Italian Delights!


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It’s finally feeling like fall–a perfect time for soupin’ it up in the kitchen, and turning on the oven to roast tomatoes. All that sound good? Lasagna soup might be just what the weatherman ordered! I wonder if cousin Gil Simmons is listening?!

This recipe has all the delicious flavors of lasagna without being overly cheesy. Not that there’s anything wrong with being cheesy (HA HA, please, look who’s talking). But it’s plenty rich and hearty without ricotta or mozzarella. See if you agree!

LASAGNA SOUP

1 pint grape tomatoes
olive oil to coat the bottom of a large roasting pan
1 large sweet onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 cup vodka
1 pound sausage (patties, or casings removed from links) CT folks, I love Longhini!
1 red bell pepper, diced
5 oz. mushrooms (I used baby bella), sliced
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, if you have it
1 box (32 oz.) chicken stock (my fave is Kitchen Basics)
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup flour
1/2 pound lasagna noodles, broken (note: I found frozen lasagna noodles from Durante’s Pasta of West Haven at Shop Rite in Wallingford–SCORE!)
1 bag (6 oz.) baby spinach
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
fresh basil to garnish (optional), parsley’s always nice, too

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil to coat 9 x 13″ baking dish. Roll the tomatoes around in the olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Gently smash the garlic cloves with the side of your knife and add to baking dish. Make sure all the tomatoes are in an even layer. Roast in oven 10 minutes, then shake and put them back in for 10 minutes more. Then shake again and back to the oven 10 more for total of 30 minutes.

Add 1/4 cup vodka after you remove the pan from the oven. Sizzle-sizzle!

Watch the asterisks (*) for where we need to multitask a bit. 🙂

In a stock pot, cook sausage over medium heat, breaking it into small pieces as it cooks. Add pepper, mushrooms and thyme; cook 5-6 minutes. Add tomatoes/onions/garlic/vodka and chicken broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add broken lasagna noodles, and bring to low boil. *Cook for 10-12 minutes (follow package instructions as a guide) or until the noodles are tender. Add spinach and cook for about a minute while stirring.

*While the noodles are cooking, in a separate smaller saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons butter. Whisk in 1/4 cup flour and continue cooking for 1 minute; whisking constantly. The butter/flour mixture should be bubbling. Slowly whisk in milk/cream until it’s smooth and thickened; about 3-5 minutes. Turn off heat and slowly whisk in Romano cheese. Once the mixture is creamy and the cheese has melted, slowly whisk into soup.

Now it’s time to serve. Garnish with basil or parsley and mangia, mangia! Serves four to six people, depending how hungry your people are. 🙂 Reheats very nicely, too.

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Warmer weather calls for easy dishes that come together quickly and take advantage of what’s fresh and may be even growing outside your door. For a pasta salad that practically screams TAKE ME TO A PARTY! look no further than this easy recipe. 🙂 And for a simple summer supper at home, just halve the recipe and enjoy.

CAPRESE PASTA SALAD

Dressing
good handful of fresh parsley, chopped coarsely
2/3 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
zest of 2 lemons (and juice of 1 lemon)
Optional: a couple of thyme sprigs

Pasta Salad
1 pound pasta, cooked/drained (I used bite-size rigatoni; double elbows would be great, too)
2 pints grape tomatoes, halved
3/4 pound ciliegine (small, cherry-sized fresh mozzarella), halved
1/3 pound peppered salami, sliced about 1/4″ thick, then cubed–about two slices
1/4 cup basil (I used a combo of Genovese and lemon basil), chiffonade

Whisk together dressing ingredients to let the flavors meld. Just before I started cooking the pasta, I let the tomatoes hang out in the dressing a bit.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Right before you’re ready to add the pasta, combine dressing, tomatoes, mozzarella, salami and basil–mix well. Drain pasta, add to other ingredients, making sure everything is coated/combined. Serve warm. Leftovers go in the fridge, of course. GNAM GNAM GNAM. Mangia! Mangia!

 

 

 

Have you heard about chicken crust? It’s a carb-free way to make a pizza. Now, as a woman of Italian-Irish heritage, carbohydrates and I go waaaay back–particularly with pizza! So, while I have no intention of abandoning a traditional crust, I wanted to play with this idea.

First, let’s take this in a proper Italian direction and use hot sausage instead of ground chicken as our base. Next, instead of ordinary red sauce and toppings, let’s roast some vegetables and let those be our sauce. Ah, brillante! Let’s make the magic happen, amici!

SAUSAGE CRUST PIZZA WITH ROASTED VEGETABLES

For the crust
1 pound hot Italian sausage (I used Lamberti’s)
1/4 cup grated cheese (I used a Parmesan-Pecorino blend)
1/4 cup shredded mozzarella

For the roasted vegetable topping
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 a sweet onion, sliced thin
1 red bell pepper, sliced in strips
4 mushrooms, sliced
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife
olive oil to coat everything
1 teaspoon Kosher salt

To top it all off
2 medium sized balls of fresh mozzarella
fresh basil chiffonade (roll it, slice it)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Let’s work on the veggies first–everything into a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a teaspoon of Kosher salt. Into the oven for 15 minutes, shake everything around, then send it back for 20 minutes more. At this point, you should have some decent color on the onions and shrooms, and you’ll be able to put a gentle squeeze on the tomatoes to flatten them (let them cool a bit before you do).


Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and combine crust ingredients in a bowl. Form the crust in a circle and pat it out evenly. I covered mine with plastic wrap and rolled a bottle over it to thin it out and keep it even.

Into the oven this goes for 20 minutes. Your cooked crust should look something like this.

Now it’s time to load it up with the goods. Evenly distribute the roasted vegetables over the top of the crust, then top with slices of fresh mozzarella, basil chiffonade and freshly ground black pepper.

Return to the oven for about 10 more minutes, till the mozzarella gets nice and melted. Carefully drain fat from pan. Now your pizza is ready to cut and serve.

Good food, like good music, is meant to be shared all over the world. CHEERS!

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PASTA IN A LEMON CREAM SAUCE WITH HOT CAPICOLA, MUSHROOMS AND MICROGREENS
adapted liberally (how else?!) from The New York Times

12 oz. fettucine (I chose fresh spinach & whole wheat fettucine from DiFiore’s Ravioli Shop)
zest of 2 lemons (use a microplane)
juice of 2 lemons (keep separate from zest)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
sprigs of fresh thyme (optional)
4 mushrooms (I used baby bellas/cremini), sliced a bit thin
1/4 pound Fiorucci hot capicola , sliced thin, then cut in ribbons (found locally at Price Chopper)
1.5 oz. spicy blend microgreens
Pecorino Romano to serve at the table

Have you played with microgreens? I picked these up at Whole Foods. As you can see, they’re SUPER nutritious! And SUPER delicious! It says so right on the packaging. 🙂

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Rinse microgreens and set aside. Zest lemon with a microplane.

In a small frying pan, melt a pat of butter on medium to medium-high heat, sauté mushrooms till browned on both sides. When mushrooms are cooked most of the way through, add ribbons of hot capicola to warm them through, then remove from heat.

Meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook fettucine till tender. Drain, then return to the pot.

About 5 minutes before fettucine is done, in a small saucepan, combine lemon zest, cream, thyme (if using), salt to taste (I only added a touch at the table) and black pepper.  Cook on medium heat for two minutes or until cream comes to a boil.

Pour cream mixture over drained fettucine into large pasta pot. Add lemon juice. Stir to coat pasta evenly; add mushrooms and capicola. Cook over medium heat, stirring till most of the liquid is absorbed, 1-2 minutes. Toss in most of the microgreens, saving some to garnish the top of each dish.

Happy spring! That’s exactly what this dish tastes like.

 

 

 

 

 

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The cooler weather had me craving pasta. So, I put together a new twist on an old favorite–vodka sauce. Rather than just roasted tomatoes for the sauce, I added a pepper, a handful of mushrooms and some sweet onion.

When I’m making a special sauce, I love to head up to DiFiore Ravioli Shop for fresh pasta. Now that they’re in Rocky Hill as well as Hartford, they’re even closer to home. For my new recipe, I tried their fresh black pepper fettucine.

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The black pepper bite adds an extra kick to a dish that’s already kickin’. Enough talk–let’s get this recipe into action!

ROASTED VEGETABLE VODKA SAUCE WITH HOT CHICKEN SAUSAGE

For the vegetables
1 pint grape tomatoes
1 small bell pepper*
1/2 a sweet onion, sliced and halved
4 mushrooms (I chose cremini a.k.a. baby bella–whatever little shrooms you like)
2-3 garlic cloves
olive oil to coat the bottom of your baking dish
1 teaspoon kosher salt

*I found the world’s most adorable pepper at Price Chopper yesterday–the Enjoya (why yes, thank you, I will) striped pepper.

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For the vodka sauce
1/2 pound hot chicken sausage, cooked/crumbled
1/3 cup vodka
2/3 cup heavy whipping cream
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half the lemon

First, roast the vegetables!
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle olive oil to coat 9 x 13″ baking dish. Toss all the vegetables in the olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Gently smash the garlic cloves with the side of your knife–or use a garlic press–and add to baking dish. Make sure everything’s in an even layer.

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Let ‘em roast for 10 minutes, give ’em a shake, then 15 more minutes of roasting and it’s time to take them out of the oven.

Add 1/3 cup vodka directly to the hot roasting pan. You’ll hear it sizzle. Squeeze half the lemon and add the zest. Now, very carefully, use a potato masher to give the tomatoes a gentle squeeze right in the baking dish. Take it easy so they don’t squirt you.

While the tomatoes are roasting…
Now’s a good time to get a BIG pasta pot boiling so you can cook up the pasta. Fresh pasta cooks in about three minutes. If you use boxed pasta, just remember to allow more time for it to cook. For two people, I cooked just a half pound of pasta, but there’s definitely enough sauce for one or two more servings, depending how hungry you are.

Coat a large saute pan with olive oil and cook the sausage—squeeze it from the casings and break into small pieces. Once you’ve completely cooked and crumbled the sausage, keep the pan on a low heat, just to simmer. Add the tomatoes, garlic and all the liquid from the baking dish to the sausage. Then add the cream. As it all simmers, the sauce will thicken just a bit.

Spoon over pasta; garnish with fresh parsley and serve with pecorino Romano at the table. Why go out for pasta when you can create your own deliciousness right at home?

salsa verde in a jar

Salsa verde is yet another Italian sauce I didn’t grow up with, but recently discovered. It’s a simple, versatile, flavorful combination of parsley, capers and lemon with olive oil. And with fresh parsley and other herbs growing right outside on the deck, there’s no time like RIGHT NOW to make it.

I’ve served it over a grilled pork chop on a bed of spinach.

salsa verde over grilled pork chop
It’s excellent on a lamburger. We even spooned it over wood-fired steaks.

woodfired steaks

Yes, you read that right–steaks on the chiminea! Served with broccoli ‘n melted Colby cheddar and bulgur wheat was quite the treat …

salsa verde steaks

You can even mix it with white beans or chickpeas and any other vegetables of your choice (may I suggested chopped red peppers?) to create a tasty side dish. But if you’d like to get in on the deliciousness, it would help to share the recipe. So here we go!

SALSA VERDE ITALIAN-STYLE
adapted from The New York Times

good handful of fresh parsley, chopped coarsely
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon capers, drained (I use Sclafani’s tiny nonpareilles in wine vinegar)
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
zest of a lemon (and juice of half of the lemon–but save the juice to add just before serving)

You can use other herbs in addition to the parsley–thyme, basil and chives just to name a few. Last time, I added chive blossoms just “for pretty.”

salsa verde chives

Combine these ingredients–except the lemon juice–until it’s time to serve. I used a jar for ease of transport, but you can use a small bowl if you like. Let this sit out for a while to let the flavors marry. When it’s time to eat, squeeze in the fresh lemon juice, stir and enjoy.

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Clams casino is a regional favorite in this neck of the woods. What is not to love about any dish made with bacon, peppers and wine? But why should clams be the only ones invited to the casino? Chicken is a delicious casino variation and tastes oh-so-fine over capellini. So, all you clam haters, this one’s for you!

CHICKEN CASINO CAPPELLINI ALLA SPERANZA

3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 shallot, chopped
6 pieces of bacon
3/4 pound chicken breast, cut in chunks
fresh parsley, coarsely chopped (a generous handful)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine (I like Meridian Chardonnay)
extra-virgin olive oil
½ fresh lemon, squeezed
1 red bell pepper cut into matchstick pieces and roasted
1 tablespoon capers

Before you get started, roast the peppers in the oven. Try about 15-20 minutes in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. Take a peek around the 10-minute mark to make sure everything’s on track and then set your timer for 5-10 more minutes.

Now, cook the bacon. Set aside on paper towels, cool, then chop or crumble finely. Don’t get rid of all the bacon drippings! Reserve enough to barely coat bottom of skillet.

This would be a fine time to set a large pot of salted water to boil for your capellini.

Meanwhile, add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add chicken and cook till no longer pink.

Remove chicken and sauté the garlic and shallot. You know the drill—don’t brown it!

Add chicken broth, white wine and lemon. Add capers and roasted peppers just to get them warmed up and incorporated.

Serve in deep soup bowls over capellini. Sprinkle bacon on top and garnish with fresh parsley

And for those of you who are clam fans, check out the original clams casino capellini alla Speranza!

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