Category Archives: ITALIAN CUISINE

CREAMY TUSCAN SPREAD OR DIP

I found the bones of this recipe on “the girl who ate everything” site. The recipe contained most, but not all, of the flavors I wanted to feature in an Italian appetizer. So I adopted the recipe, but added a few ingredients I felt should be represented in this dish. Call me an Italian ingredient snob, but I simply had to add some basil and Parmesan to the mix, along with a bit of sour cream for additional creaminess.

And you know what – it worked. My guests loved the spread, as did I!

So next time you want a hearty and delicious appetizer that can be made ahead, mix up a batch. After all – it’s Italian! What could be better than that?!?!  

  • 1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, room temperature
  • ¼ c. sour cream, or more as needed
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 sm. garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 T. minced fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish
  • 1/3 c. loosely packed chopped fresh basil
  • 1 (14-oz.) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped  
  • ½ c. thinly sliced black olives
  • 4 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1/3 c. finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • ¼ c. finely grated Parmesan cheese

Mix the cream cheese and sour cream together until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning. Scoop into a pretty bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours. Serve at room temperature with crudité, crackers, or toasted baguette slices.

 

 

 

LAMB RAGÙ WITH PENNE PASTA

Once upon a time I helped raise 4 children. And my little darlings loved to eat. And one of their favorite dishes was leg of lamb. Now with 4 hungry kidlets, there were rarely leftovers of any kind. But this was especially true when leg of lamb was on the menu. They would actually fight over who was going to be the chosen one to gnaw on the bone! Seriously!

Now that my memories of my children’s formative years are gracing me more often as I race into my senior years, I take delight in some of the consequences of their adulthood. Like the fact that I now almost always have leftovers when I cook a leg of lamb. Oh joy and delight! But with the actual reality of leftover lamb comes the inevitable question of what the heck to do with it?

OK, I could prepare a lamb curry. It’s always a winner. But not the other evening because I had served chicken curry only two nights before. So now what? Well then, there’s always soup. Nope. Not workin’ for me this time. How about stew? No again. Then a crazy thought. What about Italian? What about Italian!! How about a ragù? How about a ragù!! So the following recipe is the result. Hope you enjoy it.

And for those of you who still have children at home, and therefore no leftovers, I included a version using uncooked lamb. And yes I know lamb might be a hard cell for young children. Bambi and all. So just call it “pasta with red sauce”. If they insist on knowing what’s in the sauce, consider calling the meat “young sheep”. If your children are teenagers, you’re on your own!

Ragù Using Leftover Lamb:

  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • ½ c. finely diced carrot
  • ½ c. finely diced celery
  • ½ c. finely chopped pancetta
  • 2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 28-oz. can Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped if necessary, with their juices
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • ¼ c. whole milk or half and half
  • ½ -¾ lb. leftover lamb, cut into fine dice (plus any saved juices from the roasting pan)
  • ½ -¾ lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente (or your pasta of choice)
  • 2/3 c. freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Pour the oil into a large fry pan and place over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft. Add the chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and slowly simmer until evaporated, about 7 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth; simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the milk and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cooked lamb and cook until the lamb is just warm. Adjust seasoning. Add the drained pasta and the 2/3rds cup cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.

Ragù Using Uncooked Lamb:

  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil, or more if required
  • ¾ lb. lamb cubes, dried with paper towels
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • ½ c. finely diced carrot
  • ½ c. finely diced celery
  • ½ c. finely chopped pancetta
  • 2 T. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 c. dry white wine
  • 1 28-oz. can Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped if necessary, with their juices
  • 2 T. tomato paste
  • 1 c. chicken or vegetable broth
  • ¼ c. whole milk or half and half
  • ¾ lb. penne pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2/3 c. freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

Pour the oil into a large fry pan and place over medium heat. Add the lamb pieces, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and fry until the outside is browned but the inside is still medium rare. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon. Set aside.

Add the onion, carrot, and celery to the pan, adding a little more oil if necessary. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is pale gold. Add the pancetta and rosemary and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta fat is rendered; the pancetta should remain soft. Add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute. Add the wine and slowly simmer until evaporated, about 7 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, and broth; simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add the milk and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cooked lamb and cook until the lamb is just warm. Adjust seasoning. Add the drained pasta and the 2/3rds cup cheese. Serve at once, passing additional cheese at the table.

CHICKEN MARSALA

I love this chicken recipe. (Actually I love most chicken dishes.) But this one is particularly near and dear to my heart. (I think it has something to do with the Marsala wine, mushrooms, and fresh thyme.) Whatever it is (probably the combination of ingredients), I am completely hung up on this dish. I even dreamt about it the other night. Now that’s scary!

So when I opened my Jan/Feb issue of Cooking Light magazine, and there on page 28 was a close cousin recipe of my very own recipe for Chicken Marsala, I immediately checked my blog to see exactly what the differences were. What!?!? No recipe on my blog for this amazing Sicilian classic? How could I possibly have been so remiss? Well, starting today, you now have my recipe for one of the tastiest and easiest Italian dishes to prepare.

Now many people pound the chicken before frying it. Not me. Too much work. Plus I find that meat that has been pounded sometimes feels mushy. I love minced meat (ground beef, sausage, ground turkey and chicken), but I don’t like mushy. But if you like to hammer on meat, by all means use your mallet or the side of a wide butcher knife instead of cutting the meat with a knife. Really makes no matter. The chicken will still be delicious.

So enough blather Patti. It’s already way past time this recipe appeared on the blog!

(If you would like to know a bit more about this fabulous dish, read the note at the end of this post.)

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced lengthwise, then each piece cut in two (you should now have 8 pieces)
  • kosher salt   
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 small shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 c. thinly sliced fresh button or cremini mushrooms
  • 2 T. unsalted butter
  • 1 T. all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 c. dry Marsala wine
  • 2/3 c. chicken broth
  • 1-2 T. chopped fresh thyme (start with 1 tablespoon, then add more as garnish, if desired)  
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley, opt.  

Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large fry pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Fry the chicken pieces until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. (If you need additional olive oil – add a wee dram.) Remove the cooked chicken to a plate or other container; loosely tent with aluminum foil. Do not clean the frying pan.

Place the pan back on medium-low heat and sauté the shallot and mushrooms until all the liquid is evaporated, and the mushrooms start to brown, about 6 minutes. Add the butter and flour and cook for 1 minute. Off heat gently whisk in the Marsala, chicken stock, and 1 tablespoon of the thyme. Return to heat and cook for 2 minutes over low heat. Add the cooked chicken, cook for an additional minute. Adjust the seasoning.

Serve the chicken and sauce over or beside freshly cooked al dente pasta, brown rice, or polenta. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and a bit more chopped thyme, if desired.

Note:

Marsala is a dark, sweet, fortified dessert wine that resembles sherry. Chicken Marsala is an Italian dish made from chicken cutlets, mushrooms, and Marsala wine. It is a variation of a traditional Italian scaloppini dish. Chicken Marsala probably dates to the 19th century, when it most likely originated with English families who lived in Sicily, where Marsala wine is produced.

 

 

BAKED PUTTANESCA WITH BÉCHAMEL SAUCE

I love puttanesca, but when you plan to serve it to a small army, serving the sauce over perfectly cooked pasta is for a cook with a lot better kitchen skill set than I possess! So what to do? Well, since I was already preparing a béchamel sauce for one of the other pasta dishes I was serving, I thought “what the heck”, why not make a puttanesca casserole too. So that’s just what I did. And it turned out pretty darn good. So that is the genesis of this recipe. (I tell you, necessity is indeed the mother of invention!)

I was slightly worried that the pasta bake would be too rich. But given that there is no meat in a puttenesca sauce, and a sharp bite from the Kalamata olives, capers, and red pepper flakes, it was just right. Of course the three different cheeses didn’t hurt either. They just helped with the creamy part. So all and all, a good dish to serve a crowd. And you can make it ahead of time. (The only way I can feed 30 some people at 1:00 in the afternoon!)

So if you like puttanesca and would like to serve it as a casserole, give this recipe a go. It is perfect company food, although I don’t think Mr. C. is going to think of it in that way. (That man loves his pasta.)

I also plan to make this dish using an arrabiata sauce instead of puttanesca sauce. I see no reason why it wouldn’t adapt well to a pasta casserole with a béchamel sauce layer. For my recipe for arrabiata sauce, see Pasta with Arrabiata Sauce on this site.

So dear readers, as in all of my recipes, make them your own. If you already have a favorite puttanesca sauce recipe, use it in this dish. Or change my recipe any way you like. I promise I will not be offended. After all, that’s what I do with other people’s perfectly good recipes all the time. I just want to provide you with ideas to make your job as family cook easier. I know I’ve said it before, but good food is a wonderful way in which to let your family and friends know in how high a regard you hold them.

So spend time in the kitchen. Make it a pleasure rather than a chore. Try new recipes. Use fresh and healthy ingredients. Be creative. But most of all, have fun in your kitchen. After all, it really is the center of your home.

  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 med. onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¼ tsp. dried red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • 2-oz. can anchovy fillets (or 10-12 fillets) 
  • 16 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 16 oz. can diced tomatoes (preferably Italian)
  • 18-20 Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 2 T. drained capers
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • 4 T. butter
  • ¼ c. flour
  • 2½ c. whole milk
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. grated provolone cheese
  • 1½ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ¾ lb. penne or rigatoni pasta
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

In a medium covered saucepan, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Fry until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes. Sauté for one minute. Add the anchovy fillets and stir them around with the other ingredients until they are all mushed up. Add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, cover the pan, and simmer for about 15 minutes. Stir in the olives, capers, and fresh parsley. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, melt the butter for the béchamel sauce in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the flour starts to turn a delicate golden brown. Slowly whisk in the milk and simmer until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, provolone cheese, and 1 cup of the Parmesan. Set aside.

Before cooking the pasta, have all the other ingredients prepped and ready to go. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (firm to the bite). Remove from heat. Don’t drain. Leave the pasta in the water as you assemble the pasta bake. Remove the pasta as needed with a slotted spoon.

Spread just a smear of the puttanesca sauce on the bottom of a buttered 9×13-inch, fairly high sided casserole dish. Place 1/3rd of the pasta in a single layer on top of the sauce. Spread 1/3rd of the puttanesca sauce over the pasta. Spread 1/3rd of the béchamel sauce over the puttanesca sauce. Sprinkle 1/3rd of the remaining ½ cup Parmesan cheese and 1/3rd of the shredded mozzarella over the béchamel sauce. Repeat. For the final layer, add the remaining pasta, puttanesca sauce, béchamel, and cheeses. Cover the casserole with a piece of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Bake for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta bake is bubbly and the cheese is completely melted and starting to brown. Remove from oven and let stand 8-10 minutes before serving.

Note: This dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking. It can be frozen for up to 1 month. Bring to room temperature before baking. (This takes about 1-3 hours, depending if the casserole has just been refrigerated, or if it is just out of the freezer.)

 

 

 

SWEET ITALIAN SAUSAGE AND TORTELLINI SOUP

I love fall! And do you know why? Because I love soup! (Not that I don’t build soup throughout the year, but there’s just something special about soup burbling on the stove while the wind and rain tear the leaves off of our trees and scatter them all over the yard.) What could be more exciting than that! (Some would say a trip to Italy or almost anything that doesn’t cause pain, loss of dignity, or the presence of mind not to inadvertently discard a winning lottery ticket.)

But for me, even the prepping of vegetables becomes a treat when I am inside warm and dry, while just outside my window Mother Nature is causing all kind of havoc in the yard. (Maybe I like fall so much because at least for a few months I don’t have to worry about Mr. C. mowing our vacant lot and working his fingers to the bone keeping the weeds at a reasonable level, and me spending countless hours watering! It really could be just as simple as that!)

But whatever the reason, soup in the fall is a must in my kitchen and hopefully also in yours. (And no, opening a can of chicken noodle soup and warming it on the stove just doesn’t cut it!) Real soup has that one ingredient that is missing from canned soup, well that and too much salt and all the ingredients listed on the can that are unpronounceable. Real soup has love mixed in during every step of the preparation. Plus, who in their right mind doesn’t relish walking into the kitchen and smelling soup simmering on the stove? Everyone loves good smells emanating from the kitchen. It just makes one feel loved and cared for. And homemade soup is one of the healthiest dishes you can feed your family. Without much trouble at all, you can tuck all kinds of nutritious ingredients into soup without any of your family suspecting your duplicity. (In this type of situation, I truly believe that duplicity is OK. Actually, it’s better than just OK. It’s almost mandatory to help keep you and your family healthy!)   

So when our dear fried Susan served us this soup after a band rehearsal that her husband Tim had called, we were in heaven. I liked the soup so much I immediately asked for the recipe. I made a couple of tiny changes, but then, that’s what I do. (I simply can’t help myself!)

I hope you fix this soup in the near future. It’s easy to prepare, relatively inexpensive, and absolutely perfect for a stormy fall or winter evening. Actually, it’s the perfect soup to serve after spending an afternoon raking leaves. (If that’s the case, I would also encourage that you bake up a batch of brownies as another surefire way of thanking your family for all their hard work!)

Speaking of thanks, thanks again Susie for this wonderful recipe.

  • 1 lb. bulk sweet (not hot) Italian sausage
  • 1 c. chopped onion
  • 1 med. sized green pepper, chopped
  • 2 lg. garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. chicken or beef broth/stock
  • 1-2 Parmesan rinds, opt. (I use 2 rinds, each approximately 2-inches square)
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, including juice (preferably Italian tomatoes)
  • ½ c. dry red wine
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican oregano is fabulous)  
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 8-10 oz. pkg. fresh or frozen tortellini (I use three cheese tortellini)
  • 1 med. zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and then into ¼-inch wide half rounds
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ c. chopped fresh basil, opt.
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a large covered soup pot, break up and sauté the Italian sausage until the meat is no longer pink. Remove sausage from pan to a small bowl. Set aside. Add the onion and green pepper to the pan. Sauté gently until the onion is translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute. (There will be brown bits (caramelized meat) sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is good. When you add the liquid in the next step, gently lift the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with your stirring utensil.)

Add the broth, Parmesan rinds, diced tomatoes, red wine, dried basil, dried oregano, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and half of the cooked Italian sausage. Bring to just under a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer gently for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, add the tortellini, zucchini, and the rest of the cooked Italian sausage; simmer until the tortellini is tender. Remove the Parmesan rinds and stir in the parsley and fresh basil. Adjust seasoning.

Ladle into individual soup bowls. Pass the grated Parmesan cheese.

I serve this soup with toasted crusty baguette slices. No butter required. Just dunk the bread in the broth. Yum

  

 

TIRAMISU

Starting in the early-90s, you couldn’t go into an Italian restaurant in the Seattle area without finding “made in-house” tiramisu on the menu. These days, sadly, good restaurant tiramisu is difficult to find. (Mostly what’s offered appears to be mass produced.)

So I decided this past weekend, it would be fun to make a “made from scratch” tiramisu for our JazzVox guests. (I love that expression – made from scratch. I have used a lot of different ingredients in my 50 some years of cooking, but I have never found an ingredient that calls itself “scratch”! Is there something I’m missing here?)

Anyway, I first developed this recipe to serve along with 4 other desserts for Mr. C. and my wedding reception nearly 25 years ago. I searched through many Italian cookbooks at the time, taking a little bit from each recipe until I came up with my own version.

Now the first thing you will notice is that mascarpone is not one of the ingredients in my version. That’s because 25 years ago in Bellevue, to the best of my knowledge, the only shop that sold mascarpone was DeLaurenti’s on Bellevue Way. And at the time, a small container was over the top expensive. However, thankfully, while I was researching Tiramisu, I happened upon a recipe for homemade mascarpone, which of course I used. (I mean, I truly loved each and every one of the 40 some people who attended our wedding. But there is a dollar limit to how much I am willing to spend, even if there is no limit to my love!) So I used the fake replacement version for my wedding dessert, and have been using it ever since.

Grappa brandy is another ingredient which I use that differs from the standard.  Grappa is alcohol which is made by distilling pomace, the leftovers of winemaking. (Think grape seeds, skins, stems, a few leaves, the random bug carcass, etc.) But for whatever reason I started with grappa, and now find absolutely no reason to change to the more traditional coffee liqueur, rum, amaretto, or Marsala.

Grappa has a strong, unsweetened flavor, and I feel it works perfectly to offset all the sugar in this dessert. Oh, I should mention that I do use a bit of coffee liqueur in the whipped cream frosting, which I believe qualifies my tiramisu to remain in the “almost traditional” category, that is, if anyone is tracking that sort of statistic.

In conclusion, if you want to make a dessert that will pamper not only your own taste buds, but those of the others you graciously decide to favor with your culinary expertise, make your own tiramisu. You won’t be sorry, and neither will your family or friends.

  • 12-oz. cream cheese, room temperature
  • 6 T. + 3 c. whipping cream, divided
  • ¼ c. sour cream
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 4 egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1½ tsp. vanilla
  • 1 c. strong espresso, room temperature
  • 2 T. grappa brandy
  • about 50 ladyfingers (Savoiardi)*  
  • 2 T. powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp. Kahlua (or other coffee flavored liqueur)
  • 4 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate, shaved

Whip together the cream cheese, 6 tablespoons of the whipping cream, and sour cream. Set aside. (This is homemade mascarpone cheese.)

On low speed, mix the sugar and egg yolks together for 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat on high for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is pale yellow and sheets off the paddle/beaters when lifted. Reduce speed to low and add “mascarpone” 1 large tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition. After the last addition, beat for 2 minutes, cover bowl, and refrigerate until thickened, about 60 minutes.

After mixture has thickened, whip 2 cups of the whipping cream to soft peaks and gently fold into the mascarpone cream filling. Return to refrigerator and chill for at least an hour.

In a high-sided dish large enough to hold a third of the ladyfingers in a single layer, spread about a cup of the filling evenly over the bottom. (Remove the dry ladyfingers first.) Mix the room temperature espresso with the grappa brandy in a small shallow bowl. Quickly dip both sides of the ladyfingers you have just removed from the dish in the espresso mixture and place them over the layer of cream filling. Gently pat each ladyfinger to make sure it is well “seated” into the cream mixture. Spoon 1/3rd of the mascarpone cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat process 2 more times with layers of dipped lady fingers and cream filling. Gently pat all over. When done, lick your fingers before washing them in soap and water. Place dish in the refrigerator while you prepare the topping.

Whip the last cup of whipping cream to stiff peaks. Add the powdered sugar and Kahlua. Remove the dish from the refrigerator and frost with the Kahlua flavored whipped cream. Sprinkle with shaved chocolate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

*I buy Roland (made in Italy) ladyfingers at Cash & Carry. I’ve tried twice making my own ladyfingers. But both times they turned out too soft and spongy. I didn’t use them either time because I knew they would turn to mush in this recipe and my tiramisu would be too watery.

 

CHICKEN IN A SAVORY TOMATO SAUCE

I must be getting old. I seem to be tending towards my version of “fast food” more and more. I’m not talking about using a microwave to hot up a processed product or one I fetched from the deli case at my local grocery store. That may come when I am older, but for now I still have the strength to cook something from scratch. Thank goodness! But the recipes I seem to be drawn to these days are centered around how quickly I can get the dishes on the table. (Sounds like I have regressed to my days of being a working mother and planning quick and easy meals for my poor starving children. Yikes!)

Scary thoughts of parenting aside, and as I said above, I seem to be leaning more and more towards quick and easy recipes that don’t take hours of prep work. And this chicken dish fits the bill nicely. Plus it is absolutely delicious.

Now I know this recipe does have quite a few ingredients. But there is not too much prep work, which if you really analyze what takes most of your time in preparing a dish, it’s the time you spend washing, peeling, chopping, dicing, etc. The simple gathering of items out of the refrigerator, pantry, or spice cabinet is the easy part. So never be intimidated by the amount of ingredients in a recipe. However, pay close attention to the list of ingredients before starting a dish. The worst thing in the culinary world is to be happily cooking away and find that the next ingredient called for is a cup of homemade béchamel, velouté, or espagnole that you don’t just happen to have tucked away in your refrigerator or freezer.  At that point, the 5 ingredient wonder dish that you were so excited about becomes a nightmare! (I just used béchamel, velouté, and espagnole as examples. The missing ingredient could be as simple as ketchup or Dijon mustard. Regardless, if you haven’t got the ingredient on hand, you have a problem that might take a bit of time to solve.) 

So taking this dish as an example, after you have cut up the chicken, chopped a bit of onion, and minced a garlic clove, you are pretty much home free, prep time that is! The rest is just frying up the chicken, plus a bit of hunting/gathering, and a modicum of time to deal with whatever you are going to serve this on or with while the sauce merrily cooks away on the stove. This recipe may look, at first glance, like a lot of work. But believe me, it comes together fairly quickly. And the results are fabulous and pretty darn nutritious too.

So some day when you have chicken breasts thawing on your counter, and aren’t quite sure what to prepare with them, give this dish a try. It is nothing if not totally evocative of all foods Italian. And what could be better than that?!?!

  • 2 T. all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. seasoned salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise, then cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2-3 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, with liquid (Italian tomatoes, if possible)
  • ½ c. chicken broth
  • ¼ c. white wine
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 2 T. white wine vinegar
  • 2 T. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp. chili powder, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp. mustard powder
  • ½ tsp. celery seed
  • 1-2 dashes hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot Sauce)

In a zip-lock bag, combine flour, seasoned salt, and pepper. Add the chicken breast pieces and gently shake the bag until the meat is evenly coated with the flour mixture. Heat the olive oil in a large covered skillet over medium heat, and brown chicken on all sides. Remove from skillet and set aside.  

In the same skillet, add the onion, and cook over low heat for about 7-8 minutes or until the onion is translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, chicken broth, wine, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, kosher salt, chili powder, mustard powder, celery seed, and hot pepper sauce. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer covered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasoning. Add the reserved chicken and cook only until heated through.  

Serve the chicken and sauce over rice, pasta, or whatever takes your fancy. (I use brown rice that has been steamed with chicken broth instead of water.)

 

OLD FASHIONED SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS

Every once in a while, all I want for dinner is a big old plate of spaghetti and meatballs. And when the urge hits me, I fix this recipe.

I have been making this sauce and these meatballs for decades. This was one of my standby recipes when my children were young, because they all loved it, spaghetti was fairly economical to make, nutritious, and I enjoyed preparing it. (And yes, even after work!) So not only is this spaghetti delicious, it brings back wonderful memories.

It was also one of the recipes I fixed when after a long weekend morning of cleaning the house, doing 43 (or so it seemed) loads of laundry, and working in the yard, I would get a wild hair about 2:00 pm to have company for dinner! (Dear God, what was I thinking?) So I would pick up the phone and call our dear friends and invite them over. Then off to the store, back home, start some bread, make this dish, cut up greens for a salad, throw some brownies together, put the box of wine in the refrigerator along with some Miller beer, and Bob’s your uncle! Where I ever got the energy for those kind of days I will never know! My only excuse is that I was young and didn’t know any better.

Now that I’m a wee bit older and definitely a whole lot smarter, I have to plan company dinners down to a gnat’s eyelash. I go so far as to prepare comprehensive excel spreadsheets, complete with time tables that reflect any and all tasks that can be done ahead of time. (Many would call it being anal-retentive; I call it being prepared!) Some would even go so far as to blame it on my age! And they would be right! I simply can’t work as fast or as long as I did in my thirties. Regardless – I can still do it, and that’s what matters.

So if you too love spaghetti and it’s a nostalgic part of your past, call, text, email, twitter, or whatever!?!? your friends and invite them over for dinner. And no, you don’t have to go so far as to serve them box wine, although I’ve been told they are making some really good box wines these days. (There are just some food and drink items from our past that should stay relegated to the very back recesses of our brains. For example: I have my memory of boxed white wine safely filed away between Annie Green Springs and Ripple in the back part of my brain. And I can’t even remember where I stashed my memory of Singapore Slings, but I sincerely hope that wherever it is, it stays hidden for the rest of my life!)

Oh, BTW, it’s OK if you don’t have wonderful memories of spaghetti and meatballs. It’s never too late to begin making your own nostalgic memories. Have fun!

Meatballs:

  • ½ c. finely chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 T. chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ tsp. ground savory
  • ½ tsp. dried thyme leaves
  • ½ tsp. seasoned salt
  • ¼ tsp. paprika
  • ¼ tsp. dried rosemary
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 T. milk
  • ¾ c. oats
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 lb. seasoned pork sausage

Combine the onion, granulated garlic, parsley, savory, thyme, salt, paprika, rosemary, pepper, nutmeg, eggs, and milk together in a medium bowl. Add the oats, ground beef, and ground pork and stir just until combined. Using an ice cream scoop, form balls and place on a lightly greased rimmed baking pan.

Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or until the balls are baked through. Remove from oven and set aside.

Sauce:

  • 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ c. chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 (28-oz.) can chopped or diced tomatoes (Italian tomatoes preferably)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (I use Mexican oregano)
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 T. chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 T. butter, optional
  • ½ lb. spaghetti, cooked al dente
  • grated Parmesan, garnish

In a large covered sauce pan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Add the tomatoes, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. (Take the lid off part way if the sauce is too thin or allow to gently burble away until the sauce reaches your desired thickness.) Remove from heat, discard bay leaf, add the basil, and adjust seasoning. If the sauce tastes acidic, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time to round out the flavor.

Just before serving, add the meatballs and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the al dente spaghetti, and serve immediately. Pass Parmesan.

 

ITALIAN SAUSAGE, SPINACH, AND MUSHROOM CASSEROLE

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Of course you already know that I am a pasta fanatic. And in all honesty, this casserole is one of the reasons why I can’t seem to stay away from any type of dish that consists of a sauce and various other accoutrements that surround shaped and boiled semolina flour and water. This casserole has everything I find necessary to fulfill my “must have pasta” need. It has meat, veggies, cheese, and a killer cream sauce. When combined, it is just a fantastic amalgamation of flavors. And it’s pretty too!

So next time you’re in the mood for pasta, and especially when you have a small army to feed, make this dish. Now, I’m not going to tell you that it‘s a quick dish to prepare. Because it does take some dedicated kitchen time. But I will say that it’s an easy recipe to follow, and not too expensive compared to a lot of lasagna type recipes that call for vast amounts of expensive cheese. Plus it’s a lovely change from a tomato sauce based pasta dish. And, this pasta can be made well ahead and kept in your refrigerator until needed.

So everything considered, it’s a great dish to have in your special treat and company repertoire.

So give it a try. What’s to lose? Well for sure it’s not weight! Because this definitely is not a low calorie casserole. But then, I’ve never enjoyed a low calorie casserole in my life, so what would I know about how to create one? Never mind – just enjoy!

  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. bulk Italian sausage
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. fresh button mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ tsp. oregano
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 T. minced fresh parsley
  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach, chopped
  • ½ c. unsalted butter
  • 6 T. flour
  • 2 c. milk
  • ¼ c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tsp. beef base
  •  c. dry penne pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2 c. grated Mozzarella cheese
  • paprika

Heat olive oil in a large fry pan. Add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Add onion and mushrooms. Fry until the onion starts to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the oregano, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, parsley, and spinach. Remove pan from heat. In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Let cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually add the milk. Cook over low heat until thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in the white wine, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and beef base. Add to the sausage mixture, along with the cooked pasta. Adjust seasoning. Scoop into a lightly greased 9×13-inch pan or casserole dish. Top with Mozzarella cheese and sprinkle with paprika. Bake uncovered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 35-45 minutes, or until the casserole is bubbly and the cheese topping has melted and started to brown. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily. It can also be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator until about 2 hours before you need to pop it in the oven. Letting the casserole come to room temperature before heating allows all the ingredients to warm more evenly.

 

 

BAKED CHEESY CHICKEN FLORENTINE CASSEROLE

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I don’t know why I am on a chicken and ground beef kick this spring, but I can’t seem to talk myself out of using one of these 2 rather ordinary meats in most of the recipes I am working up lately. So much so, that a hunk of smoked salmon I have in my refrigerator is giving me the evil eye every time I open the refrigerator door. And with every good reason. It keeps whispering that it too would make into a tasty dish if only I would take my eyes off the more plebian chicken and ground beef for even an evening! (I hate it when an ingredient is right! But I still seem to be focusing on lean chicken and ground beef as choice ingredients in both casseroles and salads.)

So for at least the foreseeable future, I am going to be offering more recipes that feature these 2 wonderful and readily available protein sources.

I also have been working on low fat, low calorie, and terribly nutritious recipes. Well let me just state right up front – this is not one of them! This is an in-your-face, all the way, super rich, decadent, and not every day kind of indulgence. The sauce is so rich that you really won’t believe how easy it is to prepare. And in combination with the prosciutto, diced chicken, and spinach (at least spinach is healthy), you and your family/guests are in for a culinary treat.

So next time you want a casserole that can be prepared ahead of time and is sure to impress your family and friends, if they don’t have a coronary while eating it that is, feature this dish at your next get-together.

The bones of the recipe come from the Group Recipes site with just a tiny embellishment from me.

  • ¼ c. (4 T.) unsalted butter
  • ½ of a 5 oz. pkg. of thinly sliced prosciutto, chopped
  • ¼ small onion, finely diced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • ¼ c. unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1½ c. chicken broth
  • 1½ c. milk
  • ¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 c. chopped cooked chicken breast meat
  • 1 c. shredded imported Gruyère cheese
  • ½ c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • ½ of a 9-oz. pkg. fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 8 oz. thick egg noodles, cooked al dente
  • paprika, garnish, opt.

In a large Dutch oven melt the butter over medium heat. Add prosciutto and fry until crispy. Remove from pan and set aside to drain. Add the onion to the same pan and cook over low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute.  Whisk in the flour, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the broth, milk, salt, pepper, and nutmeg – whisking until smooth. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, or until thickened.

Remove from heat and stir in the cooked chicken, Gruyère cheese, mozzarella cheese, and half of the Parmesan cheese; stirring until well combined. Stir in the uncooked spinach and the cooked noodles. Adjust seasoning.

Spoon mixture into a lightly buttered large casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese and paprika. Bake uncovered in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes, or until casserole is hot and bubbly. Remove from oven and let sit 5 minutes before serving.

Note: Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated or frozen up to 1 month. If frozen, thaw completely in refrigerator before cooking. If refrigerated, bring to room temperature before baking. (Take out of refrigerator about 1 hour before you plan to place it in the oven.)