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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Chicken Marsala with Pancetta and Cream

Chicken Marsala with Pancetta and Cream

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Chicken Marsala with Pancetta and Cream
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Jill had a hankering for pasta tonight. For some odd reason I wasn’t wanting anything cheesy or tomato based so I settled on a simple Marsala sauce. Marsala wine is an Italian wine produced around Sicily that is on the sweet side. You can buy the “cooking wine” but I prefer to use the real thing.

Chicken Marsala is supposedly a popular dish in Italy to celebrate their wine with simple ingredients. If you think of pairing sweet, I naturally think salty or earthy. Mushroom and onions would be nice but I kept it pretty simple and used pancetta with a creamy sauce and wide egg noodles.

Ingredients:

2 free range trimmed chicken breasts
2 oz of Pancetta (cubed)
Egg noodles for two
Parsley for garnish
1/2 cup of Marsala Wine
Touch of cream
pat of butter
Seasoned AP flour


Directions:

1. Slice your chicken breasts in to thin (consistent) slices. Like chicken tender sized. Make a seasoned flour mixture (pepper, salt, paprika) and dredge your chicken and set aside.
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2. In a pan on medium heat add your pancetta and cook until browned. Remove the pancetta and let it rest on a paper towel. IMG_9953

3. Once your pancetta is cooked and removed, add your flour dredged chicken and brown it on both sides. remove and set aside to rest. IMG_9957

4. Remove some of the pancetta drippings but keep a little. To make the sauce add the Marsala wine and let it reduce by 30%. Add a pat of butter and some cream to your desired color and taste. IMG_9958

5. Cook your noodles to package directions. Reserve some pasta water and then strain it. Put the pancetta back into the sauce along with the chicken. Now slowly add your pasta continually stirring to coat the entire dish. If it gets too thick, add some pasta water to thin it out. Serve in a bowl and top with chopped parsley.
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Pepperoni Rolls (DoubleDave’s)

Pepperoni Rolls

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
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Pepperoni Rolls (DoubleDave’s)
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As I mentioned before I went to university at Texas A&M a while back. While still a small town, the number of places to eat are exponentially greater than when I attended. La Taqueria, Chicken Oil Co, Dixie Chicken, Fajita Ritas, Grapevine, Toms BBQ, Deluxe, Freebirds, and DoubleDave’s were a few of the ole favs. Many of them have gone belly-up but one that is still kicking is DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks. http://www.doubledaves.com/menu/handcraftedfavorites.php

Now pizza is an obvious college food staple, and while DoubleDave’s makes pizza, they were known for their pepperoni rolls. They are rolled-up pizza dough stuffed with smoked provolone and pepperoni. You dip them into ranch and/or marinara sauce. I am an unabashed two saucer while Jill only dips red. DD’s franchised and have since expanded across Texas and even Oklahoma. We don’t have them in my neck of the woods, so when we go catch a game we always make a point to stop.

For business I took a trip to West Virgina and noticed that they had pepperoni rolls all over the place. They sold them in gas stations, restaurants etc.. They are more buttery than the DD’s version.

Jill was wanting pizza and I thought of DD’s and wanted to see if I could make a proper roll. These turned out well. I used a packaged crust instead of making my own and it had a buttery flavor similar to what I had in West Virgina and less chew than sturdy pizza dough. Had I not had DD’s,
I wouldn’t have noticed. Still a great snack or quick pizza like dinner.

Ingredients:
Pillsbury Thin Crust Pizza Dough
Pepperoni
Smoked Provolone
Pizza Sauce
Ranch

Directions:
1. These are really simple so lay out your dough into a thin layer. As best you can, cut triangles. Mine don’t look that great and in fact look like ‘triangles by kindergartners”. IMG_9566

2. I put my pepperoni in a small sauce pan and warm them up and render out a little fat. Not a necessary step at all. I also then removed those pepperonis and put them on a paper towel and drained the pain of extra grease. To that pan I smashed a clove of garlic and added some olive oil to infuse it with garlic.

3. Ideally you will take your triangle and at the base place your smoked provolone and pepperonis and roll them up. Try to enclose the roll as best you can but truth be told when that cheese leaks out onto your pan it makes a lovely little crispy cheese bit.
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Serve them up with marinara and ranch.
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Spaghetti and Roasted Meatballs

Spaghetti and Roasted Meatballs

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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While watching FoodNetwork’s “The Kitchen” show, they were siting that their poll states that spaghetti and meatballs is the number one comfort food. I love a good spaghetti and meatballs but in the south I would bet that fried chicken, dumplings, BBQ or some casserole would top the list.

When I think of Spaghetti and Meatballs, I think of my brother. My mom makes every kid’s favorite dish for his or her birthday. It’s funny because once she locks in that it is “your” favorite she doesn’t depart. My brother must have said he liked her spaghetti and meatballs in high school and to this day when we get together for birthdays you can bet that on my brothers day he is getting his spaghetti and meatballs.

So back to the recipe.. Geoffrey Zakarian showed how he roasted his meatballs. I usually fry mine in a cast iron skillet but typically have to babysit them by rolling around to get a good crust on each side. Roasting is a no fuss way of accomplishing the same thing without the hassle.

GZ has been hitting it out of the park with his recipes. He adds a few unique steps that really make a huge difference. I did depart from his recipe quite a bit. Mine was absolutely fabulous and I am sure his is even better. He used panko bread crumbs but I had two heels of my sourdough loaf left and used them. He also uses ground pork and pork sausage but I didn’t feel like grinding my pork so went with Turkey Sausage (kinda odd but it worked). I did screw up the noodles by over salting my water. The water is supposed to taste like the sea but not the Dead Sea.

Ingredients:
Meatballs
5 tbs of bread crumbs (Panko, I used Sourdough)
6 oz of heavy cream
1/2 cup of finely diced yellow onions
3 cloves of finely diced garlic
1 tbs of finely diced fresh rosemary
1/4 cup of finely diced parsley
1 egg
5 OZ of grated parmsean cheese
1 tbs of canola oil
12 oz of ground veal
12 oz of ground turkey breakfast sausage

Sauce
20 oz of San Marzano Tomatoes or Rao’s jarred Arrabiata Sauce
1/2 finely diced onions
1 tbs of Basil (fresh if you have it)
4 cloves of garlic
1 tbs of Red Pepper Flakes
1/2 cup of Red Wine
1 tbs of tomato paste

Spaghetti noodles cooked al dente
Parmesan cheese to top

Directions:
Here is you tackle this. The meatballs need about an hour to set up so tackle them first. If you like concentrated sauce like I do you can make them and start your sauce right after that and let it simmer OR you can start it right after you put them in the oven.

1. Pulse your bread crumbs in a food processor until they are fine. Now this was odd to me but pour them into a bowl and add heavy cream. the crumbs are going to suck this cream up and you are going to be left with a pretty thick bowl of goo. GZ used panko so I don’t know if they reacted the same as my sourdough crumbs. Don’t freak out.

2. Take the onions with a tbs of canola oil in small pot or the same pan you’re going to use for your sauce. Sweat them out on medium low heat for about 10 minutes. Then chop and add your garlic and rosemary. Cook for about 3 minutes and then remove from the heat to let the mixture cool.

3. Now everything you see in the meatball ingredients goes into a mixer. Mix this until everything is incorporated. You might need to do some hand work on the bread crumbs if you get lumps. Roll the balls into the size you like. I prefer smaller meatballs to maximize the amount of crust I can get with each bite. Put the meatballs onto a sheet pan, cover and let them set up in the fridge for an hour. You can cheat if you’re time crunched. IMG_9525IMG_9526

4. Two stepper… In a preheated oven at 425 degrees place your meatballs in the middle rack. Set your timer to 25 minutes. Right after start your sauce.

5. Stay with me here. You are going to have three pots on the oven. One for cooking the pasta, one for the sauce and the third we are going to use as a landing spot for the pasta.

For the sauce follow the same process you did for the meatballs by sweating your onions in a medium to large pot on medium heat. When onions are soft, add the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the rest of your sauce ingredients and let it simmer. If you like rich sauce cook it longer but careful not to burn it. IMG_9527

6. When your meatballs are done, remove them and set them aside. Start your pasta water by bringing it to a boil with salted water. 3 tbs or so of Kosher salt. I don’t know the size of your pot or how high your fill it. Cook to the directions on the box to get them al dente. IMG_9528IMG_9530

7. Ladle in a cup or so of the sauce into the third pan/pot and then take your noodles directly from the pot using tongs and add them to the pan. The point of this it to introduce the noodles and the sauce so that you get full coverage. Add the meatballs to the non-noodle sauce pan to get those two acquainted.
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Serve by plating your noodles first and then top with the meatballs. You can leave the extra sauce on the side or spoon a little on top. Apparently that technique of putting sauce on top is a “no no” but I don’t see big deal.

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