Perfect for Summer | Caprese Pasta Salad

Caprese Pasta Salad | Once Upon a Recipe

Happy Monday, friends! I hope you all had an incredible weekend. I am still enjoying mine, as we were granted a long one here in Canada for the civic holiday. And the weather is absolutely glorious, so I can’t wait to get outside and soak up some summer sun. The fact that we’re already into August is mind-boggling to me!

With that said, here is a quick and easy pasta salad recipe that would be perfect for any summer BBQ or gathering with friends and family. I’ve made it no less than 4 times over the past couple of months. It is so simple due to its short ingredient list, it comes together in no time, and can easily feed a crowd. Leftovers taste pretty spectacular too.

Caprese Pasta Salad | Once Upon a Recipe

The recipe comes from Annie’s Eats, and is one of many gems that I’ve found on Annie’s blog. I barely changed a thing, except for upping the garlic a wee bit (I can’t help myself). If you’re not a fan of intense garlic flavor, what’s wrong with you? simply reduce the number of cloves. Adios!

Caprese Pasta Salad | Once Upon a Recipe

Caprese Pasta Salad (from Annie’s Eats)

Serves 10-12 people as a side dish. This recipe also doubles and triples nicely if you’re feeding a large crowd.

1 lb. pasta shapes of your choice
6 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
½ tsp. red pepper flakes
2 TBSP. balsamic vinegar
1 lb. cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered
1 lb. fresh mozzarella (ie. mini bocconcini)
½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse well with cold water. In the meantime, add the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes to a small skillet. Over medium-low heat, allow the oil to infuse with the flavors for about 5-10 minutes. Be careful that the garlic doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Combine the cooked pasta, olive oil mixture, tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Caprese Pasta Salad | Once Upon a Recipe

Light and Fresh | Fettuccine Al-Fake-O!

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

Dear Universe,

I would like to make a proposition.

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

Let’s add a few more hours to the day. Let’s make every day 36 hours long instead of 24. A deliciously long 12-hour night sleep will be mandatory and then we’ll still have 24 other hours during which we can make a living, love on all our family and friends, work out, catch up on all of our favorite TV shows, listen to all the best music, and cook/bake/eat/drink all the things. And do all of the other wonderful/demanding/amazing/worthy/necessary activities in our lives.

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

And let’s make it happen immediately! Three day weekends are also on the wish list.

Most sincerely,


Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

While it is unlikely for my wish for more hours in a day to come true, it might just be possible to squeeze more into the hours we already have. Quick and easy meals like this affectionately named Fettuccine Al-Fake-O will fill your belly with delicious and healthy things, without requiring tons of time in the kitchen. And guess what? It’s freaking vegan. Remember when I made you that vegan ice cream? Yeah, I hopped aboard the vegan train and you’re comin’ with me! (But don’t worry, I still really like butter and cheese and meat and stuff)

Disclaimer: Dudes, let’s be real. A sauce made without loads of butter, cream, and cheese is not going to taste like a sauce that is made with all of the above. I mean, I’m not freaking David Copperfield. However…this vegan avocado “alfredo” sauce is made with wholesome and delicious ingredients, and it tastes pretty amazing. It literally takes minutes to pull together, giving you more time for the important stuff. And if you enjoy lighter meals made with fresh ingredients during the hot summer months, this is the perfect dish for you. Live it up!

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! (barely adapted from The Kind Life)

If you are a garlic fiend like me, up the garlic to 3 cloves. If you don’t enjoy having garlic breath for days, or just aren’t a big garlic fan, reduce the garlic to 1 clove. The garlic packs a pretty big punch, so be warned. Also, this pasta tastes best when enjoyed immediately. I would be a bit leery of reheating it in the microwave, due to the avocado base. 

1 ripe avocado

1 large handful of fresh basil

1-3 cloves of garlic

Half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

2 servings of cooked fettuccine

In a food processor, blend the avocado, basil, garlic, the juice from the lemon together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss the sauce with the hot, cooked pasta until evenly coated. Serve immediately. Top with a pinch of lemon zest, if desired. And if you aren’t vegan, a little freshly grated parmesan cheese sprinkled on top tastes pretty darn good too.

Fettuccine Al-Fake-O! | Once Upon a Recipe

PS. If you are going to be kissing anyone in the hours after consuming this tasty dish, perhaps you should encourage your partner to enjoy the same meal. Just sayin’…

Choose Your Own Adventure | Mac ‘N Cheese, Your Way

Remember those “choose your own adventure” books that were popular when you were a kid? The ones that allowed you to determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome? Every few pages you would be given two or three choices, each leading to more choices and ultimately to one of many different endings.

Life is kind of like those books, when you think about it. Every day we are faced with choices. What to have for breakfast, which route to take to work, to strap on those running shoes and pound out that run or sit on the couch and drink wine, what to make for dinner, whether or not to smile at a stranger (which is almost always a good idea, in my opinion).

And all of these choices, no matter how small they might seem at the time, affect the larger twists and turns that our lives take. The moral of the story? Choose wisely friends. But at the same time, don’t take life too seriously. Having fun is important too.

Did you know that you can have fun with mac ‘n cheese? Did you have any idea how many choices you are presented with when it comes to making this delicious and comforting dish?

Let’s talk about these choices, shall we?

First, let’s talk about cheese. You can go the traditional route with a sharp Cheddar, or you can change it up with Gruyère, Fontina, Havarti, Gouda, you name it! Don’t forget an accent cheese, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, Feta, or Goat cheese.

How about pasta? Macaroni, shells, penne, rotini, any small pasta will do!

And not that cheese and pasta require any help in the deliciousness department, but there are some flavorful and fun things that you can add to the mix! Herbs and spices like fresh thyme, rosemary, sage, parsely, dry mustard, cayenne pepper, and nutmeg add some extra flavor, while add-ins like peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, mushrooms, spinach, bacon, and artichokes give a little more beef to the final product.

Finally, don’t forget the irresistible crispy topping, created with breadcrumbs, butter and garlic!

The possibilities are truly endless! Choose your own adventure friends. Have fun with life, and with your food!

Choose Your Own Adventure Mac ‘N Cheese (adapted from Fine Cooking magazine, Feb./Mar. 2012)

Now, this recipe takes some time to prepare, but I promise you, it is so worth it. Especially if you’re single like me – the leftovers fed me for lunch all week!

Step One: Mix the topping!

1 garlic clove, minced

3 TBSP. butter, melted

2 cups Panko bread crumbs, lightly toasted

Salt and pepper

2 TBSP. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)

Stir the garlic into the melted butter. Put the breadcrumbs into a medium bowl and drizzle the butter over top. Add in the salt and pepper, and Parmigiano-Reggiano (if using). Mix well and set aside.

Step Two: Make the cheese sauce!

4 TBSP. butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 1/2 cups milk (at least 1%)

Salt, to taste

4 cups cheese of your choice, plus up to one cup of an accent cheese

Herbs and spices (up to three, and up to 1 tsp. of each, depending on what you’re using)

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and continue to whisk over low heat for about 3 minutes. The mixture will be bubbly and frothy. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream, about 6 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cheese, as well as the herbs and spices (if using). Season to taste with salt. Set aside, but keep warm.

Step Three: Cook the pasta!

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add 1 lb. of your choice of pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 1 minute less than indicated on the package. Drain well and return to the pot.

Step Four: Mix it all together!

Add the cheese sauce and your choice of add-ins (up to 3 cups total) to the pasta and gently stir to combine. If you’re using bacon, pancetta, or bacon, cook ’em up first. If you’re using any veggies, like brussels or asparagus, steam or sauté them before adding them in.

Step Five: Bake!

Transfer the pasta mixture to a 9×13 inch baking dish that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Evenly sprinkle the breadcrumbs over top. Bake at 350°F until the top is golden, about 15-20 minutes. Serve immediately.

For the batch of mac ‘n cheese pictured here, I used small shell pasta, Gruyère and Fontina cheese (accented with Parmigiana-Reggiano), fresh parsely and a pinch of cayenne, and brussel sprouts and pancetta. It was a true masterpiece! Next time, I’m going to try sharp Cheddar with peas and ham, and elbow macaroni for a more traditional mac ‘n cheese. See? Endless possibilities. Let your imagination run wild!

Anything Goes Pasta | The Fall Edition

Hi folks. Just a quick lil’ post for you today. Happy October 1st! Which, if you live in Alberta, means only a few more weeks until the first snowfall of the season. 🙁 This girl is not looking forward to another winter. Alas…

I wanted to share a quick recipe with you. I made this pasta dish one night earlier this week when I was rushed for time between work and going out for the evening. Most often, I don’t follow a recipe in the kitchen. One of my favorite things to do is look through my fridge and cupboards and pull something together using the ingredients I have on hand. On this particular evening, I was working with half a butternut squash, a zucchini, half a ring of garlic sausage, and a half-box of spaghetti. I wasn’t planning on sharing the “recipe”, but the end result was really good – a great speedy meal for a Fall evening. And it all came together in the time it took to boil the water and cook the pasta. That’s my kind of dinner!

Anything Goes Pasta (Fall)

1 onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

Half of a butternut squash, peeled and cubed (about 2 cups)

1 medium zucchini, cubed

Your favorite garlic sausage, sliced (about 2 cups)

Spaghetti or your favorite pasta, cooked al dente (about 250g)

2 TBSP. olive oil, divided

1 TBSP. butter

1/2 cup (or more) parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Get a large pot of water boiling on the stove. Preheat your oven to 450°F. Combine the butternut squash and zucchini on a large baking sheet, toss with 1 TBSP. of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 15-20 minutes (or until tender and slightly browned), turning once halfway through. Melt the butter and the remaining 1 TBSP. of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add in the chopped onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens. Add in the garlic and the sausage, allowing to cook for about 10 minutes. Once the squash and zucchini are ready, add them into the pan. Toss the whole mash with the cooked pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to help everything come together. Add in the cheese, and season with salt and pepper (and another tablespoon of butter, if you’re feeling naughty). Fill your face. Delish!

Up next, more pumpkin! Stay tuned…

An Easy Side | Orzo with Parmesan and Basil

I’m dreaming of summer. Cool refreshing mornings, warm breezy nights, deliciously hot days. Amazing garden vegetables, fresh herbs, fruit that is actually in season! *sigh* Sadly, I will have to keep dreaming for another few months or so. Although, apparently the groundhog didn’t see his shadow, which means spring is on its way…right? I get confused by the groundhog theory. Anyway…

The first time I had orzo was a few years ago, when my mom made this recipe. Orzo is such a fun pasta – about the size of rice, but with the bite of pasta. It makes a great pasta salad (which I have another great recipe for), a fantastic side dish, and also goes well in soups. Now, this orzo with parmesan and basil tastes best with fresh basil, but sadly, the “fresh” basil currently available at my local grocery store tends to be half brown and less than delightful. Not to fret if you have the same problem – dried basil does the trick when necessary. Whether you use fresh or dried, give this recipe a try. It really is a fantastic example of the amazing orzo! Happy eating!

Orzo with Parmesan and Basil (a la my mama)

3 TBSP. butter

1 1/2 cups orzo pasta

3 cups broth (chicken or vegetable)

6 TBSP. fresh basil (or 2 tsp. dried)

1/2 cup fresh parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the orzo and saute for several minutes, until the orzo starts to become golden brown. Add the broth, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the orzo has absorbed the broth. Remove from heat, add the basil and parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to your liking. Add more parmesan if you want it to be really gooey and cheesy.

This orzo is SO good. It will serve 4 very healthy portions (although honey and I can eat one batch to ourselves – piggish, right?), but if you’re having company, make sure you double the recipe. Enjoy!

Pleasure in the Belly | My Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti is one of my favorite comfort foods. Nothing feels quite as wonderful and comforting as a belly full of spaghetti and homemade sauce. This recipe originally came from my Nana, but it has evolved as it has been passed down through the generations. To be honest, I never make it the exact same way twice! There is room for some flexibility, depending on personal preference. Therefore, I give you the basic recipe, and suggest possible additions. Plus, it is so quick to prepare – perfect for the days before Christmas when you’re running around and barely have time to think about what to make for dinner!

When I made this batch of sauce a few weeks ago, honey and I were still in the throes of our no-grains challenge, and so we ate the sauce over spaghetti squash. It certainly wasn’t better than pasta, but it was definitely a good substitute!

My Spaghetti Sauce

1 onion, diced small

6 cloves of garlic, minced

1 pound lean ground beef

1 large can of diced tomatoes

1 can of condensed tomato soup

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Add-in options: 2 stalks celery (diced small), 1 green pepper (diced small), 20 mushrooms (sliced), 1 cup frozen peas, a couple of handfuls of fresh spinach.

Brown the ground beef and drain. Set aside. In a big pot, saute the onion for a couple of minutes in a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. If using celery, green pepper, or mushrooms, add them in now. When the veggies are tender, add the cooked ground beef, followed by the tomatoes, soups, and spices. (If you like your sauce really tomato-y, feel free to add a second can of diced tomatoes). Simmer over low heat for at least 30 minutes, longer if possible. If using the peas and/or spinach, add in at the end and allow to warm (peas) or wilt (spinach). Serve over your favorite pasta (or spaghetti squash), and enjoy with fresh bread. Happy eating!

PS. Only 1 more sleep until Christmas!

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