Thursday, February 20, 2014

Artichoke and Bacon Pasta

Hey, Blogging Friends!

I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day filled with lots of love and gratitude. I certainly enjoyed mine with little Eli and my Prince Charming. I know some people come down hard on Valentine's Day for being a "greeting card invented" holiday, but I lean towards the school of thought that since life can get so busy, it is nice to have a day set aside to remember to express your love to the people you care about. It is also a day that provides many reminders of all the blessings God has given out of His love for us, mainly the gift of His only Son, Jesus, to bring us back to Him. Greater love hath no man than this, that He lay down His life for His friends. 

I am a stay at home for Valentine's kind of girl. I would rather picnic in the den than go to a crowded restaurant. Prince Charming knows this. He surprised me with a homemade dinner when I came home from work. He had made me the same meal he made for me on our honeymoon when we got snowed into our cabin in Lake Tahoe. We dined on French onion soup, grilled steaks, and sweet potato oven fries. He served this delicious dinner on our wedding china. He still amazes me with his thoughtfulness and romance, and it was a perfect evening.

Eli has had a couple of late nights because of tummy aches, so we have spent much of our weekend time resting. This equaled no time to go to the grocery store. I decided to try to pull dinner together with what we had on hand, and I was pretty pumped with how it turned out. I had in mind making spinach and artichoke pasta, but we didn't have the ingredients on hand for that. Instead, I came up with this artichoke and bacon pasta dish, and it is pretty phenomenal. It was quick and easy with little clean up. The sauce is creamy and cheesy, and the artichokes were perfectly balanced with the salty bacon bits. Although there was no substantial meat in the pasta, the bite of the artichoke gave a meaty texture. You could easily adapt this recipe to be vegetarian by leaving out the bacon and maybe adding in some spinach. It would still be a very satisfying, tasty meal. Next time I make it, I will try a squeeze of lemon juice with a bit of zest, and I think it would be really good with a short pasta, like penne or bow tie. Give this recipe a try this week and let me know what you think!

Artichoke and Bacon Pasta in Cheesy Sauce

2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 box frozen artichokes, thawed
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes (or to your heat tolerance)
1 t garlic powder
1 t onion powder
2 T all purpose flour
3/4 C half and half
3/4 C low-sodium chicken stock
2 T cream cheese
2 T sour cream
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese 
1/2 C grated Gouda cheese
1/2 t Cajun seasoning 
1/2 C real bacon bits
1 box pasta of choice (I had spaghetti on hand)

1) Bring a pot of salted water to a boil on the stovetop. This is for cooking the spaghetti (or whatever pasta you have). Add the pasta to cook while you bring the sauce together.
2) In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Toss in the thawed artichokes and saute them with the crushed red pepper flakes for several minutes. The chokes probably won't take on much color since they were frozen and thawed, but you will be able to tell when they are taking on flavor when they start to color slightly.
3) Sprinkle the artichokes with the garlic powder and onion powder and cook another minute. Sprinkle on the flour and saute until the flour is completely dissolved into the cooking fat and artichokes. This should take one-two minutes.
4) Pour in the half and half and chicken stock. Stir to combine well and let it come up to a low boil. Simmer it until it thickens slightly. Then add the cream cheese and sour cream and let it continue to simmer until it thickens slightly again.
5) When the saucy mixture coats the back of your spoon thinly, add in the shredded cheeses and cajun seasoning. Stir until cheese melts. The cheese should thicken the sauce further so that it looks like an alfredo sauce consistency. If it seems too thick, add a bit more stock. If it is too thin, let it simmer gently until it reduces further. You want it to coat the pasta but not be glue! (Glue is only appetizing to kindergarteners...not that I know from experience because I don't...really...I have only seen it in movies...but I digress!)
6) When the sauce is the right consistency, add in the real bacon bits. (This is the point where next time I will add in the juice of a lemon and its zest.) Put your cooked pasta into the sauce and toss it all together. I like to cook my pasta until just before it is perfectly al dente and then I let it finish cooking in the sauce. It is a trick I picked up from watching Lydia's Italy in America on Create TV. Grazie, Lydia!
Serve the pasta in a bowl topped with more parmesean cheese and maybe some fresh chopped parsley, a caesar salad, and a side of crusty French bread, and I would say this is one delectable dinner! Enjoy, my beautiful friends, and come back soon, ya hear?
In Christ Alone,