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Food411’s Resident Chef Silvia has written a terrific article on the Basics every kitchen needs.
Below is a list of the items any cook will need in the kitchen:

Basic Stainless Steel Skillet

They come in standard 8”, 12” and 16” but you can start with the medium 12” size which will be good for most cooking. This one’s from All Clad, one of my favorite brands.

A good skillet (or saute or fry pan) has a large cooking surface and low sides. This allows the pan to heat quickly and the liquids in the pan to reduce quickly, leaving behind any brown bits which you want and need to make all those delicious sauces – just one of the reasons you don’t want a non-stick pan except for eggs – the other is that it doesn’t easily scratch and can last a lifetime.

The best SS skillets are made of at least two layers of stainless steel with a layer of aluminum sandwiched in between. This is because SS stands up to high heat but is a poor conductor of heat but aluminum is a great conductor but can’t take the heat. Together they’re a marriage made in heaven.

You’ll use your skillet to fry more than eggs or burger patties. You can cook, fry or saute almost anything in one of these babies – I know. I wrote a whole book on saute. And it can go from stove top to oven…so don’t get the kind with rubber handles – unless they come off.

So when you see that pretty fry pan with a red or orange handle and a perfect, non-stick surface…walk on by.

Just go stainless!

Basic Saucepans

Like the skillet above, I prefer most of my pans to have curved sides like this one. This allows me to easily toss food around in the skillet or stir a sauce in the saucepan without getting food stuck in the sides. This is especially helpful when making a roux. Now don’t get all scared at the mention of this fancy sounding term. It ain’t fancy at all – just French for flour and fat. More about that later.

You’ll use a saucepan to cook rice, pasta, veggies and of course sauces – which a bit later in this primer you’ll know how to do.

Braising Pan

What…another pan and what’s braising?

This is the pan you’ll go to when you want to cook food slowly, in liquid (usually in the oven) after searing it on the stove top – which is braising. And that could be anything from chicken to veal shanks. Oh my!
But if you want to skip this pan for now, the roasting pan below can double for a braising pan.

Roasting Pans

They come in all shapes and sizes. Get one that heavy duty and at least 15/16”. You’ll need one that big for a turkey. The rest of the year it can double as a braising pan – that’s simply a pan with relatively high sides and a large flat surface so you can sear meats and then cook them slowly in liquid. You can get a non-stick one for easy clean up or better yet…get a stainless one like this.

Stockpots

You’ve seen pot sets like this everywhere and this all purpose pot can cook everything from pasta to corn on the cob and lobster in one of these. And it’s a steamer too.
Oh…and let’s not forget soups…

Sheet Pans
Get at least 2. You’ll use these for everything from baking cookies to roasting veggies or a whole side of salmon.

Mixing Bowls
Get 3 – a small, medium and large size or any mixing bowls you like; plastic, glass, ceramic and of course stainless steel like these.

Colander
For draining cooked food in liquid.

Cutting Boards
Wood
They come in so many shapes, sizes, materials and colors…that they can make a
gal’s head spin. Here’s the easy button for choosing among these must haves.
A heavy duty butcher block classic that won’t move while you’re chopping…a really good thing.

Plastic Colored Boards
You’ll need these to cut meat, poultry, fish, and anything else.

Spatulas, Spoons and Such
Like most things in the kitchen, these come in all shapes, sizes, colors and materials…no wonder putting together your ideal kitchen is confusing…there are so many choices. What fun…especially when you can express your individual style in a spoon.

So you can go a little crazy but here’s to keeping it beautifully simple.
Wooden Spoon
Plastic Spatulas
Slotted Spoon
Ladle
Tongs
Get the basic kind. They’re the easiest to maneuver. Fancy grips just get frustrating.
Whisk
Another example of where basic is better.
Box Grater
You can grate (fine or larger) slice and more.
peelers
measuring cups and spoons
skimmers
zesters
pot holder
storage containers
mop towels and I could go on and on…

These are your kitchen basics! Food411 directory has numerous online resources for you to choose from to point and click your way to a well stocked kitchen. http://www.food411.com/Category/Kitchenware/

Also be sure to visit Chef Silvia’s own website at http://chefsilvia.com/ for many more tips, recipes and general wisdom!!

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One of our favorite quotes here at Food411 goes like this:

“it is not what is on the table that matters but who is in the chairs”

Our Chef Silva has written a beautiful article about the kitchen being a sacred space which further defines the connection of food, family and friends. It really is what life is al about.

All of us who love food know that it’s so much more than simply fuel for the body. If that were the case, we would simply swallow a little purple pill and be done with it – and one of life’s greatest pleasures would go down with it. Though it may seem like I’m stating the obvious, preparing, eating and sharing food is an ageless practice that spans across all cultural and economic groups.

Today there is a show on PBS that has taken TV entertainment by storm – Downton Abby. In this British series set in the early 1900’s when class distinction was most clearly defined, it seems the aristocracy of this post – Edwardian age did little more than dress for dinner and chat (gossip) about the people and news in their world. The servants, who were responsible for preparing and serving the meal did much the same around their downstairs table, only they seemed to have more fun. They were cultivating kitchen gardens, going into town shopping for food, and spending endless hours in preparation that gave them instant satisfaction and a sense of fulfillment – and leftovers.

From the kitchens of grand estates to humble campfires of indigenous people around the globe, the art of preparing and sharing a meal is built into our DNA and I would venture to guess that the nourishment we gain from this practice has less to do with the food we eat and more to do with the people, ideas and stories we share around the “table”.

Growing up in a large Italian family, the kitchen was the hub of activity in our household. The kitchen table was rarely empty. It was always cluttered with food being prepared, family meals being eaten, or a steady stream of neighbors or relatives pulling up any empty and joining in.

For me, I wasn’t truly home until I entered the kitchen. Regardless of what was going on in my life, it was where I found solace. It nurtured my spirit as well as my body and that nourishment took root within me and led me to my life’s work.My parents, who are no longer alive, were brilliant at harvesting the gifts of the kitchen and extending them to us, have no idea the far reaching effects they nurtured or who have been touched and benefited from the solid foundation they built for their children and grandchildren. For each of us, in our own way has drank from it, eaten from it and used it to fortify our endeavours and contributions to society. That humble kitchen, in a small suburban town like any other, has feed more hearts than we can ever know.

These are the gifts, the legacy, that awaits anyone who enters this sacred space. This is why I choose to work there, so I may bring you there with me.

Chef Silvia

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” I can’t think of anything I want more of this holiday season than compassion and forgiveness. The more I have, the more I have to give. The supply is infinite so I don’t have to worry that there isn’t enough and these gifts have a way of changing everything.” Silvia

A Holiday Salad

I don’t know about you but the holidays is a time when I indulge in all my favorite foods without guilt. But in between indulgent feasts, something much lighter – but just as festive – is called for. This holiday salad is just the thing. It’s delicious, healthy, and comes dressed in holiday finery.

Recipe
(Per person)
1 cup kale
1 cup mixed greens
? cup cooked quinoa
? ripe pear (sliced)
1 tablespoon pomegranate seeds
? cup goat cheese
1 tablespoon balsamic vinaigrette (or other favorite vinaigrette)

Peel and remove seeds from the pomegranate and set aside. Toss the greens in the vinaigrette and place onto individual plates. Sprinkle with the quinoa, the pomegranate seeds and goat cheese. Slice the pears and arrange on top. Serve as a light lunch or as a starter for dinner.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
? cup balsamic vinegar
? cups extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Place vinegar (and mustard) in a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a food processor) along with a pinch of salt and pepper.
Slowly add the oil while briskly mixing using a wire whisk (or with the blade of the processor spinning). The mixture will emulsify and look like caramel. Adjust the seasoning and toss with the greens

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Want Steak?


Cuts of Steak and Their Fat Content from Leanest to Fattiest (Per 6oz. Serving)
Some of us just can’t imagine going without a nice juicy steak, and of course there are some cuts that are healthier than others. Use this list to choose the leaner, healthier cut. Portion size is always the key in eating sensibly. When it comes to any meats use the palm of your hand as the guide to the portion size. If you love steak, don’t deny yourself ( unless medical professional have advised otherwise) just limit quantity and frequency.

Sirloin Tip, 5.4g
Eye of Round, 7g
Top Round, 7.6g
Top Sirloin, 10.6g
Bottom Round, 11g
Flap Steak, 12g
Filet Mignon, 16g
Porterhouse, 16.4g
Skirt Steak, 17.2g
New York Strip, 18g
T-Bone, 25.6g
Rib-Eye, 37.6g

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Strive for progress, not perfection” – Unknown

“Each of us are our own greatest inhibitor. And, at the end of the day, if you just get out of your own way and let things come to you, it’s amazing what will come to you.” Laird Hamilton, champion surfer

“We are all accountable for ourselves. Think of yourself as a precious commodity, and then protect your investment each day.” Monica Brant, 1998 Ms. Olympia

It’s so much easier to complain than to take control of our actions. Talk is cheap. Instead of sitting on your behind and grumbling about what you did or didn’t do, be proactive! Yes, it’s called work and discipline especially when you are in charge of your own health and fitness. You have only one body and one life. Do you really want to waste your years away working yourself to death or by letting your health deterioriate to the point of no return? Granted, none of us are perfect but there is always room for improvement. You’re too young to let yourself fall apart….

With the growing epidemic of obesity in the U.S., increase in diabetes, chronic diseases and the continuous rise of medical costs, our nation is not doing too great in the health department. You don’t need to become a statistic. We have enough knowledge in this day and age to change our bad habits and the ability to prolong our lives with healthy nutrition and exercise.

It’s easy to let your professional or personal life get the best of you, but you are accountable for your own actions. Being healthy is a lifestyle, and stop treating it as if you were going on another diet. You need to make a commitment to yourself and to stick with it. You don’t need to be a gym rat or look like a model. Be a better version of “you.” Take it one day at at a time and schedule a date with yourself. Your “alone time” is so important to help you relieve stress and release those much needed endorphins in order to help you stay balanced mentally and physically. Pick activities you like. Do something recreational. Train for an upcoming race. Plan an active vacation. If you work crazy hours and sit behind a computer desk all day long, get off your behind every hour to release your spine. Take the stairs when possible and walk to/from work or during lunch time. The more you sit, the more your posture and metabolism suffers. Make the time to take care of you. You owe it to yourself.

Set a good example to your family and friends. Not only do you have the power to change within yourself, you can also have a positive affect on someone else’ life as well.

“You can keep making excuses until you’re blue in the face so stop talking and start doing!” Cindy Lai Fitness

Source: Cindy Lai Fitness

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Health Foods and fitness go hand in hand. In that spirt, we bring you another terrific article from Cindy Lai Fitness

Spring clean your fitness routine and state of mind with 5 tips and a plateau busting workout

Ahh….the smell of spring is fast approaching and the warmth of the sun on your face is a feeling of sweet bliss to lift your spirits. Soon winter will be long gone as we prepare in anticipation of summer. Suddenly, you have finally decided to awaken from your deep slumber and the dark hole of never ending excuses, laziness and procrastination. Your head’s a bit dazed due to the hour lost through daylight savings, but don’t despair. Get ready for a positive change and a shock to your system by spring cleaning your health and fitness routine with Cindy Lai Fitness!

1. TAKE ACTION AND MAKE A PLAN:

You need a commitment to yourself and a solid plan to stay active at least three times a week. Choose an activity you like which is also close and convenient. If you can’t make it to class or the gym, go outdoors. Incorporate a good balance of strength training along with cardio, mobility and flexibility work.

2. THROW OUT THE EXCUSES:

Enough is enough! If I had a dollar for every time I heard an excuse, I’d be filthy rich! There is never enough time for everything in life! If taking care of your health and mental well being is important to you, you will make the time one way or another. You only have one life. Don’t you owe it yourself to live happier and healthier in the long run?

3. CHANGE UP YOUR ROUTINE:

What’s worked for you in the past will not work for you now. Back then you were leaner because your metabolism was faster and you could get away with just about anything. Our bodies are not what they used to be. As we get older, it gets harder but this does not mean we need to spend hours in the gym like we did in the past. The key is to build and maintain lean muscle mass to keep your metabolism in high gear. Of course eating wisely is also crucial in toning up and/or losing weight.

4. CLEAN UP YOUR EATING:

It’ll be harder to hide under those layers as the weather gets warmer out. If you want to feel good, then what you put into your body will dictate your mood and your energy levels. If you eat like crap, guess what? You’re going to feel the same. Being sluggish and lethargic most of the time will negatively impact your mood. Start eliminating processed foods, sugars, starches, and sodium and start incorporating whole foods, whole grains, more vegetables, fruits, lean protein and good fats. Hydrate consistently with at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.

5. STICK WITH THE PROGRAM:

Experiment to see what works best for you but stay consistent and stick with it. Those who are most successful with their fitness goals make the effort to stay disciplined and determined. You don’t need to be a gym rat, but you do need to get off your tush and move as much as possible!

If you haven’t participated in any activity for a while, the best thing is to ease into it to avoid injury. Don’t set yourself up for failure by overshooting what you cannot achieve. Be patient, start slow and steady. For the rest of you who have been staying consistent, it’s time to bring it up to a new level. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Get involved in more recreational activities and take in what the outdoors has to offer. Everything from biking, running, hiking, watersports, races, tennis, sports or whatever your heart desires will help you progress further in staying fit and healthy. Get out of the office during lunch. Take the stairs as much as possible. Walk as often as you can. Everything counts!

Here is a quick CLF Spring workout to help jumpstart your fitness or break out of any fitness plateau:

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 15 reps

Pushups – 10 pushups

Jumpin Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 30 reps

Pushups – 15 pushups

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 15 reps

Pushups – 10 pushups

Jumping Jacks – 30 reps

Squats – 30 reps

Pushups – 15 pushups

If you are a beginner, you can scale down the volume or substitute plank holds for pushups. Do what you can handle and work your way up to the volume. For more advanced, you can scale up the volume.

Make sure squats are below parallel and for pushups, touch your chest to the floor. It’s very easy to cheat on both movements so work on proper form for maximum efficiency.

We are 7 days away from the official start of Spring. It’s time to take in that big breath of fresh air and leave the residue of winter behind. Don’t dwell over what you have not accomplished. It’s time to move on and to move forward. Open up your mind and focus on all the positive that you can accomplish. It’s time to tidy things up. There is always room for improvement.

Cindy Lai Fitness (http://www.cindylaifitness.com/). Cindy runs boot camps classes in NYC.

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From our resident Chef Silvia – her own special stuffing……

“Regardless of who hosts Thanksgiving in my family, I’m always asked to make the stuffing. It’s become a family classic – it’s so flavorful, easy and different. I made this with sweet Italian sausage but you can use hot or a combination. I also spiced it up with a few pinches of crushed red pepper and a diced jalapeno pepper but you can leave that out if you have little ones. This recipe is enough to stuff a small turkey but you can easily double it. ”

Recipe
1 lb. Italian Sausage
14 oz package of corn bread stuffing (or bread stuffing if you prefer)
1 fresh fennel bulb (sliced thinly)
1 large sweet onion (medium dice)
¼ cup of olive oil
1 large fresh garlic clove (medium dice)
2 cups chicken broth
Pinch of crushed red pepper (optional)
1 diced jalapeno pepper (medium dice)
Finish with a about ¼ cup of fresh chopped Italian parsley

In a large sauté pan over medium heat add about ¼ cup of olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of the pan). Heat until hot but not smoking and add the onion and the fennel (and the jalapeno pepper).

Cook for about 5 minutes or just until the vegetables are soft and golden.

Add the garlic (and the crushed pepper) and cook for about 15 seconds followed by the sausage.

Cook for about 10 minutes until the meat browns. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large bowl if your pan isn’t large enough to accommodate the stuffing.

Add the stuffing followed by the broth (a little at a time) and stir until all of the mixture is moistened. Finnish with the parsley and that’s it. Stuff your turkey.

Enjoy!

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Our resident chef, Silvia, has a important words of wisdom for your life and when dealing with recipes in the kitchen……

In order to change anything in your life, change the recipe you’re using. The recipe always involves what you think, believe and do. Examine the ingredients that go into these three areas and continue using the ones that produce the results you want. Replace the ones that no longer work with new ingredients that do. The results will speak for themselves. Keep tweaking the recipe until you’re happy with what you’ve got.

Recipes are a hard thing to write. After having written hundreds of them, it does get easier but not less challenging. That’s because people expect them to be exact and I know there’s no such thing. How can there be when the very nature of a recipe is to merely be a guide? True, baking recipes come closer to being an exact formula, but cooking has another story.

When I give a cooking class, I never hand out recipes until after the class. That’s because I want the student’s attention on what is taking place around them, not on a piece of paper. Though having to create something without step-by-step instructions is enough to make some people quite uncomfortable, I know it’s the only way to learn. They learn by doing, by noticing how something tastes, smells, feels and looks. They learn that a “mistake” often leads to new discoveries and if not, if it’s truly inedible and can’t be fixed…you simply start over.

The reason a recipe cannot be exact is that a recipe is affected not only by the quality and differences of the ingredients used, but by what is expressed from within the cook. I know that to teach someone how to cook is to give them the tools to create a life…along with something good to eat. Cooking is a sacred act. Stirring a sauce with happiness will bring more flavor to it than anything you can add from the spice rack.

The famous chef Thomas Keller said, “A recipe has no soul. You as the cook must bring soul to the recipe.”

So let a recipe guide you to new culinary adventures. Celebrate your mistakes. Share your triumphs. Play with the variety of fresh ingredients available this harvest season…and send me your recipes
.
Enjoy this season of harvest,

Chef Silvia

Every autumn, as the weather begins to get nippy and the air is crisp, I’m delighted because now I can begin to make soup. And if there’s any recipe that is open to variations, it’s soup. To inspire you, take a look at what I did as a variation of split pea soup.

Split Pea and Tomato Soup with Sausage
1 lb of split peas (rinsed and any small stones removed)
¼ cup of olive oil
1 lb. of your favorite sausage (cut into bite sized pieces)
Half a small onion (or shallot) medium diced
1 fresh garlic clove (fine diced)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
Tablespoon or two of chicken base (or bouillon)
8 cups water
Season to taste
Finish with chopped fresh parsley

In a medium/large saucepan, over medium/high heat add ¼ cup of olive oil or just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the sausage and brown on all sides. Add onion and cook until softened. Add the pepper flakes and the garlic. Cook for a few seconds, quickly followed by the tomatoes (this will prevent the garlic from burning). Add the tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes and then add the water. Bring to a boil and add the chicken base. Stir. Lower the heat to a gentle boil and cook for an hour or so or until the peas arrive at your desired level of doneness. Add more chicken base or water if needed and season to taste. Serve in individual bowls and finish with parsley.

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Recent question from our “Ask Chef Silvia” feature:

Name: tom
Email: XXXXXXXXXX
Message: My mayo won’t emulsify. Any thoughts? I’m using a blender.
State: FL
Submitted On: 2011-09-06 15:00:13

Hi Tom,
Yes. Usually when something won’t emulsify it’s because you are adding the oil too quickly. Try adding the oil in drips, especially in the beginning. You can quicken the drip into a steady stream once the mayo begins to thicken.

Thanks for asking,

Chef Silvia

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Our beloved Tomato!

One of our monthly emails a few years ago was all about the tomato (click here to read) – while it was very informative, our resident Chef (Silvia) has a way of expressing her feelings about foods that is quite unique. Here our her thoughts on our beloved tomato…..and a few recipes!

“I think there’s nothing more delicious than a tomato picked at the height of its flavor, and perfectly prepared into one simple, exquisite dish. For me, no ingredient is better equipped for this culinary challenge than a tomato, plucked from its vine just when its juices threaten to burst through the skin forming a crack, as if in testament to its efforts.

Now is the time to celebrate the tomato in all its varieties. Every year at this time I’m so thrilled a tomato actually tastes like a tomato that I go a little crazy, but I just can’t help myself. It’s tomato season in the Northeast and for the next several weeks as they begin to ripen on local vines, I intend to eat as many as I can because – unless I move to a warmer climate – I won’t have this particular pleasure again until next year, so I get a little greedy.

I start my feast by preparing a variety of simple dishes that require little or no cooking. I want to eat them raw, cut in thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. And when I want something different from this simple preparation, I can add other ingredients that complement – without masking – its starring role; thinly sliced red onions, finely minced garlic, slivered basil, chopped parsley or oregano, bits of kalamata olives, filets of roasted bell peppers or anchovies, sliced raw jalapeños or fried hot peppers, and of course fresh mozzarella.

Besides its obvious culinary delights, the tomato is a divine elixir, a gift from the gods, rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which neutralizes free radicals before they cause damage, thus warding off everything from wrinkles to heart attacks. Who needs to bother with skin care and heart pills when we could just eat tomatoes?

My love affair with this tasty and medicinal fruit has emotional and philosophical benefits for me as well, making it necessary to have at least one vine – even if it’s in single pot on the porch – to care for. Every touch releases the aroma that instantly conjures up the memory of my childhood garden, where I walked between rows and rows of tall vines tied to heavy wood stakes making me feel like I was on a farm instead of wandering in a suburban backyard. And I get a clear picture of my father on his knees, bending over, tenderly caring for them; tying loose branches heavy with ripening fruit, removing yellow leaves, nurturing their growth, and so I can get nostalgic…even a bit melancholy.

Or possibly I’m smitten because whenever I look at a snarly tomato – the ones the market labels “ugly” and charges extra for – I’m reminded that it’s the imperfect tomatoes that taste the best. It helps me accept my own imperfections. Or maybe I’m just being Italian, with a cultural habit of thinking too much.

Whatever the reason for my fascination with tomatoes, right now I plan to indulge in a feast devoted to them. Hope you do too.
Chef Silvia

Simple Tomato Salads
The summer salad we served most often from my childhood garden was randomly diced tomatoes (core and imperfections removed – bite sized pieces) mixed with thinly sliced red onions and basil, seasoned and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. We ate it along with a hunk of rustic bread to lap up the juices. It’s still my favorite. However, after eating tomatoes this way a few times, I decided to add a few things. I had a container of red and yellow bell peppers I roasted the other day so I pulled out a few filets of yellow peppers along with a few kalamata olives that I tore in small bits as well as a thinly sliced raw jalapeno. I mixed all this together, let them mingle a bit while I poured myself a glass of shiraz and sliced a hunk of fresh bread, which is a treat in itself but mandatory as an accompaniment to a tomato salad.

Warm Penne Salad
This flavorful dish was a customer favorite at my former Connecticut restaurant, Biscotti. The reason it tasted so good was because it married two classic dishes, pasta with butter and cheese and a brushetta topping, melding the heat of one with the coolness of the other. For this dish, opposites do attract. You can customize it to your liking but this is how I make it.

For the Topping
3 – 4 “ugly tomatoes” (depending on size)

½ cup seedless kalamata olives – cut in half

1 cup diced fresh mozzarella (medium dice)

4 – 6 large fresh basil leaves – slivered

Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (about ¼ cup or to taste)

Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper

For the Pasta
1 lb penne (use small shapes like a mini penne or other small cut so the pasta doesn’t overwhelm the “sauce”)

¼ cup olive oil + 1 stick butter

1 clove fresh garlic – finely chopped

Freshly grated pecorino or parmesan cheese (to taste)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.

In the meantime, in a large sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic. Sauté for a few moments until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the cold butter in pats (this will prevent the garlic from burning and ruining the sauce). Once the butter has melted remove from the heat, and mix with the penne. You can add the pasta to the pan if it’s large enough (this is best) or pour the sauce over the pasta in a separate bowl. Add in freshly grated cheese according to taste, finish with fresh chopped parsley if you like, toss and spoon onto individual plates. Top with the tomato mixture and

P

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