Thai Peanut Pasta Salad

FullSizeRenderPeanut allergy people and gluten intolerant folks, you might as well skip reading this post right now. My apologies in advance. But if you’re a fan of Thai dishes heavy on peanut, you’ll love this easy pasta recipe that can be eaten warm or cold. The recipe was requested by a Pioneer Press reader when I wrote the “In the Kitchen” column for that paper several years ago. It was served at the Marshall Field’s deli at the time (and might still be offered at Macy’s deli…), and executive chef Tim Tesch was happy to pass it along. After making it several times, I’ve made some adjustments—I’ve increased the peanut butter and sugar amounts, decreased the soy sauce, and added in some fresh garlic for additional flavor. 

The chicken can be grilled or fried in a pan, if making the dish during non-grilling season. (It’s never non-grilling season at our house. My husband grills year-round.) We like eating this while still warm for dinner, and then chilling the leftovers for lunches the next day. It’s great at either temperature. I suppose it’s the chilling of the pasta that gives it the “salad” name tag? Don’t let the title fool you—it really is a whole meal. Since it’s easy to make ahead of time, it’s great potluck fare, if you’re feeling generous enough to share with others. But you may just want to keep it all for yourselves. I’m OK with that.

Serves 4 to 6

1 pound chicken breast or tenderloin
Dash each of soy sauce, vegetable oil, and garlic salt
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (optional)
1/3 cup shredded carrots
4 scallions, sliced thin
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted (in 375° oven for 10 minutes)
1/2 pound uncooked spaghetti pasta

For sauce

1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup peanut butter (I use 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup sugar (I use 1/4 cup)
Dash crushed red pepper flakes

1/3 cup dry roasted peanuts, chopped, for garnish

Toss chicken in dash each of soy sauce, vegetable oil, and garlic salt; grill or fry until chicken is no longer pink in center. Once cooled slightly, julienne or chop chicken. If using frozen peas, rinse them in cold water and let drain until thawed. In large mixing bowl, combine cooked chicken, peas, carrots, scallions, and sesame seeds. Set aside.

Bring water to a boil and break pasta into halves or thirds and cook according to package directions; drain. While pasta is cooking, make sauce. Pour oil into large sauce pan. Heat oil on medium, and add minced garlic. Cook until garlic turns golden brown. Add peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Continue to cook and stir on medium heat until all ingredients are incorporated, and sauce is smooth. May need to add 2 tablespoons to 1/4 cup water at this point to thin sauce to desired consistency. Pour sauce into bowl with chicken and vegetable mixture, and add cooked pasta. Using tongs or large wooden spoon, toss all ingredients around until sauce coats evenly. Serve warm with chopped peanut garnish, or chill to serve later. (Garnish with peanuts at time of serving.)

Spinach Ricotta Crespelles

IMG_0747Feeling like a little Italian for dinner, but don’t want the heavy post-pasta blues? These “crespelles” are basically manicotti, but made from scratch, and so much lighter than store-bought boxed noodles. Think crepes, only Italian, and you get the idea. I’ve been making this dish for several years, and my husband Rich has yet to miss the meat in this meal. First time I made these, I left one pan uncooked, thinking I could refrigerate it and have dinner ready for another night. But they got soggy from sitting uncooked in the sauce, and were really nasty. So I suggest baking both of the pans at the same time, then reheating one when you have “leftover buffet” another night. (That’s my son Mitchell’s favorite meal—a little of this, a little of that—all the leftovers together on the table in one glorious feast.)

The only indicator on my hard copy print out of where I got this recipe, is a tiny little note that says “Gina’s Weight Watcher Recipes.” But I’ve got no link, or even the name of the original recipe. Sorry I’m not able to give proper credit on this one! The recipe called for reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, and only egg whites in the crespelles, but I usually use the real deal cheese and 2 whole eggs, yolks and all. Hey, you only live once! It also called for frozen spinach, but I’ve found the fresh tastes so much better.

Makes 12 crispelles, 6 servings

For filling

16-ounce container of part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, reserve 1/2 cup for topping
1 large egg
6-ounce bag of fresh spinach, chopped (or half of 9-ounce bag)
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

For crispelles

1 cup flour
1 1/2 cups 1% or skim milk
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
drizzle of olive oil, or olive oil spray

1 28 or 32 ounce jar of marinara sauce, like Trader Joe’s Organic Marinara or Classico Tomato Basil Marinara

Preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. In large mixing bowl, combine ricotta and 1 1/2 cups of mozzarella cheese, one egg, spinach, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Stir until ingredients are incorporated. Set aside. Pour some of the marinara sauce in the bottom of a 9″x12″ baking dish, as well as in a 9″x9″ baking dish. Reserve some marinara for topping crespelles.

In blender or mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment, combine flour, milk, eggs, oil, and salt. Blend or beat until batter is smooth and no lumps of flour remain. Heat 6-inch non-stick fry pan on medium heat. Lightly spray or drizzle pan with olive oil. Pour 1/4 cup batter into pan and slowly swirl around pan until batter evenly coats bottom of pan. Cook until edges of crespelles are dry, then flip to lightly brown other side. Turn cooked crespelle onto a cutting board, and place 1/4–1/3 cup of the spinach and cheese filling down the center of the crespelle. Roll up crespelle around filling to make a tube. Place seam-side down in one of the baking dishes. (8 crespelles will fit in 9″x12″ pan, and 4 in the 9″x9″ pan.) Continue making crespelles in fry pan, then filling with spinach and cheese mixture until all 12 crespelles are done. Pour remaining marinara sauce on top of crespelles, and top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Cover with foil and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes.

NOTE: I’ve got 10 points assigned to 2 spinach-filled crespelles in Weight Watcher’s code…but that’s if you’re using the reduced-fat mozzarella cheese, and 2 egg whites plus one whole egg in the crespelles. I grabbed this recipe online back in 2010, and I think WW had a different point system at that time than they currently use. At any rate, it’s still lower cal than most traditional Italian dishes!