Italian Delights!


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For the pan:
Generously butter a 9″ springform pan and sprinkle it with 1/4 cup of panko. Set aside.

For the ragu:

half a large sweet onion, diced
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
half a red Cubanelle (or bell) pepper, diced
3-4 oz. mushrooms, sliced
1 pound hot sausage (my favorite locally is Longhini)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (I like Tuttorosso)
2/3 cup frozen baby peas
1/2 cup Chardonnay (or other dry white wine)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add diced onion, carrot and celery. Cook about 5-7 minutes or till the onion starts to get some color. Add pressed garlic clove; cook for just one more minute. Next add pepper and mushrooms, continue to cook a few minutes. Add tomato paste; cook for another minute or two, then add 1/2 cup of Chardonnay and 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt. Let the liquid cook down for a few minutes, then add the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. When the sausage is completely cooked, add the tomato sauce. Combine, then add peas. They’ll warm through in just a few minutes. Once they do, remove the pan from heat, transfer ragu to a large bowl and clean the pan so we can use it to make the risotto.

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For the risotto:
2 oz. mushrooms, diced
1/2 large sweet onion, diced
1 garlic clove, pressed
1 1/3 cups Arborio rice
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 3/4 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1 tablespoon or so of butter to finish
freshly ground black pepper

Once again, add butter and olive oil to cover the bottom of your trusty large sauté pan over medium heat. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes, add garlic and cook for just one minute more.

Add the rice and stir continuously till it starts to turn slightly translucent at the edges. Add wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any the bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer for a couple of minutes. Add mushrooms.

Meanwhile, heat the stock. It’s handy to use a large glass measuring cup in the microwave. Pour about a half cup or so of warm stock into the rice and continue stirring over medium heat until absorbed, then pour the same amount again. Repeat and keep stirring till you’ve used up all the stock. By then, the rice should be tender. This should take about 30 minutes, total. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F midway through this process so it will be ready to go once we assemble the torta.

Add a good tablespoon or so of butter and two tablespoons of Pecorino Romano;  stir to combine. Remove from heat.

For the assembly:
8 oz. ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced

For the topping:
Combine 2 tablespoons melted butter with 2 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Let’s put it all together:
Divide the rice in two in the sauté pan.
Evenly press half the rice into the springform with a spatula.
Next add a layer of the ragu.
Add a layer of fresh mozzarella slices.
Cover with remaining rice, then spread buttered panko topping evenly over the top.

Bake at 350 degrees F for about 20-25 minutes. You’ll want to see the edges of the pan turn a bit golden–23 minutes was the magic number here. Slice, serve, mangia!

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You don’t need me to tell you we can make pesto out of herbs other than basil. But I’m here to share because I like how this came out and, selfishly, I’d like to document it so I can do it again.

I bought a rather large container of baby arugula to use for other things earlier this week, so it seemed the right time to change up the pesto game. It’s so easy! Here we go.

ARUGULA PESTO
2 cups arugula, loosely packed
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pignoli (pine nuts), toasted
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
juice of one lemon
freshly ground pepper to taste

Add nuts to a small skillet over medium heat. Add nuts to pan; cook until lightly toasted, about 4 minutes or so, shaking the pan constantly. Set pan aside to cool a bit.

Add nuts and garlic to food processor; process till minced.

Add arugula, oil, salt and pepper; process until blended, scraping sides as needed. Add lemon and cheese; process until smooth.

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Toss with pasta of your choice–we had gemelli. Be sure to save a bit of your pasta water (or don’t drain the pasta all the way) to blend with the pesto when you initially toss the pasta and pesto together to coat. What you see on top is pure pesto, though.

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Oh, hey--since you’re already here, would you like a bonus round with this easy recipe? It’s called “what to do with a bag of spinach when you thought you were going to make stuffed mushrooms and only had four mushrooms left.” OOPS!

CREAMY SPINACH AND MUSHROOMS
an accidental side dish

1 9-oz. bag fresh spinach
4 mushrooms sliced (more would have been better, then we could’ve stuffed them, but this isn’t science, so, by all means, use more if you have them!)
1 clove garlic, pressed
butter to coat the bottom of a large saute pan
1 oz. cream cheese
dash of salt

Melt butter in large saute pan over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms. When those have cooked down and browned a bit, add the garlic and stir for just a minute. Add spinach. Cover so it steams down to the point you can stir it all together–this happens pretty quickly.

Add an ounce of cream cheese and a dash of salt. When the cream cheese has melted in to form a creamy sauce, it’s ready to serve.

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Let’s hear it for Yankee ingenuity! And Yankee thrift, too, I suppose. Cheers to that!

 

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Whaddya get when you cross American chop suey with pasta e fagioli? Italian-American chop suey! No ground beef here, we’re talking sausage with San Marzanos,  a bell pepper plus some Italian long hots for heat, white beans, rosemary, thyme, red wine and a dollop of ricotta on top to make it nice-nice. ’tis the season for something warming, so andiamo–let’s go!

ITALIAN-AMERICAN CHOP SUEY

2 cans cannellini beans (small white beans are also fine), rinsed and drained
1/2 pound pasta (I love Sclafani double elbows a.k.a. cellentani)
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound Italian sausage (’round here, I love Longhini)
1 red bell pepper
2 Italian long hot peppers
1 28 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes (Cento is my brand of choice–buy whole ones and crush them between your fingers like the skulls of your enemies, HA HA HA!)
1/2 the 28 oz. can water, 1/4 can red wine
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce (such as Tuttorosso)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
pepper to taste
1 sprig fresh rosemary
a handful of sprigs of fresh thyme
whole milk ricotta to dollop on top of each bowl you serve

In a large pot, saute onion in olive oil with crushed red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme till onions are golden. Add garlic. Add sausage, breaking up into small pieces as it cooks. *While you’ve got this going, bring a separate pot of water to a boil to cook your pasta.* Add peppers as the sausage is cooking. When sausage is completely cooked, crush each tomato between your fingers and add all the liquid from the can. Fill this can halfway with water and another quarter of the way with red wine. Add to pot along with the small can of tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes or so. Add beans to warm, then add cooked pasta. Serve with a generous spoonful of ricotta and Pecorino Romano, if you like. Fresh parsley is always nice, too.

Found a cure for the colder weather right heah, amici–I promise this! Stay toasty!

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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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