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It’s the holidays and you want to invite friends over but don’t want to spend all day in the kitchen, then pasta is just right for such an occasion. Most people like pasta and it can become an elegant company meal with the right ingredients.

The menu can come together quickly by adding a simple appetizer, such as cheese and crackers or a light soup. Add a salad, some bread and cookies and the meal is done. Don’t forget the wine.

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Sausage Stuffed Shells

This dish can be assembled early in the day and refrigerated. Take the dish out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 24 dried jumbo shell macaroni
  • 2 cups coarsely chopped fresh cremini mushrooms
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 large red or yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 12 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 ½ cups ricotta cheese
  • 3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 3 1/2 cups homemade or store-bought tomato pasta sauce
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Minced fennel leaves for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain and place the shells on clean kitchen towels.

In a large mixing bowl combine eggs, ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese.

In a large skillet cook mushrooms, chopped fennel and bell pepper in hot oil over medium heat about 4 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the vegetables to the ricotta mixture.

Add sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon to break up meat as it cooks. Drain off fat and add the cooked sausage to the vegetable ricotta mixture. Stir well.

Fill the cooked macaroni shells with the ricotta, vegetable and sausage mixture.

Spoon 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 3-quart rectangular baking dish, spreading evenly. Arrange shells on top of the sauce. Drizzle shells with remaining sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake, covered about 30 minutes or until heated through. Garnish with fennel leaves.

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Shrimp and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds fresh peeled and deveined medium shrimp
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped onion
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • One 12 ounce jar roasted red sweet peppers, drained and chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ¼ cup snipped fresh basil
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb penne or ziti pasta

Directions

Rinse shrimp and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and place in a large pasta serving bowl.

In a large skillet, heat butter and oil over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Add onion and garlic. Cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or just until onion is tender.

Add shrimp and crushed red pepper; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add roasted peppers and wine. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 2 minutes or until shrimp are opaque, stirring occasionally.

Stir in cream. Return to boiling; reduce heat. Boil gently, uncovered, for 1 minute. Stir in basil. Add shrimp mixture and cheese to hot cooked pasta; toss gently to combine.

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Meat Stuffed Manicotti

6 servings

Marinara Sauce

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion (1 large)
  • ½ cup finely chopped carrot (1 medium)
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery (1 stalk)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Two 26 to 28 oz containers of Italian crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 3 tablespoons snipped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Manicotti

Ingredients

  • 12 dried manicotti shells
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ½ cup finely chopped onion
  • ½ cup finely chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons basil pesto
  • 1 pound lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 3 cups Marinara Sauce
  • Fresh basil for garnish

Directions

For the Marinara Sauce:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender but not brown, stirring occasionally.

Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, water, wine, parsley, basil, Italian seasoning, sugar, crushed red pepper, bay leaves, salt and black pepper.

Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, uncovered, about 45 minutes or until sauce thickens stirring occasionally. Remove and discard bay leaves.

For the Manicotti:

Cook manicotti for 2 minutes less than the package directs; drain. Place manicotti in a single layer on a sheet of greased foil.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the onion, bell pepper, egg and pesto. Add ground meat; mix well.

Divide mixture into 12 portions. Shape each portion into a 5-inch log. Push a log into each cooked manicotti shell; arrange the shells in an ungreased 3-quart rectangular baking dish. Pour Marinara Sauce over filled manicotti.

Bake, covered, for 45 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 cup mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake, uncovered, about 10 minutes more or until the cheeses are melted. Garnish with fresh basil.

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Artichoke Lasagna

8 servings

Ingredients

  • One 9 oz package of frozen and thawed artichoke hearts or 15 cooked baby artichokes
  • 9 dried lasagna noodles
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ½ cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • One 15 ounce carton ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded fresh basil leaves
  • 1 egg
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half or light cream
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook lasagna noodles al dente; drain and place the noodles on clean kitchen towels.

Place the defrosted artichoke hearts on paper towels and cut each in half.

In a large saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add artichokes, pine nuts and half of the garlic. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until the artichokes are tender, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Do not clean out the pan.

Stir in ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup of the basil, the egg and salt into the mixing bowl with the artichokes..

In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, combine broth and flour.

In the large saucepan used to cook the artichokes, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add the remaining garlic; cook and stir until garlic is tender but not brown. Stir in flour mixture and half-and-half. Cook and stir until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup basil.

In a small bowl, combine mozzarella cheese and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.

To assemble the lasagna:

Spread about 1 cup of the sauce over the bottom of an ungreased 3-quart shallow baking dish. Layer three of the cooked noodles in the dish. Spread with one-third of the artichoke mixture and one-third of the remaining sauce. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the mozzarella mixture. Repeat layering noodles, artichoke mixture, sauce and mozzarella mixture two more times.

Bake, uncovered, for 35 to 40 minutes until edges are bubbly and top is lightly browned. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

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Seafood Linguine

6 servings

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces linguine or spaghetti
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped shallot
  • 1 28-ounce can diced Italian tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 18 littleneck or small cherrystone clams, scrubbed
  • 12 ounces sea scallops, muscle removed
  • 12 ounces grouper, tilapia or other flaky white fish, cut into 1-inch strips
  • 6 ounces calamari, cut into thin rings
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, plus more for garnish

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and place in a large pasta serving bowl.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 1 minute.

Increase the heat to medium-high. Add tomatoes, wine,chili flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 minute. Add clams, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in scallops, calamari, fish and marjoram. Cover and cook until the scallops and fish are cooked through and the clams have opened, 3 to 5 minutes more. (Discard any clams that don’t open.)

Spoon the sauce and clams over the pasta and sprinkle with additional marjoram.

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