Pasta with ricotta and tomato, baked haddock, and garlic spinach

Last night’s delight: Pasta with ricotta and tomato, with baked fish and some seasoned spinach on the side.

A plate of pasta, fish, and spinach

I am really, really not a photographer. It looked a lot more appetizing in person!

I got hooked on a penne with ricotta and tomatoes dish at Sal’s in Radford, Virginia–an excellent vegetarian choice on the menu of the only Italian place in town. (Yeah, it’s been “serving up the finest Italian food for the last 30 years”, in a way. :)) Before long, I figured out how to make something similar at home, which also has the benefit of being really quick and easy.

Normally, I would make this with gluten-free penne, but the only thing we had in the house today was some tricolore rice fusilli. This is very much a “what can I do with what we have on hand?” meal, since I’ve been sick and haven’t been able to get out shopping for a while. Thus the frozen fish and spinach. But, it turned out tasting pretty good.

Baked haddock

I went pretty simple with this one, and plonked some frozen fish fillets in a baking dish. (Any white fish would do, but we had haddock.) Then I decorated it with some grey sea salt for extra flavor, coarsely ground pepper, dried parsley mostly for color, some butter, and a sprinkling of capers. (The jar was sitting next to the butter dish, and it added a nice flavor touch. I almost wish my husband hadn’t gotten me hooked on those yummy little pickles! ;)) It went into the oven, covered, at about 350F / 180C for what I think should have been 35-40 minutes, but I forgot to start the timer. When it came out, I drizzled some lemon juice on top. It wasn’t a bad combination.

When the fish has about 20 minutes to go, you can start cooking the other stuff.

Pasta with Ricotta and Tomato

I used fresh rosemary in here, since the weather is still mild enough here that it’s a reasonable idea to go outside and snip off some. Basil is another tasty option. Frozen also works well; in a pinch, you could use dried herbs, but it’s just not the same. I grow some herbs, and try to keep baggies of a few kinds chopped up in the freezer. They’re available commercially, but not cheap!

  • 4 tbsp. (100mL) olive oil — you could use less, but why? 😉
  • An onion, quartered and sliced
  • 3 – 4 cloves garlic, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp. coarsely ground pepper
  • Dash red pepper flakes
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes (14 oz./400g) — an equivalent amount of fresh is better, in season, but canned works
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Few sprigs of fresh or frozen rosemary (basil is good, instead)
  • 8 oz. (250g) tub of ricotta
  • 8 oz. (250g) gluten free pasta, cooked

Put the pasta water on to boil.

Sauté the onion in the oil until it just starts turning golden. Add the garlic, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and let it cook a minute longer. Pour in the tomatoes, and add the salt and chopped rosemary or basil. Let the sauce cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have thickened a bit.

If necessary, you can hold the sauce warm at this stage until the pasta is ready. Just before serving, stir the ricotta into the hot tomato mixture, very gently heating it a bit if need be. You don’t want to make it bubble after the cheese goes in, or the creamy texture will curdle in an unpleasant way.

Eat it while it’s fresh, because most GF pastas will swell up and go mushy if they sit in a sauce. Rice is not as bad about that as corn, IME.

Steam-fried frozen spinach

I’ve found that steam-frying any kind of frozen vegetable (usually with no added liquid) is a pretty good way of jazzing it up. But, that applies to vegetables in general. 😉 This is a little more complicated than the usual “little bit of flavorful fat, and a sprinkle of seasoned salt of some kind” version, but not by much.

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves finely minced or crushed garlic (I have fallen in love with the Taj frozen cubes of crushed garlic here! In this case, half a cube.)
  • A little ground pepper and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. / 500g frozen baby leaf spinach (chopped would work)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • About 1 tbsp. of lemon juice, to taste
  • Sprinkling of sunflower seeds, on the plate (optional)

Heat the oil in a heavy, medium-sized pan  over medium heat. Fry the garlic for a couple of minutes, then add the peppers and let it cook while you get the spinach out of the freezer. Throw in the spinach and salt, stir it around some, turn up the heat to medium-high, and cover the pan. Peek at it and stir occasionally until it’s all thawed, then take off the lid to let some of the liquid evaporate if necessary.  Only cook it for a few minutes after it’s thawed. (If you’re using loose frozen spinach instead of the nuggets we get here, it will cook a lot more quickly.) When it’s done, stir in the lemon juice, and sprinkle some sunflower seeds on each serving if you like.

I hadn’t tried the sunflower seeds on spinach before, but the little bit of taste and texture variation worked really well.  I bet chopped walnuts or pecans would be just as good.

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