Ancho Chile, Shrimp, and Pasta

You know one of the great things about being a home cook? You can basically do whatever you want in your kitchen. Mix up cuisines. Pair unlikely foods. As long as it tastes good and you like it, no great uber-chef in the sky is going to look aghast and tell you you can’t do what you’ve just done. Thank goodness! Case in point, this quick and easy pasta dish from my friend Peg Poswall. Ancho chiles (dried poblano chili peppers) are distinctively Mexican. Parmesan? That would be Italian. Tossed together with pasta and shrimp? Huh?
Believe me, it’s awesome.
We inhaled it. And the next day I made another batch just for me. It’s actually not that much of a stretch when you think about it. If you just replaced the ancho chiles with red chili pepper flakes you would have something that would at least appear to be more classically Italian, with the garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan. It’s the distinctive flavor of the ancho chile that provides the Wow factor here.

Ancho Chile, Shrimp, and Pasta Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
If you don't have access to ancho chiles, you can steer more to the Italian side and just use 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes to brighten up this dish.


  • 8 ounces long, thin pasta such as spaghetti or fettucini
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (grapeseed or canola)
  • 3 thinly sliced cloves garlic
  • 1 ounce (about 2 medium to large) dried ancho chiles, rinsed, seeded and deveined
  • 1/2 pound 21-25 count raw shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tails removed, the shrimp pieces cut into thirds
  • Black pepper
  • Freshly grated Parmesan
  • Lime or lemon juice, fresh squeezed


1 Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta when you start this recipe. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until al dente. While the water is coming to a boil and while the pasta is cooking, prepare the rest of the recipe as follows.
2 Heat oil in a small skillet on medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add sliced garlic. Cook until lightly browned, then remove with a slotted spoon to a large bowl.
3 Thinly slice the ancho chiles (can chiffonade as you would with basil, just roll up into a cigar shape and slice crosswise). Add the sliced chiles to the hot oil and cook ONLY for 20 to 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to the bowl with the garlic. Do not over-cook the chiles or they will get bitter.
4 Add the raw shrimp to the pan with the now chile and garlic infused oil. Increase the heat to high, cook for a couple minutes, stirring frequently, until the shrimp is just turning pink. Remove from heat. Add the shrimp and oil to the bowl with the garlic and chiles.
5 Add the drained, cooked pasta to the bowl with the shrimp, garlic, chiles, and oil. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper and toss to combine. To serve, portion out into bowls, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan and a little lemon or lime juice.
Yield: Serves 2 as a main or 4 to 6 as a side.

Buttery Tomato Pasta

About once a week, for my entire upbringing, my mother would prepare a very simple side of pasta with a sweet, buttery tomato sauce. Usually she used elbow macaroni pasta, because usually a small bowl of tomato pasta would be served alongside tuna macaroni salad, our standard Catholic fish-on-Fridays family meal. Mom would just make extra macaroni and stir in the tomato sauce for it. She did this because my dad requested it, and he wanted it because that’s what his mother in Minnesota used to make for him. Oddly, the hot buttery tomato pasta was, and still is, a perfect taste complement to the cool, crunchy, acidic tuna salad.
This is my father’s comfort food. Mom made it the other day with corkscrew pasta instead of elbow macaroni and I liked the way that the ridges in the corkscrews capture the sauce better. Apparently, a simple tomato sauce cooked with butter instead of olive oil is a classic in Italian cuisine. (News to us, my grandmother was German Austrian!) If you haven’t tried making tomato sauce with butter, I recommend it. It’s actually crazy good. We add a bit sugar to the sauce, because the sauce just tastes better to us when it’s sweeter. My mother also adds a little bit of fresh or dried basil, not much, just a pinch. Not so much that you get distracted from the sweet, buttery tomatoes.

Buttery Tomato Pasta Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
My mom insists that the trick to the tomatoes is the sugar, and I agree. Tomatoes are naturally acidic. You need to add sugar to balance the acidity and this particular dish should be a little on the sweet side, which is why we add sugar. Use the best quality canned tomatoes available. We recommend Muir Glen brand or San Marzano. The sauce has so few ingredients, it's important that the tomatoes you use are high quality. Cheap, generic canned tomatoes just will not taste as good.


  • 1/2 pound of fusilli pasta or elbow macaroni
  • 1 14 ounce can of good quality whole tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (more or less to taste)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Pinch of dried basil or fresh sliced basil (optional)


1 Half fill a 4 quart pot with water. Add a tablespoon of salt. Bring salted water to boil. Add pasta. Cook until al dente, tender but still a little firm.
2 While the pasta water is heating and the pasta is cooking, prepare the tomatoes. Shred the canned whole tomatoes with your fingers as you put them in a small saucepan. Add any tomato juice left in the can to the pot. Add the butter. Heat to a simmer and stir to melt the butter. Simmer gently while the pasta is cooking. Stir in sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. If you have fresh basil, thinly slice a couple leaves and stir in. If not, if you want you can add a pinch of dried basil.
3 When the pasta is done, drain it. Stir in the cooked tomatoes and put in a serving bowl.
Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 4.

Easy Cheesy Lasagna

Serves: Makes a 9x13 dish full
Prep Time:
Cook Time:


1 lb ground beef
1/2-1 medium onion
1 can(s) crushed tomatoes
2 can(s) tomato paste
1 Tbsp oregano
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
1/3 tsp black pepper
8 to 12 oz cottage cheese (i used low fat)
1/4 to 1/2 c parmesan cheese
1 egg
12 lasagna noodles
1 to 1.5 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 c water


In a medium sauce pan, over medium heat, brown ground beef and onion. Drain. Add crushed tomato, tomato paste, oregano, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and water. Stir to incorporate. Let sauce come to a boil. Then turn heat down to simmer and cover for about an hour. (I was short on time today so I only let simmer for 30 min and it was still delicious.)
Boil a big pot of water and cook lasagna noodles until al dente. (I just fill my sink with warm water and drop the noodles in before I start making the sauce. They finish cooking in the oven.)
While the sauce is simmering, combine cottage cheese, Parmesan, and egg. I use the back of a spoon to squish the curds to make mixture smoother, but I don't get too crazy with it;)
When your sauce is just about finished simmering, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. In a 9x13 dish, spread about a cup of sauce on the bottom. Then lay 4 noodles to cover. Then 1/3 of the remaining sauce. Then 1/2 of the mozzarella. 4 more noodles. Sauce. Cottage cheese mixture. 4 more noodles. Sauce. Put in the oven for 30 min.
Top with remaining mozzarella and bake an additional 15 min, or until bubbly and melty:)
Side note: I usually only use half of the cottage cheese mixture because my boyfriend is a little weird about it...Also, I usually have about a cup of sauce left over that I freeze for later use because...again, my boyfriend isn't a fan of a bunch of sauce in lasagna:)


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