Category Archives: Italian

Lasagna Express

Lasagna Express

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Lasagna Express
We have been running pretty hard lately with travel and events. Sunday we returned from a long weekend trip and were thrown into the work week unrested and unprepared. It was a perfect occasion for some food Rx. Jill loves pasta and lasagna in particular. I had the ingredients but didn’t have the time so I opted for a “lasagna express”. What is great about this recipe is that it’s really good but without the typical fuss of a normal lasagna where you cook and layer everything and then bake it off. The presentation of a typical lasagna is superior but if the meal is intended for consumption only, this is the way to go.

You can adjust this to your liking by using as many noodles as you like, cheeses to your preference and meat and sauces to suit your palate.

Ingredients:
1 lb organic ground beef
1 Jar of Pasta Sauce
1 16oz of Tomato Sauce
1 cup of Chicken Bone Broth
1 cup of Red wine 1 8oz tomato paste
1/2 finely diced white onion
5 cloves of minced garlic
1 package of lasagna noodles
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup of ricotta cheese
1 tbs of crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbs of kosher salt
2 tsp of black pepper
1 pinch of oregano
1/4 cup of olive oil

Directions:
1. In a medium heated pan add the olive oil and diced onion and cook until soft and translucent.
2. Add a splash of bone broth and the garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
3. Add the ground beef and cook until browned.
4. Add the sauces, paste, wine, and broth until you have a fairly wet sauce.
5. Snap the lasagna noodles and add them directly to the sauce and stir constantly. Make sure your sauce isn’t too thick and that the noodles aren’t sticking to the bottom. Stir for about 10 minutes until the noodles are softened.
6. Stir in 3/4 of the parmesan cheese into the sauce. Add dollops of the ricotta cheese and then top with mozzarella and the remaining parmesan cheese.
7. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned. Let it rest for 10 minutes to avoid scalding your mouth.

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

  • Servings: 3
  • Difficulty: easy
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Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

I ran across this recipe on another blog and when I was cooking according to her directions, I found myself immediately deviating from her directions. This actually turned out as a great creamy, herby pasta dish that comes together in about 20-30 minutes. So if want a departure from your typical pasta dish but not skimp on flavor this one might be a good fit.

I still have a case of the blog blahs and in perfect form, I thought I took pictures last night but didn’t have my card in my camera…doh. So picture if you will, a creamy pasta dish resembling a looser alfredo sauce but packed with herbs, spinach and grape tomatoes. Additionally, some sliced pieces of bite sized chicken that replaced a meatball.

The recipe that I followed used evaporated milk which I did do but wouldn’t do it again. Instead, I would use whole milk, cream or even a dollop of cream cheese or something. Also, she suggested covering your chicken with pesto prior to cooking. I found that it started to burn the pesto. So much so, that when I removed my chicken I had to deglaze the pan with water and start from scratch missing out of on those lovely chicken bits and juices. I also amped up the parmesan cheese to compensate for the evaporate milk.

Last note, I have been falling in love with my grocery store salad bar. Instead of buying vegetables that I wouldn’t always use, I load up on the vegetables I want to cook that night. I added spinach, grape tomatoes, sliced red onion and a few mushrooms.

My recipe should deliver a super fast but delicious meal.

Ingredients:
Free Range Chicken Breasts
Fresh Basil
Fresh Pesto (store bought)
a handful of fresh spinach
a handful sliced grape tomatoes
small amount of sliced red onion from salad bar.
4 cloves of garlic
Cooked spaghetti (al dente)
1 cup whole milk or cream
1/4 cup chicken stock
3 tbs of grated parmesan cheese (use more or less to your taste)
1 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper

Directions:
Needed: Two pots: one for the sauce and chicken and one for boiling the pasta.
1. Start boiling the water for your pasta.
2. Lightly salt and pepper your chicken breasts. I tenderized them with a mallet to flatten them out to an even thickness. I heated a pan with olive oil on medium heat. The idea is to put a little color on them. Cook three to four minutes each side and remove them to rest.
2. Make a roux by adding the butter and flour in the same pot of the removed chicken. When it turns light brown, go ahead and add your minced garlic, red onion, and halved grape tomatoes and stir for one minute.
3. Add the chicken stock and loosen everything up. Turn down the heat to low and then add the pesto, the cream/milk and parm. Stir until the sauce thickens.
4. Cook your pasta according to the package in salted water. While it cooks cut the chicken breast on the bias and then add the sliced chicken back into the sauce and continue to stir.
5. When your pasta is cooked al dente, remove it, drain it and add the pasta into the sauce pot. Now add in your spinach and basil until nicely wilted but not over cooked. Serve and top with some fresh shaved parm and torn basil.

Goat Cheese Turkey Baked Ziti

Goat Cheese Turkey Baked Ziti

  • Servings: 4-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Goat Cheese Turkey Baked Ziti
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The request for a pasta dish came in from my better half. Somewhere along the way we started adding a little goat cheese to our spaghetti sauce to give it a little tang. We have a friend that describes the taste of goat cheese as “wet fur”. If you share a disdain for goat cheese you can omit it. I guess we like the taste of wet fur… who knew?

So instead of spaghetti I settled on a baked ziti. What’s cool is I found this penne pasta that was gluten free. It held together nicely and frankly I couldn’t tell the difference. In fact, Jill claimed that it was the best baked ziti dishes that she has ever eaten and when I told her it was GF she was shocked. I think what really made this dish shine was the combination of the goat cheese in the sauce and then the blistered smoked mozzarella (Trader Joes) on the top.

The ground turkey really crumbles well so it blends into the sauce perfectly. One cheat I often do when in a rush is to use jarred sauce and then add to it. I used Rao’s for this one and added some garlic slices, parm, goat cheese, tomato paste, red wine and some basil.

Ingredients:
1 package of ground turkey (you could sub beef, pork, chicken, sausage)
1 package of Penne pasta (I used gluten free)
1 jar of Rao’s Marinara Sauce
4 cloves of sliced garlic
1 shallot diced
2-3 tbs of tomato paste
1/4 cup of goat cheese
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan
Fresh smoked mozzarella (sliced or pinched on top)
1/2 cup of red wine
Basil (fresh or dried) (optional)

Directions:
Prep: Get a boiling pot of water for your pasta, dice your garlic and shallot and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
1. While you wait on your water to boil take a large pot and add your ground turkey. Oil if you need it. I always use medium heat. Once your meat is browned I added the shallot and sweated it out for 3-4 minutes. I then added the garlic slices (you can mince if you prefer) and let them soften for about 1 minute.

2. Now add wine, sauce, basil and tomato paste and bring it to a simmer. Depending upon your pasta and boiling water you can let this simmer until the pasta is done. Drain and strain and set aside. IMG_0873

3. Turn the heat off and add the goat cheese and Parmesan cheese and stir until well combined. If it’s too thick you can add a little water (pasta water if you saved any). Now add the cooked pasta and stir well until everything is well coated.

4. Pour this into a baking dish and top with the smoked mozzarella. On your lowest oven rack or at least in the middle put your dish into the oven but crank it on broil. When cheese is blistered remove and serve.
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Stromboli di Pepperoni

Stromboli di Pepperoni

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Stromboli di Pepperoni
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As I mentioned a few times, we had a Trader Joe’s move into my neighborhood so I have been swinging by and looking for things to try and experiment with. I was picking up some tortellini and glanced down and noticed that they had pizza dough in these baggies. So I had an idea of trying to make some pepperoni rolls with it so I picked up some smoked mozzarella, provolone and pepperonis along with some red sauce for dipping. Truth in advertising, I made nothing here and used everything from the store.

When I made it home and started working with the dough it really tightened up on me and I didn’t have time to let it rest and relax. So for a plan b I settled on a Stromboli which is basically a giant pizza roll. I tried to shape the dough into a rectangle so I wrestled around with the dough to get close enough. I laid down some shredded smoked mozzarella, topped with pepperoni and a little provolone on top. You could smear a little sauce but you don’t want it to make the dough too wet.

Ingredients:
Trader Joe’s Pizza dough
Pepperoni
Smoked Mozzarella (shredded)
Provolone (shredded)
Trader Joe’s Pizza sauce

Directions:
1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough into a rectangle. About a third of the way down, lay your ingredients down and roll it up into a big log shape. Try to seal the seams but inevitably some cheese will leak out and it will make this beautiful crusty cheese on your pizza stone. Cut, serve, dunk and enjoy.
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Pesto Tortellini with Chicken Pea Cream Sauce

Pesto Tortellini with Chicken Pea Cream Sauce

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pesto Tortellini with Chicken Pea Cream Sauce
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I wasn’t sure what to call this dish but when I spotted the Trader Joe’s pesto tortellini I knew Jill would love it A creamy Parmesan sauce was a perfect complement. Adding the chicken made it a more substantial mean but certainly not necessary. Also when I make a creamy sauce for my pasta I love adding peas because they add a pop of sweetness and freshness.

Given I used packaged tortellini this is one of those restaurant quality meals that you can whip up in a flash. I used two chicken breasts but looking back I would just go with one because we couldn’t eat it all. For the sauce, I will try to remember how much I used of each ingredient but the more important thing for you to do is consider your tastes. Do you like a lot or light amounts of sauces? Do you like it thick or more loose. More cheesy or even use another cheese like Gruyere, swiss, maybe even blue cheese. hmmmm?

Ingredients for 2:
1 Package of Trader Joe’s Pesto Tortellini
1 tbs of flour
1 tbs of butter
1 cup of milk or cream
Parmesan Cheese
Peas
Chicken breast

Directions:
1. Let’s make some chicken. Season both sides with Kosher salt and Pepper. Put a little bit of oil in a medium heated cast iron skillet and cook it until done and make sure you get some nice browning. Remove your chicken and set it aside. IMG_0703

2. Turn the heat down medium low and splash in a little chicken stock or water (pasta water if you decided to cook your tortellini first, to deglaze the pan. Now add your butter and flour to get a rue going. Given the chicken bits are in your rue it will look darker but stir until you get a nice paste. Slowly pour in the milk stirring continuously. I let it thicken up a little bit and then added about a cup of finely grated Parmesan cheese.
Again once you get your rue, you can make more or less sauce by adding only the milk/cream amount you like. If it gets too thick, add some stock, pasta water or even milk. Add your peas and your cut chicken breasts. Stir
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3. Cook your Tortellini until al dente. I chose to pour my sauce mixture over the top versus incorporating them into the sauce with everything else. The reason is that I have had some ravioli or tortellini bust open on me during the stir. I just stirred it while in my bowl.
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Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pizza Margherita

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While I am still working on my pizza dough experimentation my Basil has been thriving in my herb garden. Tonight we were going to hunker down and watch the World Cup Finals. So I picked up a ball of dough at our favorite pizza joint and decided to make a Margherita pizza. This pie really turned out well. Thin crispy crust, perfectly melted mozzarella with a super simple tomato sauce and my fresh basil.

I purchased one of those Presto gas powered pizza ovens because it can get up to 900 degrees. I prefer to stay at 700 degrees to let the crust really crisp up. So really the only thing I made here was the sauce and it was super simple because I cooked the two cloves of garlic in olive oil and added crushed San Marzano tomatoes and 2 tsp of sugar. I also used low moisture mozzarella cheese.

We recently saw an episode of Best 5 Pizza Places in the US on FoodNetwork. It showed the Chicago joint called Pequod’s that does a deeper dish but they line the edges of their pan with cheese so as it cooks it makes a nice crispy cheese edge. Jill tried it on one of the pies and it really did turn out perfectly. (if you’re into burnt cheese).

Ingredients:
pizza dough
14 oz of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic (minced)
handful of fresh basil
2 tsp of sugar
2 tsp of crushed red pepper
Kosher salt
Parmesan cheese
Low moisture Mozzarella

Directions:
1. Made the sauce by cooking the garlic in olive oil for a few minutes and then adding the tomatoes and spices.

2. I took a non stick square brownie pan and put some olive oil on the bottom. I spread out the dough to the edges and then added some parm, then the sauce and finally the mozzarella and basil. IMG_0308

3. My oven was right around 700 degrees so it took about 6 minutes to cook.
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Attempt at Pequod's crispy cheese edges
Attempt at Pequod’s crispy cheese edges

Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Italian Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Shells
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Tonight was pasta night and I was thinking stuffed shells. It eats like a less cheesy and rich lasagna. You can control your cheese, meat, spinach ratio. I have made this several times and don’t really have a recipe for it but rather make it up each time.

Italian sausage is good but sometimes a little over powering. I found a lighter version that was lighter on fat and spice. I wanted to bump up the spinach ratio while lowering the cheese mixture. Jill was held up at work so I had to cook it a little longer than I wanted. I used my biggest cast iron skillet to accommodate all the shells but by doing so I left some shells exposed. Just be careful because you will harden up the exposed noodle part. I like the chew it gives them but you may not.

Really delicious meal that lets the pasta, Italian sausage and spinach shine through with the sauce nicely tying it all together.

Ingredients
3/4 package of Jumbo pasta shells
1 package (1 lbs) of light Italian Sausage (casing removed)
1 jar of Tomato Sauce
Parsley
1 bag of spinach
4 cloves of garlic
handful of fresh cut basil
Parmesan Cheese
Mozzarella cheese
1 container of Ricotta
1 small onion

Directions:
1. Boil your pasta in salted water according to the directions on the box. Drain and rinse with cool water so you can handle them as you stuff them.

2. Make your stuffing. Brown your pork sausage and remove the rendered fat. Add your onion, spinach and two cloves of minced garlic. The spinach has a lot of water so when everything is soft and wilted, remove as much of it as you can. Pour into a bowl and let it cool. IMG_0028

3. When the meat spinach mixture is warm add 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese and your ricotta cheese. Mix well and taste. Adjust seasoning accordingly. You shouldn’t need extra salt with the sausage and parm but taste it to make certain.

4. I used the same cast iron skillet after I removed the meat mixture. I added a jar of marinara sauce. To that sauce I added 2 cloves of minced garlic and tomato paste and crushed red peppers. Brought it to a simmer and then added my basil. I turned it to low while I stuffed my shells.

5. Stuff your shells and put them into the sauce face up. I liked to add a some mozzarella or parm on the top and finish them in an oven around 375 degrees until the cheese melts. Like I mentioned above mine when a little longer because Jill was running late. IMG_0025IMG_0026
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6. Serve in a bowl with some sauce added.
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