30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu. (GF, DF, Paleo)

The most flavorful ragu ever! Perfect for a weeknight meal, and a great way to sneak in some veggies!

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I had NO idea how amazing this meal was going to be when I made it.
So. Much. Flavor!!
My husband proclaimed it one of his favorite meals ever. So simple, but seriously amazing.

You know it’s a winner when you genuinely look forward to the leftovers, and this sauce reheats beautifully–it’s almost better the second day! You can serve it over pasta, gluten-free pasta, or spaghetti squash (my favorite!).

Speaking of which, click here to learn how to cook spaghetti squash!

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Okay, so what makes this sauce so wonderful?

  • From start to finish, you can have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. Always a win, especially on busy weeknights. Thanks, food processor, for making this so quick and easy!
  • Everyone loves spaghetti and meat sauce, right? Right. Gotta love dishes that will appeal to your entire family.
  • The ingredients are simple. Humble, even. But, when they come together, they create a rich, cozy sauce. The key is using high quality beef (grass-fed), and marinara sauce.
  • The “shortcut” in this shortcut ragu is the marinara sauce. It’s (gasp) store-bought. Normally I’m all about making everything from scratch, but sometimessssss life gets crazy and you need a quick meal. Find a high-quality marinara sauce and it will make this meat sauce taste like it has been simmering all day.
  • My favorite –> Hidden veggies! In order to sneak some vegetables into the sauce, I threw them in the food processor first until they were chopped up teeny tiny. My husband hates mushrooms but didn’t even know he was eating them!

Hooray for adding nutrition and making a meal go further in a healthy, cost-effective way! I love it.

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Quick tip: double this recipe and freeze it!

30-Minute Shortcut Beef and Vegetable Ragu

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb grass-fed ground beef (I used 90/10)
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped (I used a handful of baby carrots!)
  • 1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
  • 4oz sliced mushrooms
  • 24 oz high quality tomato-basil marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • cooked pasta (regular or GF), or spaghetti squash
  • salt and pepper

1). Heat a large skillet or pot over medium heat and add the ground beef. While it is beginning to brown, add the onion and garlic to the food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper.

2). Add the carrot, celery, and mushrooms to the food processor. Pulse until minced. Add to the skillet and season with salt and pepper.

3). When the ground beef is no longer pink and the vegetables are tender, add the marinara sauce and chicken broth, stirring to combine. Reduce heat slightly and place a lid partially on top of the skillet. Simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

4). Stir in fresh basil. Taste and re-season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. Serve over cooked pasta or spaghetti squash.

Servings of sauce: about 6. Approximate Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 203 Carbs: 16g Fat: 7g Protein: 18g Fiber: 3g Sugar: 8g Points+: 5 Recipe adapted from here

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Penne with Strip Steak and Spinach

My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary, so in honor of him I am posting one of his all-time favorite recipes! I first made this for him back in college because I wanted a meal we could enjoy on a picnic, and this pasta dish tastes great hot or at room temperature. This meal is definitely hearty–there’s pasta, strip steak, and even some greens! I used baby spinach this time but the original recipe calls for arugula, which is also very delicious. I reserve this recipe for special occasions and probably make it once or twice a year.

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There are a few steps to prepare this meal, but many things can be done at the same time to speed up the process.

1) Cook the pasta. No big deal here–just boil water and toss in your favorite pasta. I used whole wheat penne this time, but you could use regular pasta or even brown rice pasta to make it gluten free!

2) Cook your steak. My husband loves strip steak, and it’s a great cut for this meal. To add flavor, the original recipe calls to add salt, pepper, garlic, and herbs de provence to the steak before cooking. I’ve also had success just adding Montreal Steak Seasoning. Either way, do not skip that step–it really brings great flavor to each bite! I used my indoor “grill” for this, but you can grill it outside or even cook it in the oven. If you do that, sear the steak first in an oven-proof pan over medium-heat for 2 minutes per side, then finish cooking it in the oven at 450F for about 5-6 minutes. I hope to do a post on this method soon!

3) Make the dressing. This dish is a fresh take on a pasta salad because the penne, beef, and spinach are tossed together with a homemade vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is what makes this recipe fabulous. Fresh herbs are best, but use dried if you must. The tangy balsamic and creamy dijon come together perfectly with the olive oil to make the dressing.  I actually reduced the amount of olive oil from the original recipe and I believe you could reduce it even further if you’d like.

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Toss it all together and you are ready to eat!

The weather is getting warmer and picnic recipes are hard to find–pack this pasta “salad” and take it with you!

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Penne with Strip Steak and Spinach

  • 1 (1-pound) New York strip steak
  • 1 teaspoon herbs de Provence
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound penne pasta (whole wheat or rice pasta for gluten free)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for steak and pasta water
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for steak
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 cups chopped baby spinach or arugula

1). Season the steak with salt, garlic, herbs de Provence and garlic. Grill or cook indoors until cooked to preferred temperature (we like medium-well). Allow the steak to rest 5 minutes before thinly slicing.

2). Meanwhile, boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup pasta water before draining. 

3). In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, dijon mustard, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, fresh herbs, and olive oil. Toss the pasta with the 1/4 cup reserved pasta water and half of the dressing before adding the steak and spinach/arugula. Add more dressing or reserve to add later. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

Servings: 7. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 362 Carbs: 37g Fat: 16g Protein: 23g Sugar: 3g Fiber: 5g WW Points+: 10 

Recipe adapted from: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/giada-de-laurentiis/penne-with-beef-and-arugula-recipe.html 

Summer Pasta Salad with Baby Greens

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Fresh baby greens tossed with whole wheat pasta noodles, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a homemade balsamic vinaigrette! This salad is perfect for summer and a great option to take to a potluck or cookout because it can easily be doubled to feed a crowd. It is vegetarian friendly, and can be made gluten-free by substituting brown rice pasta. The original recipe called for capers, but my husband and I are not fans of that ingredient so I omitted them! You can absolutely add them if you’d like.

There are so many ways to serve this salad. It can be the perfect side dish to a grilled chicken breast or fillet of fish, but it can also be a meal in itself! The vinaigrette is perfect and after making this salad, I made extra to be able to serve on top of other salads throughout the week. It is delicious!

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Summer Pasta Salad with Baby Greens

Ingredients:

  • 3 oz (about 4 cups) baby arugula and baby spinach mix
  • 5 oz high fiber or whole wheat pasta (use brown rice pasta for GF)
  • 1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and fresh pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

1) Boil pasta in salted water according to package directions. When done, drain and rinse under cold water.

2) In a large bowl, combine the pasta, baby greens, sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Toss well, then just before serving top with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Makes about 6 cups.
Servings: 4

Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 169 Fat: 5g Carbs: 29.5g Fiber: 4g Protein: 6g Sugar: 4g Sodium: 271 mg without salt Cholest: 2mg

WW PointsPlus: 5 Old points: 3

Recipe adapted from: skinnytaste.com

Baked Penne with Spinach and Turkey Sausage

Fresh spinach and turkey sausage are mixed with whole wheat penne and marinara sauce, then topped with low-fat cheese. YUM! This is one of my husband’s favorite recipes, and I’m sure your family will love it too. Admittedly, this is probably not the healthiest recipe I’ve ever posted, but it is much lower in fat than a traditional baked ziti. I like to load this up with as much fresh spinach as I possibly can. You don’t really taste it much and it helps boost the nutritional profile of the dish. Overall, this baked penne is filling and delicious!!

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Added bonus: you can easily make this vegetarian by omitting the turkey sausage.

Baked Penne with Spinach and Turkey Sausage

Ingredients:

  • 1 box whole wheat penne
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Fresh spinach roughly chopped-at least 8 oz but up to 16oz. (May substitute chopped frozen spinach)
  • 1 lb mild turkey sausage, casings removed
  • 1 16 oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I used Prego’s Roasted Garlic and Herb)
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat grated parmesan
  • 8 oz fat free ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded par-skim mozzarella cheese
  • salt and pepper

1) Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add penne and cook according to package directions. Drain and return to pot.

2) Preheat oven to 350F, Spray a 9 x13 pan with cooking spray.

2) Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Add sausage and cook thoroughly, using a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the meat into smaller chunks. When sausage is cooked, add chopped spinach and cook until wilted.

4). Pour marinara sauce over pasta. Add spinach/sausage mixture. Add half the mozzarella, and all of the ricotta cheese and parmesan. Pour pasta mixture into baking dish and top with remaining half of mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serves 12. Nutritional Information per Serving: Calories: 303 Fat: 10g Carbs: 33g Protein: 23g Fiber: 5.5g

Recipe courtesy of Audrey’s Apron.

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Cool Couscous Salad

Chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, chickpeas, and a homemade vinaigrette are tossed together with whole wheat couscous to make this delicious side salad!

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As many of you probably know, couscous is a super tiny pasta that cooks very quickly. Literally, in about 5 minutes it can be ready to go! Couscous can be very nutritious depending on how you prepare it and the type you buy. I always select the whole wheat. I almost compare this dish to an interesting twist on a traditional pasta salad, but honestly it is so much better than that! This recipe stands alone for uniqueness and taste. It is much lighter than a traditional pasta salad due to the homemade vinaigrette, and the fresh vegetables explode with refreshing flavor in every bite!  In addition to the bright taste from the vegetables, the balsamic vinaigrette adds a tangy flavor that is offset beautifully by the feta cheese. I used reduced fat feta crumbles that I sprinkled on top and then mixed into the salad.

Keep in mind this is a great option to bring to your next gathering because it serves a huge crowd and can be made the night before! You can make the vinaigrette, cook the couscous, chop your veggies, and mix them in a bowl ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. This side can be served cold or at room temperature.

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My dear friend Jana passed along the base of this recipe to me back in college. I altered it quite a bit, and today it is still one of our favorites! Thank you, Jana!

Cool Couscous Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 box whole wheat couscous, prepared
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 4 oz reduced fat feta cheese
  • Lettuce leaves (optional)

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

1). In a small saucepan, bring water to boil. Stir in couscous. Cover and remove from heat; let stand 4-10 min or until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork; Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hr.

2). Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette: mix together the olive oil, balsamic, honey, dijon mustard, salt, and pepper until well combined.

3). In a large bowl, combine the garbanzo beans, cucumber, tomato, and couscous. Pour vinaigrette over mixture and toss to coat. Place lettuce leaves on plates. Top with couscous mixture; sprinkle with feta cheese.

Serving size: 1/2 cup. Servings: 16. Nutritional Information per serving: Calories: 174 Fat: 9g Carbs: 20g Protein: 5g Sugar: 4g Sodium: 334 mg