Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia {Squid Ink Shrimp Spaghetti with Tomato Basil Saffron Cream}

Squid ink pasta has a special place in my heart, and I have a hilarious picture from my bachelorette party years ago to prove it (pro-tip: don’t try squid ink when you’re all dolled up for a night out). It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I just love the rich texture and earthy/sea-infused flavor of squid ink pasta. It’s something I always order at restaurants if I see it on the menu, because I imagine it’s incredibly complicated to make at home. Until I walked in my local Trader Joe’s and found Casa Milo’s Squid Ink Spaghetti on the “new products” shelves, that is. I immediately snagged it and decided to pair it with shrimp and a creamy, garlicky, tomato basil saffron sauce. Sooo delicious and luxurious. The spaghetti was simple to prepare (just followed the directions and boiled for ten minutes till al dente) and had a lovely, subtle flavor to it. Not super overpowering, and perfect for squid ink virgins. RUN, don’t walk to your nearest Trader Joe’s to give this a try! Immediately ups the ante of any pasta dish and makes it tres gourmet 🙂 Perfect for hosting, date night, or just a regular weekend meal if you’re feeling fabulous.

Ingredients (serves 3-4) 

1/2 an onion, minced
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and then minced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
Two tomatoes, crushed
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
Salt & pepper, to taste
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
Oregano or Italian spices, to taste
1 lb frozen shrimp, deveined
Pinch of saffron (optional, I had some lying around)
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
12 oz (1 pack) Casa Milo Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia, cooked according to directions
1/2 cup pasta water
1/2 cup parmesan or parmigiano-reggiano

Recipe

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let brown slightly, then add the onions and then stir till soft and translucent. Add: the tomatoes, fresh basil, crushed red pepper flakes (a generous amount if you can handle some heat), lemon juice, salt & pepper, Italian spices. Stir and let this mixture simmer into a sauce on medium-high heat for several minutes. In the meantime, prepare the pasta according to direction and cook till al dente. Add shrimp to the tomato mixture and stir until fully cooked.

Lower the heat and stir in a pinch of saffron, heavy whipping cream, and pasta water fresh from the cooked spaghetti. Stir everything together and until the mixture has a nice yellow hue from the saffron. Add in more salt & pepper and spices as necessary. Simmer for a few more minutes until the sauce is thick and bubbly. Stir in the spaghetti and serve with freshly-grated parmesan/parmigiano-reggiano and fresh basil.

Guilt-Free Chicken Pasta with Sun-Dried Tomato Cream Sauce

I just got back from a wonderful trip to my parent’s house in Calgary, Alberta and feel so refreshed and energized for the fall! There’s a crispness in the air back home in Chicago that just makes me so excited for cooler temperatures and fall recipes. I used to SO not be a fall person (I grew up in deserts and the tropics and never had to wear a sweater), but now that I’m a legit Midwesterner, I really appreciate the beauty of seasons. And it’s much easier taking my baby out for walks now that it’s not ridiculously humid and in the high 90s. 🙂

ANYWAYS, I recently shared this pasta on my Insta Stories and decided it was too good not to share on the blog! I LOVE using sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil for pasta and chicken recipes. It’s such a good hack for easy-to-prepare sauces that immediately lends a ton of flavor to any dish. You can also check out my recipe for Chicken & Sun-Dried Tomatoes in a Garlic Cream Sauce.

For this particular recipe, I used Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli Pasta, which makes this dish healthy, gluten-free, and guilt-free. The pasta is a new find for me; it’s so good and so filling that I seriously cannot believe it’s not real pasta! Love the texture too. Hope you enjoy the recipe, and leave a comment if you plan to try it! It’s GREAT for meal-planning for the week. Just skip the chicken if you want to go veggie 🙂

Ingredients (serves 4) 

1/2 an onion, minced
2 cloves of garlic, grated or smashed
1 box of baby bellas, sliced
6 oz spinach
6 chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
8.5 oz sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil (I used the Trader Joe’s brand)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup heavy cream
Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli Pasta, cooked according to packet directions
1/2 cup pasta water
1 cup parmigiano reggiano
Oregano, red chili flakes, and s&p

Recipe

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan on medium-high heat. Add the garlic and let brown slightly, then add the onions and stir till golden. Add the chicken thighs and fry each side for a few minutes until almost fully cooked. Then add the mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil. Stir everything together until the chicken pieces are fully cooked and nicely coated with the sun-dried tomatoes and olive oil. Lower the heat and add heavy cream, pasta water, and salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for five minutes or so until the sauce is nice and thick. Finally, add the spinach, cooked pasta, 1/2 cup of parmigiano reggiano, and seasonings (oregano and lots of red chili flakes for extra spice!). Serve with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and enjoy for dayzzz!

Parisian Foodventures: My Top 5 Meals!

If you’ve been following me on the ‘gram, then you know that I just got back from an INCREDIBLE weeklong trip to Paris with my little family–yes, including the baby in tow! Most people thought we were absolutely bonkers to travel to Europe with a newborn who’s not even three months old, but it was so, so worth it. It was a LOT of work, but also tons and tons of fun. I’ll do another post on tips for traveling with an infant in Paris, so stay tuned 🙂

For this post though, I want to focus entirely on FOOD. We spent seven nights in Paris staying in the trendy Le Marais neighborhood, and it was so wonderful staying put in one place. Pre-baby, our international trips always consisted of multiple cities with jam-packed itineraries and daily restaurant reservations. This time around, traveling with a baby forced us to slooow down, space out our sight-seeing, and leave lots of room for spontaneous breaks at those darling French cafes people-watching for hours. Yes, it was as delightful as it sounds.

We made a few restaurant reservations ahead of time (a must for most Parisian restaurants!), and made sure to mention that we were with a newborn baby who would be in her carseat sleeping. Because she’s so young, we were able to get away with a few tasting menus, but still opted for more casual vs. stuffy/fancy restaurants. That’s more our style anyway! We had an amazing mix of meals during our stay in Paris – from modern French tasting menus, to delicious North African cuisine, to mouthwatering Italian food, and of course those fantastic pastries. I don’t think there was a single meal that I didn’t enjoy, but here are my top five FAVORITE meals that we enjoyed during our time in Paris.

*Disclaimer: There are obviously a zillion other restaurants in Paris, and we selected places that were convenient for us to visit with a newborn baby, but hopefully this is still helpful in your trip planning! Oh, and tip for eating out in Paris with a baby–make an early reservation (most places open at 7 or 7:30 pm) so that you can get in and out before it gets too busy. Some places might get cranky if you show up with a carseat + stroller (mostly because Parisian restaurants are tiny), but we were so pleasantly surprised with how friendly and accommodating each of the below places were. 

1. LA BOURSE ET LA VIE
http://www.labourselavie.com/en/  

My carnivorous hubby was obviously on the hunt for the best steak-frites in Paris, which is how we ended up at La Bourse et La Vie, a modern (and slightly Americanized) take on a traditional French bistro. With super minimalistic decor, and an uber-cool wait staff, we were in for a stellar meal. I’m so glad we found this place, because I’m still dreaming about that incredible rare steak au poivre with thick, crispy potatoes cooked to perfection. We split one steak, which was probably for the best, but I kiiiinda wish I devoured one on my own. So. good.

2. LES ENFANTS ROUGES
https://www.les-enfants-rouges.fr/ 

Les Enfants Rouges was probably THE most convenient restaurant we went to in Paris, because it was located right next to our Airbnb. It was also just an incredible meal. A tiny restaurant located in a side street of Le Marais with a Japanese chef, Les Enfants Rouges was exactly the type of modern inventive French food we were craving for our very first dinner in Paris. We opted for the six-course tasting menu, and our super sweet waitress who had just moved to Paris from Tokyo (and was juggling three different languages) happily described each of our dishes in English. French, with a touch of Asian influence. Our favorite dishes included a beautiful beef & mushroom dish and a mouthwatering molten chocolate dessert with pistachio ice cream.

3. COME A CASA
http://comeacasa7.tumblr.com/

It’s tough competition, but this might have been my favorite meal of all, just because the restaurant was SO ME. I live for tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants that make you feel like you’re inside someone’s living room, and that’s exactly what Come a Casa is. It’s a tiny place in a very residential neighborhood owned by an Italian couple that changes the menu daily. Oh, and there’s only like three things on the menu. And everything is simple, fresh, and exquisitely delicious. We sat outside, drank lots of wine, and ate to our heart’s content. Big thanks to my friend Kat (a former Parisian) who recommended this very special place to us!

 

4. EAST MAMMA
https://www.bigmammagroup.com/fr/trattorias/east-mamma 

We were severely depressed on our last night in Paris and had no idea where to go. We wanted to go someplace casual, and I was craving another Italian meal because well, what’s new. I always want Italian. Kat had told me to visit one of the restaurants from the popular ‘Big Mamma’ restaurants so I mapped out whichever one was closest to our Airbnb. So that’s how we ended up waiting in line for East Mamma to open its doors at 7 pm on a Saturday night. Pretty much everyone in the line was speaking in French, which is how I knew we were in for an amazing meal. And boy, did it deliver. We were quickly seated outside, ordered the truffle pasta and a truffle pizza, and…died and went to heaven. To top it off, we polished off a pistachio creme brulee that might have been even better than a Pierre Herme macaron. And that’s saying a LOT.

5. SEMILLA
https://www.semillaparis.com/en 

Semilla is one of those trendy Parisian restaurants that just oozes French sophistication. The local patrons there are impeccably dressed, and the waitresses are just-friendly-enough to still be cool. When we asked for the tasting menu, they warned us that our baby might not last the two and a half hours (…their polite way of saying, please eat quickly) but I’m glad we insisted on it anyway. And our little one thankfully slept through the entire dinner! I loved my meal here–it felt more clean and refined than the modern French cuisine at Les Enfants Rouges, but perhaps with a little less heart. I’d still recommend Semilla for the overall ambience and really, really good food. The sole fish with tons and tons of butter was DIVINE.

Creamy Handmade Fettuccine with Pancetta, Leeks, Mushrooms & Caramelized Onions

Two Fridays ago, my husband and I said “screw you, cold weather” and made creamy handmade fettuccine with pancetta, leeks, mushrooms, and caramelized onions. Drizzled with truffle oil. And generously topped with freshly-grated parmigiano-reggiano.

I know that’s the longest description EVER for something that basically sounds like carbonara, but each of these ingredients were essential for making this pasta the most decadently delicious thing I’ve ever made in my life. The combination of salty pancetta and mushrooms with the sweet caramelized mixture of leeks and shallots, with a touch of cream and truffle oil was just perfect. So perfect, that my husband immediately called his parents after polishing off his plate and invited them over for lunch the next day to sample leftovers. NBD.

You obviously don’t need to make the fettuccine from scratch in order to enjoy this recipe, but trust me, it’s so much better handmade. I’ve included the steps for making the dough below the pictures in case you’re interested in a fun pasta-making workshop with your girlfriends or significant other. It takes some time, but it’s fun and once you’ve tried handmade pasta, there really is nothing better. The texture and taste is just unbeatable! We had a blast turning our home into a little pasta factory–hope you enjoy the pictures and the recipes 🙂

What my kitchen looked like during this entire process:

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Prepping the ingredients – pancetta, leaks, shallots, garlic, mushrooms, semolina flour, and lotsa cheese! 

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The creamy mixture of pancetta, caramelized onions and leeks, and mushrooms. So good. 

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Making the fettuccine – from scratch!

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Voila! The final product. A little plate of heaven. 

Recipe for Handmade Fettuccine
*Straight from Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour recipe for basic pasta! 

Ingredients

1 and a half cups Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour
Half teaspoon salt, optional
2 eggs or 3 egg whites, beaten (we added in an extra yolk or two for the yellow color!)
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. olive oil

Combine the semolina flour and salt. Add beaten eggs, water and oil. Mix to make a stiff dough. Knead 10 minutes or until dough is elastic. Wrap dough in a towel or place in plastic bag and let rest for 20 minutes.

For this next part, we used our pasta machine (you can see the process on my Instagram @mrsgcg), but here’s what the recipe suggests if you don’t have a pasta maker:

On a lightly floured surface, roll out to desired thickness and cut as desired to make fettuccine. Bring large pot of water containing half teaspoon oil to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender (this should take no longer than two minutes).

Recipe for the Sauce

Ingredients (serves 4) 

1 and a half tablespoons of olive oil
1 and a half tablespoons of butter
4 ounces pancetta, diced in small squares
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced (throw away the dark green and tough stems)
4 cloves of garlic, grated
Sea salt
1/2 cup or 3/4 cup heavy cream (depending on how creamy you want the sauce – can also be subbed with two tablespoons of Greek yogurt)
1 box of mushrooms
Truffle oil
Parmigiano-reggiano
Thyme leaves for garnishing

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan on high heat. Once the oil is heated, add the diced pancetta, lower the heat slightly, and cook for 3-5 minutes until slightly brown. Stir frequently to make sure the pancetta doesn’t stick to the pan.

Add the butter to the pan, along with the sliced leeks, shallots and grated garlic. Saute this mixture for around 5 minutes stirring frequently, add in the mushrooms, and continue stirring for another 5 minutes until the leeks and shallots become soft and caramelized. Lower the heat, and fold in the heavy cream along with a splash of water, stirring all the ingredients until becomes a creamy mixture. Simmer the mixture for a few minutes, until the cream thickens. Season with sea salt and pepper – remember, the pancetta already packs a ton of salty flavor, so go easy on the salt! Turn off the heat till your cooked pasta is ready to be added into the mixture.

Once the pasta is prepared, transfer in small increments to the creamy mixture to make sure you’re happy with the pasta-to-cream ratio. Stir the pasta with the mixture until it’s evenly coated to your desire.

Suggested Plating

This is a beautiful lookin’ pasta, so make sure to dress it up just right! Serve the pasta hot on a plate with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano. Garnish with thyme leaves and a few drizzles of truffle oil. A little bit goes a long way with truffle oil, so make sure it’s just a drizzle! Sit back, enjoy. With a big glass of red.

Pssst – if you liked this recipe, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog so you get new posts via email!

Dining Out: Trattoria Ultimo

My dining experience this past Saturday night was truly a special one. Maybe it’s because SG and I were badly in need of a date night, or maybe it’s because we ventured outside our usual go-to neighborhoods and into Ukrainian Village. I just know that I’m going to remember my dinner at Trattoria Ultimo for a very, very long time. I’m already dying to go back and can’t wait to tell all my friends about the amazing service, cozy interiors and most importantly, the FOOD.

To start with, any Italian restaurant that’s BYOB is a win in my book. SG and I are currently on a major red wine kick, so we picked up one of the staff favorites from The Noble Grape and made our way to Trattoria Ultimo, a hole-in-the-wall BYOB Italian place between Damen & Winchester Avenue. The restaurant looks very unassuming from the outside, but as soon as you enter, you can feel its warmth and intimacy. There are only 6-7 tables in the restaurant, and the kitchen is in close quarters to the dining area. I seriously felt like I was in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and visiting an Italian grandmother’s kitchen in Sicily or Rome. While I love a trendy, ‘scene-y’ restaurant as much as any other 20-something, sometimes a simple, hole-in-the-wall dining experience can be even more special.

We were greeted by the owner of the restaurant, who treated us with impeccable service the entire night. The regular menu has limited options, but they have a long list of specials that the owner handed to us on a small chalkboard. I love little details like that – adds so much to the overall dining experience! While the entrees were on the pricey side (average of $20), it was all SO worth it – the ingredients were fresh and organic, and the pasta handmade. Everything was delicious, but the prosciutto and burrata appetizer deserves a special mention. Served with bread, a scrumptious olive fig, and delicately seasoned tomatoes, the appetizer was just perfect. So creamy and flavorful – I would have been happy eating just that all night.

Thank you Trattoria Ultimo, for your warm service and a truly memorable dinner.

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Our personal chalkboard of specials!

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The prosciutto and burrata appetizer – to DIE for.

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My scallop linquine in a white wine sauce and tomatoes – incredibly flavorful and surprisingly light!

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My husband’s rabbit pappardelle – rich & hearty…everything you need on a cold Chicago evening.

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The flourless chocolate cake. The owner called it “love on a plate” – couldn’t agree more!