Apron Optional: A penné for your thoughts

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Apron Optional cooks up an adaptation of The Pioneer Woman’s Penné with Shrimp & Tomato Cream Sauce. This version adds a bit more color and zest with a cup of peas and one large lemon.
Apron Optional cooks up an adaptation of The Pioneer Woman’s Penné with Shrimp & Tomato Cream Sauce. This version adds a bit more color and zest with a cup of peas and one large lemon.

Hey everyone, its Rachel here again for another round in the kitchen!

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we’ve been making a lot of sweet stuff around here. Not that I don’t love baking them — and certainly not that my friends don’t like eating them — but I’ve actually always been more of a salty food person myself.

Therefore, I thought this week we would make something easy that you could have before your cookies. What the hell, eat them after your cookies! You’re in college now, these are the types of crazy experiences you will look back on years from now when you think of what a wild child you were. In any case, we will be making penne pasta with tomato cream sauce and shrimp.

Before I fill you in on why I chose this dish, here are two quick tutorials that may help you out in your kitchen endeavors:

To mince garlic, first peel two cloves (segments) off of the pod. Laying them on their sides on a cutting board, cut off both tips with a large chef’s knife. Firmly holding your knife, rest the flat side of the blade on top of the garlic clove. Carefully pound the knife down to crush the garlic (the motion is similar to something you might see in a “cool” guy handshake). Peel off the skin and discard it. Now, thinly slice the garlic, being careful to avoid your fingers. Do the same in the other direction and you are done!

To chiffonade basil, neatly stack several basil leaves (washed) on a cutting board. Then, tightly roll the stack of leaves up lengthwise. Slice the roll into thin strips, opposite lengthwise. That’s all there is to it — the French name is fancier than the skill.

If you know me now, this may come as quite a shock, but when I was younger I really didn’t care that much for pasta. I would eat it, but I just didn’t ever really want it (excluding macaroni and cheese, naturally). Then, when I was 16 I went to Italy with my family for a summer vacation.

I know I’m not the first, second or millionth person to go to Italy and fall in love with Italian food, but I am perfectly fine counting myself among the masses. Never before in my life did I actually crave pasta, and then suddenly I was obsessed, as if every meal was my last supper before the Atkins diet.

Among the many things that I ate (after just a week, I’m legitimately surprised I still fit on the plane, much less into my pants), a spaghetti dish with tomato cream sauce still sticks out in my mind. Simple and rich, it was the first time I had ever seen anything other than a traditional red sauce. The bright, reddish orange color was a departure from any previous sauce I had experience in the realm of pasta. To this day, I seek it out at restaurants.

I found the recipe for this particular dish on one of my longtime favorite food blogs, The Pioneer Woman — although I believe this the recipe was also included in author Ree Drummond’s cookbook, published in 2009.

I decided to add fresh peas to mine because they are in season and I love them. Honestly, if you aren’t paying attention when dinner is cooking, I will try to add them to just about anything I can justify. I think they go well with this dish in particular (you can use the frozen variety as well) — but I won’t be hurt if you skip them.

Lastly, I like to keep a lemon wedge nearby sometimes when I’m eating particularly rich pasta. The acidity cuts some of the heaviness out of the dish and adds a nice balance.

I hope you guys enjoy! The dish itself isn’t too terribly difficult to make, but it looks pretty and tastes fantastic, and that’s pretty much all I could ever dream for in pasta.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat myself into a carbo-coma. See you next week!