Inspiration Abounds~

One just has to be adventuresome!

I have not always been so comfortable in the kitchen. For the longest time I was terrified of making pasta by hand. Why should it have terrified me? It is just a couple of eggs and flour. Simple, right?

But sometimes cooking isn’t about the food, it is about overcoming the fear of food failure. In the past, I wouldn’t have thought twice about buying an expensive cut of meat, one that I had never cooked before, bringing it home and just making up a way to prepare it. However, put two cups of flour and 3 eggs in front of me ~ PANIC!

So how does one take inspiration from the market and put it to use in the kitchen? How does one overcome the “fear of food failure?” Why, by just being adventuresome and jumping in! Don’t believe me? Let me see if I can help~

I love the word “adventuresome.” On a trip to England one summer, I found myself standing in line with friends to buy ice cream at Warwick Castle. In front of us were two English schoolgirls, about 9-years-old. As my friends and I were trying to decide what flavor ice cream we wanted to order, I overheard the girls discussing the same dilemma.

“Oooo, what should we have?” said one of the girls, in her very proper British accent, standing with her hands akimbo on the waist of her blue school uniform.

“Mmmm – let’s be adventuresome and try the mint,” said the other, with a glint in her eye.

“Oh! Let’s do!” replied her friend, in an excited tone of a middle-aged housewife whose friend had just convinced her to have martinis at lunch. Neither of them sounded like any 9-year-old I had ever heard before. “Adventuresome?” Where does a 9-year-old pull that word from? Why, from her proper British education, that’s where!

From that day on, “adventuresome” is a word I use and embrace. So, what does this have to do with cooking?

The other day I was in the Hy-Vee here in Winona, MN, and I found penne candela pasta. Long “pens” of pasta that looked like “candles.”

I have never seen or used this dried pasta shape before. “Hmmm, how do I use this? What would an Italian do – hell, what would Nonna do?” I thought to myself as I held the package of long penne in my hand.

Without knowing what to do with it, I bought it.


A couple of days later I was shopping at the Bluff Country Co-Op and among all of their organic, locally grown vegetables, they had garlic scapes, from Fairview Farm, Plainview, MN. “How unusual,” I thought. It has been years since I had seen garlic scapes. Yum! But again, the question popped into my head ~ “What would I make with these?”

[Not sure what a garlic scape is? Read more HERE]

That got me thinking about the penne candela I had waiting at home. Adventuresome again, I bought a couple of bunches of scapes and headed home.

On the way, I decided to pick up some ground turkey. An idea was starting to develop. The penne candela reminded me of manicotti – a pasta that is baked. Though too long to stuff with cheese, I felt like the candela needed to be baked in the oven ~ a Pasta al Forno.

Back at my GRSF apartment, I broke open the bag of candele, pulled out a can of San Marzano tomatoes and untied the garlic scapes.

Being adventuresome, here is what I came up with~

Penne Candela al Forno con Ragù di Tacchino e Aglio Scape

Baked Penne Candela with Turkey and Garlic Scape Ragù

Extra virgin olive oil

2 bunches (8 stems) garlic scapes, chopped on the bias (diagonally) into 1/4-inch pieces

1 pound ground turkey

Kosher salt or Sea Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 full recipe of Nonna’s Simple Sauce. [*Found in my book Beyond the Pasta or HERE in the recipe section.]

1 pound Penne Candela (you can substitute regular penne or penne regate)

Unsalted butter

1/3 cup plain dried bread crumbs, divided

2/3 cup, plus a little more, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and the chopped garlic scapes. Sauté until the scapes just start to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the turkey to the skillet, breaking it up into small pieces. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Stirring constantly, cook until the turkey is just brown and no longer pink. With a slotted spoon, remove the browned turkey and scapes to a bowl. Set aside.

Keeping the dripping in the pan, begin preparing Nonna’s Simple Sauce in the skillet.

Once you have reduced the heat to low and started simmering the sauce, add the reserved turkey and scapes to the sugo, stirring them in well with the tomatoes. Continue cooking the Sauce recipe as instructed.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add 2 tablespoons Kosher or Sea salt (the water should taste like the Mediterranean) and the penne. Stir the pasta to keep from sticking together and cook according to the package directions, until the pasta is al dente ~ tender but firm to the bite.

While the pasta cooks, butter and breadcrumb a 13 x 9-inch baking pan. Set the prepared pan aside.

Drain, but do not rinse, the al dente pasta and add it to the sauce. Gently toss until the pasta is well coated with the sauce.

To the prepared pan, place one layer of pasta noodles in the bottom of the pan, making sure there is some of the sauce with it. [NOTE: If you are using the penne candela run them lengthwise. If using regular penne or penne regate, simply place a layer in without regard to direction] Sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of grated Parmigiano across the top of the layer. [Don’t go crazy with the cheese. A simple sprinkling will do.] Repeat with another pasta/sauce layer topped with a sprinkling of cheese, continuing to layer the pasta/sauce/cheese until all of the pasta has been used – about 3 or 4 layers. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese.  Sprinkle this mixture across the top and top that with small dabs of butter.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top has lightly browned. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

I hope you’ll “be adventuresome and try the mint!” See what inspires you the next time you are in the grocery or farmer’s market and jump right in!

Buon Appetito~