How much better can it get?

Friday, September 14, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 37

A few of our out-of-town relatives came for a short visit during the Labor Day weekend, which prompted a lot of cooking and eating.

One evening, we did “build-your-own-wrap,” during which we put everything a wrap might need on the table and then folks got a soft tortilla and made their own. This was a great idea because it cut down on the time spent in a hot kitchen making casserole after casserole, which is usually the fare at family gatherings.

I made a sweet little dessert that turned out to be a real hit, stuffed strawberries. It’s so good and good for you (compared to eating a big piece of chocolate cake)! So I have that recipe for you!

I also have another recipe as an added treat! Sometimes when I’m home cleaning, I’ll turn on the TV just to glance at occasionally. One day last week, I had the Food Network on, and The Barefoot Contessa was airing.

She was making many different things that make you sit and drool at the TV, but one thing in particular really got me pumped up, her pasta with garlic and olive oil. So I have that recipe, also.

Let me tell ya – we tore the pasta recipe up! I served it with a loaf of hearty sourdough bread, and no one talked during the meal. One of my daughters fixed it for her dinner the next night, and she said they ate it just as quickly. It’s that good!

The recipe from the show is not exactly like the one I have for you, but it’s not that different. Hers has red pepper flakes in it, which I did not use, and hers only calls for three cloves of garlic. I used eight. You don’t have to use that much garlic; we’re garlic lovers.

It might sound like there’s a lot of olive oil, but if you read through the recipe, you’ll see that the olive oil is your sauce, so try not to cut back on it. I didn’t cut back at all, and it was great. I did use a good EVOO, so it wasn’t heavy. The pasta soaked it all up pretty quickly.

This recipe is sometimes called “midnight spaghetti” because supposedly it’s a dish restaurant chefs come home and prepare after a long night at work. It’s quick and easy, and you usually have all of the ingredients at home.

Midnight spaghetti

1 pound dried spaghetti

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves (or more if desired), peeled

1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (optional), plus more if desired

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves

In a large pot, bring to a boil six quarts of salted water. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about six to eight minutes.

Drain pasta in a colander, reserving two tablespoons of the pasta water. The reserved pasta water will help create the sauce. Do not rinse pasta with water – you want to retain the pasta’s natural starches so that the sauce will stick.

In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until light brown and fragrant. It’s important to not burn the garlic or else it will become bitter. If you are using the red pepper flakes add them now and sauté for one minute. Add the reserved pasta water and stir to combine. Place the spaghetti in the pan and mix well for one minute.

Add the 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Stir until well blended. Remove pan from heat and top with fresh herbs. Serve remainder of grated Parmesan cheese for garnish and a hot loaf of crusty bread.

Stuffed strawberries

30 medium fresh strawberries

1 container strawberry cream cheese

1 8 oz. container sour cream

Shaved chocolate for garnish, if desired

Remove stems from strawberries by slicing straight across the bottom of the berry so it will stand up straight. Cut a deep “X” in the tip of each berry, stopping just before you reach the bottom. Gently spread berries open.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese and sour cream together until light and fluffy. Pipe or spoon filling into each berry. Sprinkle with chocolate if desired. Chill until ready to serve.

Note: I used a syringe to fill my berries. It didn’t seem to tear them completely apart. I tried using a spoon but made a mess. Another thing you could use is an icing bag and a small icing tip.