Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Tag Archives: Marinara sauce

Entertaining, especially during the holiday season, can be challenging. Not only do you need to spend time wrapping gifts, baking cookies, getting the house and yourself ready, but you need to make meals! A dinner menu can be expensive. Just look at the cost for a beef or pork roast; you can easily spend more than $20.00 – $30.00 just on the entree. Save money and time by making several pasta sauces before the holidays, freeze them and defrost them, as needed, for entertaining over the busy holiday season.

You can make Italian pasta sauces with or without meat ahead of time and keep them in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen for many months. Pasta cooks quickly. Toss it with one of these great sauces, below, and you have a quick delicious meal your guests are sure to appreciate. All you need to round out the menu is a simple appetizer, a bottle of wine and an easy dessert.

I keep an assortment of dry pastas and frozen fresh pastas, on hand, to help with stress free entertaining during busy times. You just need to decide what type of pasta you want to make for a dinner party and fit the sauce to the pasta type. The texture of pasta will often determine the type of pasta sauce that can most effectively be used — thicker or shaped pastas can withstand heartier sauces, while thin pastas have better results with lighter sauces.

Good pasta sauces enhance the delicate flavor of the pasta without overpowering it. There are many types of pasta sauces, from the light and simple marinara sauce to the thick and rich Alfredo sauce. Traditional sauces are made from a base of tomatoes, vegetables, herbs, cream, meat or cheese. Some types of pasta sauces combine several ingredients to make a more complex sauce. Bolognese sauce, for example, includes meat, tomatoes, cream, wine and fresh herbs.

Types of Sauces

Marinara

Marinara sauce is a simple, basic sauce made from tomatoes and olive oil. The tomatoes are seasoned with garlic and fresh basil. Some recipes also add other ingredients, such as onions and parsley. Fresh tomatoes are ideal, but you can use canned, peeled tomatoes instead.

Bolognese or Meat Sauce or Ragu

Bolognese sauce is named for its origin in Bologna, Italy. Traditional Bolognese sauce includes two or more types of meat chopped into small pieces. When cooked, the meat blends in with the other ingredients, seasonings and herbs. A variety of vegetables, including onions, celery and chile peppers, can be added to the tomatoes and olive oil. Seasonings include nutmeg, basil, oregano and bay leaves. Some cooks add cream or milk to give the sauce a rich flavor.

Alfredo

Alfredo is a rich, creamy white sauce. You can use heavy cream, or substitute half and half or whole milk for a lighter version. The cream is mixed with butter and grated Parmesan cheese. The sauce is seasoned with pepper and, sometimes, nutmeg. Alfredo sauce is usually served on fettuccine noodles.

Puttanesca

Puttanesca is a strong, spicy red sauce. The spicy flavor comes from the garlic, dried chili peppers, anchovies and capers added to the tomatoes. You can make the sauce hot or mild by adjusting the amounts of spices.

Pesto

Pesto is a delicate sauce made from a paste of ingredients such as olive oil, pine nuts, fresh basil and garlic. Pesto sauce can be served with grated cheese. Pesto is a more healthful sauce because it contains only unsaturated fats.

Alcohol-Based

Some types of alcohol, including wine, are a flavorful ingredient for certain pasta sauces. Madeira sauce, for example, uses Madeira wine. Marsala sauce includes the namesake wine as a key ingredient. Its base is made from tomatoes, mushrooms or fruit.

Here are some of my favorite prepare ahead sauces for entertaining:

Pork and Sausage Ragù

Yields about 2 quarts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 lb. boneless pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped (2 cups)
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 cups strainedPomi tomatoes
  • 3 dried bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 lb. sweet Italian pork sausage (3 links)

Directions:

Heat the oil in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the pork generously on both sides with salt and pepper and sear the meat on all sides until well browned, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using tongs, transfer the pork to a deep platter.

Reduce the heat to medium low and add the garlic and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring frequently, until softened and translucent, 7 to 8 minutes. Return the pork to the pot, raise the heat to medium high, and add the wine. Let it bubble for a minute or two and then add the tomatoes, Italian seasoning and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmer.

Remove the sausages from their casings and break the meat apart over the pot, allowing it to fall into the sauce in small clumps. Cover the pot and simmer gently, adjusting the heat as necessary, for 30 minutes. Uncover and turn the pork shoulder; then re-cover and continue to cook at a gentle simmer, turning the meat once or twice more, until very tender, about 1-1/2 hours.

Transfer the pork to a cutting board with tongs and let cool for a few minutes. Using two forks, shred the meat and return it to the sauce. Cook over low heat until the meat and sauce are heated through. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chill the sauce overnight and, the next day, remove any fat that has congealed on the surface of the sauce. The ragù can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months. Reheat gently before tossing with the pasta, such as pappardelle.

Mushroom Ragu

Makes 6 cups

This is a great vegetarian sauce, very complex and satisfying, It’s excellent for pasta, baked in a lasagna or poured over polenta, cooked into risotto-or as a condiment for grilled steak or fish. The mushrooms you can buy at the supermarket will make a fine sauce-if you have access to fresh wild mushrooms, it will be even better. In either case, dried porcini provide an important flavor for this sauce. I like to serve this over fettuccine.

Ingredients

  • 2½ pounds fresh mixed mushrooms, small and firm
  • 1/2 ounce dried porcini, soaked in 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary, a tender stem about 4-inches long
  • 1 sprig fresh sage, with 4 big leaves
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup shallots, finely chopped
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry Marsala
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups hot beef or vegetable broth

Directions:

Squeeze out the soaked porcini and slice them into pieces about 1/4-inch wide. Strain the soaking water and keep it in a warm spot.

Clean, trim and slice the fresh mushrooms into moderately thin slices, barely 1/4-inch wide.

Tie all the fresh herb sprigs together with piece of kitchen twine or enclose the leaves in cheesecloth.

Sauce

Put the oil and butter in the big skillet (or other saucepan) and place over medium heat. When the butter melts, add the onions and shallots and 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir well. Heat the onions to a slow sizzle and cook for 6 minutes or more-stirring often-until they’re soft, wilted and shiny, without any browning.

Pour all the mushrooms into the pan-both the chopped porcini and sliced mushrooms; spread and toss them in the pan. Sprinkle in another 1/4 teaspoon salt, drop in the herb bouquet, toss briefly, raise the heat a bit and cover the pan. Cook covered for about 3 minutes,shake the pan now and then, to sweat the mushrooms.

Uncover and continue to cook over fairly high heat, stirring frequently, as the mushrooms shrink and the liquid evaporates, 5 minutes or more. When the pan is dry and the mushrooms begin to brown, clear a hot spot, drop in the tomato paste and heat it, stirring, for a minute or so, then stir it into the mushrooms.

When everything is sizzling and browning again, and just starting to stick, pour the Marsala all over. Stir constantly as the wine thickens and evaporates. When the mushrooms again start sticking to the bottom, pour in the warm mushroom water and 2 cups of the hot stock. Bring to a boil, stirring up any caramelization on the pan bottom. Lower the heat to keep the sauce bubbling gently all over the surface and cover the pan. Cook for about 20 minutes, occasionally stirring and adding stock to keep the mushrooms nearly covered in liquid; expect to add 1/2 cup or so. Adjust the heat to keep a steady bubble but not too rapid.

Uncover the pan and cook for another 20 minutes, maintaining a simmer and adding stock as needed. When mushrooms are thoroughly tender and the saucy liquid thickened-but not too condensed-the sauce is done. Remove the herb bouquet and discard it (after you scrape off all the good sauce). Taste and add salt, if needed, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Use the sauce immediately or let it cool. Store it in the refrigerator for a week or freeze, for use within several months.

Italian-American Meat Sauce

Makes 8 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3- 28 oz.containers Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • salt
  • 3/4 cups dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 4 cups hot water

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4 to 5-quart pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 8 minutes. Make a little room in the center of the pot, add the garlic and cook, stirring, until the garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the ground beef and pork and season lightly with salt. Cook, stirring to break up the meat, until the meat changes color and the water it gives off is boiled away, about 10 minutes. Continue cooking until the meat is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves, basil and oregano then pour in the wine. Bring to a boil and cook, scraping up the brown bits that cling to the pot, until the wine is almost completely evaporated. Pour in the tomatoes, then stir in the hot water and tomato paste until dissolved. Season lightly with salt. Bring to a boil, adjust the heat to a lively simmer and cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the sauce takes on a deep, brick-red color and thickens, 2 to 3 hours.

The sauce can be prepared entirely in advance and refrigerated for up to 5 days, or frozen for up to 3 months. This sauce works very well with spaghetti or short pasta, such as penne.

Spicy Tomato Sauce                                                                  

Makes enough for 2 lbs. pasta. Good over bucatini pasta.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 oz. pancetta, small dice (leave out if you have vegetarian guests)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 carrots, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red chili flakes
  • 2- 28-oz. container Pomi strained tomatoes
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Directions:

Heat oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta; cook, stirring, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Add pepper; cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes more. Increase heat to medium-high; add garlic, carrots, and onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 6 minutes. Add chili flakes; cook for 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and flavors meld, about 1 hour. Season with salt; keep warm. Store in the refrigerator or freeze.

Lasagna Sauce with Little Meatballs                   

This is a favorite in our family, especially for Christmas. Prepare the meatballs in advance and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 2 days, or freeze in a ziplock bag for up to 1 month. Use this sauce in place of your regular tomato sauce in your favorite lasagna recipe.

Ingredients:

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground beef or turkey
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Italian dried bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt & pepper

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-28 oz container Pomi chopped tomatoes
  • 1-6 oz can of tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

For the meatballs:

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degree F. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

In large bowl mix together the ground meat, cheese, oregano, bread crumbs, egg, water, salt & pepper. Pinch off small grape-sized pieces of the meat mixture and roll into balls; arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake just until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. Transfer meatballs to paper towel lined platter to drain excess fat.

For the sauce:

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook just until fragrant (30 sec-1 min). Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper and whisk until thoroughly combined. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened. Take off the heat and add the meatballs to the pot, cover and keep warm while pasta is cooking.

 

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Oven-baked pasta has a long history that goes back to the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when pasticci, timballi, and other forms of baked pasta were often served at the large banquets in the palaces of nobles. Pasta al forno was an opportunity for the chef to show off his creativity and inventiveness. Eventually, the dish was adopted all over Italy—its success no doubt due to its infinite versatility. Today, it’s still a staple dish of southern Italy, where it is usually prepared on Sundays, religious holidays, and special occasions.

In Italy, the great variety in preparations of pasta al forno depends not only on what you have in your refrigerator or pantry, but also on regional traditions and approaches. For instance, in northern Italy, butter, pork fat, or even bone marrow are used for sautéing ingredients or in preparing the ragù (meat sauce); while in the southern regions, olive oil is predominantly used. Southern-style baked pastas are often based on vegetables—such as roasted or grilled eggplant; peppers or zucchini; sautéed or steamed peas; spinach or chard; broccoli or broccoli rabe; or cauliflower. Often local cured meats—such as sopressata, prosciutto, or sausages—are added. Sometimes tiny meatballs or even sliced hard-boiled eggs are used. Cheeses—such as caciocavallo, scamorza, provola, and mozzarella—are layered inside to melt or form a crusty top.

Most Italian-Americans know about the classic dishes called Manicotti and Cannelloni. They are featured in most Italian restaurants across the country. But to some extent, many aren’t able to describe the difference between the two. The names for these pasta dishes are often interchanged without thinking about how the dish is formed.

“Manicotti” means “small muffs”, and was originally made using crepes rolled around a savory ricotta and grated cheese filling. These can be topped with either a basic tomato sauce for a light first course, or with Ragu (meat sauce) and topped with mozzarella before baking in a hot oven. They are most often made with dried pasta tubes for stuffing that need to be boiled first. The name Manicotti is not found in Italy, as any dish made with crepes rolled around a sweet or savory filling is simply called “crespelle”.

In America many Italians use a pasta dough for Manicotti instead of crepes.  I was brought up with the pasta version and it is probably because my relatives came from southern Italy, while the crepe version probably originated in northern Italian.

Cannelloni means “large reeds”, and are made exclusively from fresh, hand-rolled pasta filled in any variety of ways. One of the most popular is a roasted pork or veal stuffing with vegetables, ground together and stuffed inside the fresh pasta sheets, topped with a Bechamel sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano. This is a typical northern Italian version, featured in the Florence and Reggio-Emilia provinces.

My interpretation of the two is that they are both made with fresh pasta dough (one that would also be used for lasagna) but the fillings and sauce are quite different.  Manicotti is covered with a tomato sauce while Cannelloni is covered with a Bechamel sauce. I also do not care to use the dried pasta tubes for Manicotti sold in the supermarket, as they are not very tender and they are difficult to fill. I prefer to make fresh pasta dough for Lasagna, Manicotti and Cannelloni. I use the same pasta recipe for all three dishes. Dried pasta shells, however, are perfectly fine for Stuffed Shells.    

I have included recipes for the homemade pasta and the different fillings with healthier ingredients than are often used in preparing these dishes.

Homemade Manicotti

For the Pasta:

  • 1 1/2 cups of all purpose or Italian (00) flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of water
  • a dash of salt


For the Filling:

  • 1 pound container of skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 pound of shredded skim milk mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 box of frozen spinach, thawed and chopped
  • 1 egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To Complete the Dish:

Directions:

To make the filling:

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Refrigerate until needed.

To make the dough:

Mix the flour, egg, salt and water together in the large bowl of a processor.  Process until the dough forms a ball. Coat lightly with olive oil and allow it to rest covered for 30 minutes.

After the pasta dough has rested roll out sheets with a pasta roller to a thickness you can just about see your hand through. With the roller, about the 5th. or 6th. setting for thickness.

Place the sheets on a pastry board and cut into 4″ x 6″ rectangles. You should get 12 of them.

Cook in boiling water for 4 minutes, drain and put into a bowl of cold water. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Take a dish towel and spread it on the counter. Place a pasta rectangle on top of the towel so that the long side is facing you. Place 1/3 cup of filling along the edge of the pasta. Moisten the other edge of the pasta with a wet finger. Gently roll the pasta around the filling making a tube (jelly roll style using the towel to help).

Oil a casserole dish large enough to hold the manicotti and ladle some tomato sauce on the bottom of the dish.

Place the filled manicotti in the casserole dish and repeat until all the pasta is filled.

Pour the remaining tomato sauce over the filled manicotti. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and put in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes removing the foil the last 20 minutes of baking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Chicken Cannelloni

Follow directions for making the pasta noodles in the recipe above for Manicotti.

Filling:

  • 12 ounces cooked chicken breast
  • 10 ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 5 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cannelloni:

12 sheets fresh noodles, 4  x 6 inches, cooked in boiling water for 4 minutes
Bechamel Sauce, recipe below
3 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
fresh diced tomatoes, and basil or Italian parsley (optional)

Directions:

Dice the chicken breast into 1/2-inch pieces and place into a large mixing bowl. Add spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella, pepper and salt, and mix thoroughly.
Arrange pre-cooked pasta sheets on kitchen towels and place two or three rounded tablespoons of filling mixture down the center of each pasta sheet and carefully roll pasta tightly around the filling.

Place the rolled cannelloni, side by side, into a greased ovenproof shallow baking dish.

Pour sauce over cannelloni covering completely.
Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese over top of sauce. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350°F for approximately 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake for an additional 20 minutes.
Optional: garnish with fresh diced tomatoes, and basil or Italian parsley.

Olive Oil Béchamel

The milk should be cold or at room temperature. If the liquid is too hot, the roux won’t have time to properly disperse in the liquid before the mixture comes to a boil; this is what causes sauces to lump.
The main thing to watch for here is scorching. Stir often with a rubber spatula, especially at the bottom and edges of the pan, so that the mixture doesn’t stick and begin to burn. If it does, immediately pour the sauce into another pot and continue to cook over very low heat.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons finely chopped shallot or onion (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons flour (Wondra works well since it dissolves quickly)
  • 4 cups skim or 1 percent milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground white or black pepper

Directions:

Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the shallot or onion, and cook, stirring, until softened, about three minutes. Stir in flour (if you use all purpose flour), and cook, stirring, for about three minutes until smooth and bubbling but not browned. The paste should have the texture of wet sand.

If you use Wondra flour, skip the step of adding it to the shallot mixture and just whisk it into the cold milk.

Whisk in the milk all at once, and bring to a simmer, whisking all the while, until the mixture begins to thicken. Turn the heat to very low, and simmer, stirring often with a whisk and scraping the bottom and edges of the pan with a rubber spatula, for 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened and lost its raw flour taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Stuffed Shells

Quick Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 4 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2- 28-ounce containers Pomi strained tomatoes

Filling:

  • 1 pound container skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg, beaten or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 1 cup grated skim milk mozzarella
  • 1/2 box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

25-30 jumbo dried pasta shells

Oil two 13 x 9-inch baking pans, or equivalent. Set aside.

Directions:

Bring a big pot of water to boiling , and preheat your oven to 350 F.

To make the sauce:

Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant – you don’t want the garlic to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and heat.  Simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

To make the filling:

Combine the ricotta, egg, spinach and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until combined, then stir in the mozzarella. Set aside.

Cook the shells according to package instructions in well-salted water – until al dente. If you overcook the shells, they will tear as you attempt to fill them. Drain, place on kitchen towels so they do not stick together and let cool long enough to handle with your hands.

Spread 1/3 of sauce across the bottom of each prepared pan. Fill each shell about halfway with ricotta filling, and arrange in a single layer in the pan. If you have extra filling, you can divide evenly and add it to the filled shells.

Ladle the remaining sauce over the shells, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, uncover and bake for 15 minutes or until the shells are cooked through. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4 – 6.


Children can be picky about their food choices. Today they might like a particular food and tomorrow, they hate it!  Sometimes a new presentation or a new ingredient can spark their interest.  While french fries for breakfast, lunch and dinner might be what they want, getting children to select healthy options might not be that difficult. Kids are very proud of their accomplishments, so if they’ve helped make the dinner, they are more likely to eat it. Hopefully some of these recipes will work in your house.

Chicken Pasta Primavera

Number of Servings: 8

If broccoli isn’t a family favorite, you can substitute a 10 oz. package of defrosted frozen peas.

Ingredients

  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or turkey breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (divided)
  • 1 1/2 cups carrots, 1/4 inch slices
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
  • 3 small cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (Wondra works well for sauces)
  • 2 2/3 cups nonfat milk
  • 1/4 cup reduced fat cream cheese, cut into pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 package ( 12-14 oz.) cooked whole grain rotini or penne pasta

Directions

In a large, deep skillet heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and add chicken breast cubes. Saute until cooked through and lightly browned. Move chicken to pasta serving bowl; set aside. In the same skillet, heat remaining olive oil and add garlic, Italian seasoning and vegetables. Saute until cooked, but not limp. Add vegetables to bowl with chicken.  Stir milk and Wondra flour together and pour into skillet. Cook 8 minutes or until thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly. Stir in cream cheese, cook 2 minutes. Add 1 cup Parmesan cheese, stirring constantly until it melts.

Add hot cooked pasta, chicken and vegetables and toss well to coat. Pour into pasta serving bowl and top with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Serve with a green salad.

Parmesan Zucchini Cakes

4 servings

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup egg substitute
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon chopped basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini (2-3 medium, about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 cups Progresso Italian bread crumbs, divided
  • Marinara Sauce, warmed, see post for recipe, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray.
  2. Use the large-holed side of a box grater to shred the zucchini. Place shredded squash in the center of a clean kitchen towel; gather up the ends and twist to squeeze out any liquid
  3. Mix together the egg substitute, onion, parsley, zucchini, cheese, ¼ cup bread crumbs, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl..
  4. With floured hands, shape zucchini mixture into smallish balls (about two tablespoons each) and roll in remaining bread crumbs and flatten slightly on the baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, then turn each cake over and bake for another 10-15 minutes until browned.

Serve with warm marinara sauce.

For Snack Time

Rosemary-Lemon White Bean Dip

  • 1 -15-ounce can cannellini beans (no salt added), drained or 2 cups cooked dried beans
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp of salt and 1/4 tsp of pepper
  • Carrot and Celery Sticks

Puree first 5 ingredients in processor until almost smooth. Add salt and pepper. Transfer dip to serving  bowl with carrot and celery sticks.

(Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Turkey Pizza Burger Sliders

Makes 8 sliders

  • 1 1/4 pound lean ground turkey breast
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Olive oil, for brushing sliders
  • 8 small slices fresh mozzarella
  • Marinara Sauce
  • Whole Wheat Potato Rolls

Directions

Place turkey, scallions, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon zest, oregano, basil 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Gently combine, without over mixing, until evenly incorporated.

Mix all the burger ingredients well and form into 2.5 ounce balls. Flatten into patties, about 3 inches in diameter. Brush with olive oil.
To grill the turkey burgers, preheat a grill to medium-high. Oil the grill rack. Grill the patties, turning once, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 165°F, 8 to 10 minutes total.

Place burgers on a whole wheat potato roll. Top sliders with a tablespoon of marinara sauce and a slice of mozzarella cheese.

Martin’s makes the best tasting whole wheat rolls. Your kids will love them.

Codfish Cakes

Codfish cakes are made in many countries throughout the world. In Italy the recipe calls for dried salt cod,  Baccala, but you can use any leftover (or even fresh) white-fleshed fish. Salt cod is often found in stores around the winter holidays because it’s almost a sacred food in many cultures — definitely so in Italian and Portuguese cuisines, for example.

My mother made these fish cakes when she had leftover baccala during the Christmas season but you have to soak the baccala overnight and it is still salty. Here’s a variation using fresh cod instead and children love them (its the mashed potatoes part that does that).

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of cod fillets
  • 2 medium-sized baking potatoes
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped fine 
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute 
  • 3 slices whole wheat bread, crusts removed and processed into crumbs (about 1 cup)

Directions

Boil and mash the potatoes, set them aside.
Poach the codfish until it flakes easily. Drain and add the fish to the potatoes. Mash together. Mix the fish, the potatoes and the next 7 ingredients together.

Form the mixture into 3 inch patties and lightly dredge in bread crumbs.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet well with olive oil cooking spray.

Place patties on prepared baking pan and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, then flip patties, carefully, and bake an additional 15-20 minutes.
Makes 12 fish cakes. Serves 4-6.

Crispy Sweet Potato Fries

Oven baked sweet potatoes are a healthy choice, but there is a problem, they don’t get crispy.  They get brown, but not crisp.
I have found a method that really works.

Cut 2 large sweet potatoes into finger size thicknesses.

Let potatoes soak in cold water for an hour.  Drain but don’t dry on towels.

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Place two tablespoons of cornstarch into a plastic bag.

Add sweet potatoes to the bag with the cornstarch.  Twist the top of the bag so it forms a balloon with some air inside and shake the fries around until they’re lightly coated with the cornstarch.

Put the coated fries on a non stick baking sheet. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the fries.
Using your hands, toss the potatoes to make sure the fries are well coated. Rearrange them on the sheet again, so that they have space between each fry.

The less fries on the pan the better because, if the potatoes are crowded, they will not get crispy.  They’ll just steam.  You might want to use 2 baking sheets. if you do not have a large enough pan.

Bake the fries in a preheated oven for 15 minutes.


File:Eggplant.jpg

The ancient ancestors of eggplant grew wild in India and were first cultivated in China in the 5th century B.C.  Eggplant was introduced to Africa before the Middle Ages and then into Italy, the country with which it has long been associated, in the 14th century.  The eggplant made its first appearance in Sicily, and then, in other Italian southern regions, such as Naples and Calabria.  

Eggplant Parmesan was often seen on our dinner table and my mother was fond of making this dish. As a child, I always enjoyed Eggplant Parmesan and I would look forward to when my mother made this for us. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how fattening Eggplant Parmesan can be when made in the traditional way because it is breaded, fried and covered in melted cheese.  I have worked out a recipe that is delicious and healthy, if not traditional.  I will share that preparation with you in this post.

Purchasing Eggplant

Choose eggplants that are firm and heavy for their size. Their skin should be smooth and shiny, and their color, whether it be purple, white or green, should be vivid. They should be free of discoloration or scars or bruises, which usually indicates that the flesh beneath has become damaged and possibly decayed.
The stem and cap, on either end of the eggplant, should be bright green in color. As you would with other fruits and vegetables, avoid purchasing eggplant that has been waxed. To test for the ripeness of an eggplant, gently press the skin with the pad of your thumb.  If it springs back, the eggplant is ripe, while if an indentation remains, it is not.
I am fortunate to participate in a CSA ( Community Supported Agriculture) where I live and I am able to get wonderful eggplant all summer long. With so much eggplant at one time,  I learned to prepare the eggplants for the freezer during the summer for future use.

Eggplant Storage

Although they look hardy, eggplants are actually very perishable and care should be taken in storing them. Eggplants are sensitive to both heat and cold . Do not cut eggplant before you store it as it perishes quickly once its skin has been punctured or its inner flesh exposed.
Place uncut and unwashed eggplant in a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator crisper where it will keep for only a few days. If it is too large for the crisper, do not try to force it in; this will damage the skin and cause the eggplant to spoil and decay. Instead, place it on a shelf within the refrigerator.
If you purchase eggplant that is wrapped in plastic film, remove it as soon as possible, since the plastic will inhibit the eggplant from breathing and degrade its freshness.
When cutting an eggplant, use a stainless steel knife, as carbon steel will react with the eggplant flesh and cause it to turn black.  Wash the eggplant first and then cut off the ends before peeling.

Making Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parmesan is not a dish that can be prepared quickly, but with some of my make ahead tips, you can enjoy this entrée for dinner and have several leftovers for future use without spending all day in the kitchen. Eggplant freezes very well in all stages of its preparation, which makes this an ideal vegetable to work with in your food preparation.

First Stage

I usually prepare 4-1 pound eggplants at once and freeze them, individually, for future use.
For each one pound of eggplant, you will need:

  • 1 pound eggplant, peeled
  • 1/2 cup egg substitute (such as Egg Beaters)
  • 1 cup Italian style Progresso bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick olive oil cooking spray.
Cut peeled eggplants crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices (no thicker).  You want them to be thin.
Place the egg substitute in one shallow dish and the bread crumbs in another.
Dip the eggplant slices into the egg substitute mixture, then coat with the breadcrumb mixture. Arrange the eggplant slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 15 minutes, turn the eggplant slices over, and bake until crisp and golden, about 15 minutes longer.
If you are not going to assemble the eggplant dish at this time, wrap each batch of eggplant in aluminum foil with foil sheets between the layers and place it in a zip lock freezer bag.  Store in the freezer until you need it. Defrost a package overnight in the refrigerator, when you want to make the casserole.

Second Stage

To assemble the casserole, you will need:
Spray an  8 inch or 9 inch or 8-by-11 1/2-inch baking dish with olive oil cooking spray.

Preheat the oven to 375 °F.

  • 2 ½ cups Marinara sauce (see earlier post for the recipe)
  • 1-8 ounce package Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese (You certainly can use mozzarella cheese, if that is your preference.)

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Arrange half of the eggplant slices over the sauce, overlapping slightly. Spoon 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with half of the package of cheese. Add a layer of the remaining eggplant slices and top with the remaining sauce and cheese. Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce bubbles, about 25 to 30 minutes.
Makes 6 servings and each serving is less than 200 calories.

Another Way to Use this Versatile Vegetable

One of my daughters-in-law is crazy about eggplant, so I try to come up with numerous dishes that fit different occasions for when she visits.  The following recipe for Eggplant Rolls ( Eggplant Rollatini) is an excellent appetizer dish.  Some chefs do not peel eggplant for this dish, but I prefer peeled eggplant because the dish will be more tender without the peel.

Eggplant Rollatini

Ingredients

  • 1 eggplant about 1 lb.  Peeled and cut into 8 lengthwise slices.  (Try to pick an eggplant that is more long than wide.)(See photo below.)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon each of finely chopped fresh oregano, thyme, and basil ( or ¼ teaspoon each of dried herbs)
  • ¼ teaspoon each salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup part skim ricotta cheese
  • 4 ounces  Sargento® Shredded Reduced Fat 4 Cheese Italian Cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups Marinara sauce

Directions

Combine the ricotta, Sargento cheese, herbs, salt and pepper in a small bowl and refrigerate while you prepare the eggplant.

Heat a grill pan or the broiler. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil.  Grill or broil eggplant slices three minutes on each side or until lightly brown. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the filling on each eggplant slice.  Roll up tightly, jelly roll style.  Place the eggplant rolls in a greased baking dish and drizzle with marinara sauce.

Bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Arrange on a serving plate with fresh herbs to decorate.

Makes 8 appetizer servings.

                                                                                                       

Eggplant Rollatini

 


My goal for this blog is to share with you what I have learned from my grandparents and parents about good Italian home cooking.  Creating Italian dinners should not be difficult or time consuming and they should be healthy as well as delicious. In future posts I will share with you more information about my relatives and their enthusiasm for cooking. One of the first things I learned was the importance of a quality tomato sauce, either marinara or meat based, as so many Italian dishes rely on such a sauce. It is not difficult to make your own sauce and you will know what is in it. Jarred sauce often contains sugar, too much salt and preservatives or additives.

Start with quality canned tomatoes.  I prefer the boxed 28 oz. POMI Italian chopped tomatoes. The only ingredient in this product is tomatoes.  If you can’t find this product, try to find tomatoes with as few added ingredients as possible, such as Muir Glen.

You can prepare this sauce on the weekend, if you have a busy week schedule. This recipe makes enough sauce for several meals and you can keep some of the sauce for up to a week in the refrigerator for a weeknight dinner and you can freeze the rest in several containers for a few other meals.

In the next post I will tell you how to prepare meatballs and sausage to add to this basic sauce.

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 3 garlic gloves, minced
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped fine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1-6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 4-28 oz. boxes Pomi finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon each dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper and dried thyme.
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven and saute the vegetables and garlic. Add the tomato paste. Fill the empty can with water and add it to the pot.

Add 4-28 oz. boxes Pomi tomatoes.

Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Add 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon each black pepper and the dried oregano, dried basil, crushed red pepper and dried thyme.

Simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the sauce thickens.

Taste the sauce to see if it is very acidic. If it is, add a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup.

Pomi Tomatoes



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