romagna region during carnivale. It’s served at room temperature so it’s good for picnics or potlucks and just so happens that I’m going to a get-together tomorrow so I thought I’d surprise everybody with this unusual savory treat.
I don’t really have a recipe for the pie, in fact today is the first time I’ve ever made one. The crust is plain old American pie crust and the for the filling I used about 8 ounces of macaroni, a cup or so of my Solar Sugo al Pomodoro, some freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cherry sized pieces of mozzarella, frozen peas, and fresh basil. Once the pie was assembled I popped it in the Sun Oven for about an hour. We haven’t actually tasted it yet, I’ll let you know how it came out.
This classic Italian pasta sauce couldn’t be easier. Even when cooked stovetop there’s no need to saute the onion. In Italy it’s each serving is topped with a pat of butter and a good grating of Parmesan cheese.
Solar Tomato and Butter Sauce
3 cups imported canned whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices and coarsely chopped*
When I teach solar cooking classes I get a strew of questions about what can and cannot be cooked in the Global Sun Oven and pasta always comes up. My answer is, “Yes, it can be done but I’ve only done it once.” There are a number of reasons why I don’t boil pasta in my GSO for daily cooking. Apart from the fact the pasta is easier, and in my opinion better, when cooked in the traditional manner, it also needs to be served immediately; we have dinner too late in the day to solar cook pasta. But it’s still good to know that it is possible to make a decent bowl of solar cooked noodles. It comes in handy in any kind of situation where you might be low on water or power, such as a camping trip or a natural disaster. Luckily, once you know how to successfully solar cook pasta you can store the information away for a time when you might need it.
This lasagna can be as easy or as labor intensive as you want it to be. The pesto and tomato sauce can be purchased or homemade. I like using my solar roasted tomatoes (click here for recipe) but a chunky store-bought sauce works just fine. I much prefer homemade pesto to the commercial kind, but again, if pressed for time, go with high-quality store-bought.
3 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 lage egg, beaten
2 10-oz packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
1 7-0z package prepared, or 3/4 cup homemade
4 cups purchased chunky tomato sauce or chopped solar roasted tomatoes (from about 3 pounds fresh tomatoes)
Macaroni and Cheese is another special occasion food in our house. Since I only get to enjoy it once a year or so I don’t hold back by using any reduced fat dairy products. I usually make it for when we have company so leftovers are not really and issue. If there is a portion or so still in the dish when the guests have gone home I freeze it for a treat on a later day.
6 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons dry breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
This pasta sauce is a recipe that I cut out from an Italian magazine almost thirty years ago. It goes very well with whole wheat or white pasta. Part of the fun of making it is buying the radicchio. The supermarket cashiers almost never know what it is. Sometimes I think I’m the only person who ever buys it.
Sun Oven Radicchio and Bean Pasta Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 medium heads radicchio*, cored and shredded
1 14-oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
12 oz. fusilli or other similar shaped pasta
Set Global Sun Oven out to preheat.
Heat oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add onion and saute until soft; about 5 minutes. Add wine and radicchio, cover and place in GSO. Cook until radicchio has wilted and most of the wine has evaporated; about 1 hour. Stir in beans and continue cooking until heated.
Cook pasta according to instructions on package, drain reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Stir cooked pasta into the sauce in the pot, add cheese and salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce is too dry add some of the reserved cooking water.
*Radicchio, a type of chicory, can be found in the produce section of many supermarkets.