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Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Pasta

Folklore tells us that what has come to be known as Italian Wedding Soup began as a dish traditionally served to the bride and groom at their wedding reception. However, that story is not exactly true. Italian Wedding Soup gained its name, not from the occasion that might bring it to the table but rather from the harmony of its ingredients. The name of the dish in English, “wedding soup”, actually means “married soup” (minestra maritata) in Italian. The modern Americanized version of wedding soup is a far lighter dish than the original, which was a rib-sticking dish intended as the main (and sometimes only) meal of the day. The Italian Wedding Soup history also has ties with America, where it was brought here by the Neapolitan immigrants. In Italy, the soup went out of fashion around the time the immigrants took their recipe with them to America. There are many, many versions of this soup. Below is my version of the dish and the one my family loves. This soup tastes better if made a day ahead.

Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:

1 pound lean ground chicken
1 cup plain breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 medium stalks celery with leaves, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
12 cups chicken broth
1 cup small pasta, such as ditalini
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
10 ounces frozen spinach, defrosted
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with cooking spray.

For the meatballs:

Place the ground chicken, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Italian seasoning, Parmesan, cream, egg, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork.
Form 1 inch balls (I use a small cookie scoop) and drop the meatballs onto the prepared pan They don’t have to be perfectly round. Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

For the soup:

Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the garlic, onions, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the pasta and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the Italian seasoning and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and cook for 1 minute. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with grated Parmesan.

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Italian Macaroni & Cheese

Serve with meatballs and a green mixed lettuce salad.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients

10 oz small pasta, penne or macaroni
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 plump garlic cloves, grated
1 (28-ounce) can plus 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes in juice
1/4 teaspoon honey
Salt to taste
A couple of fresh basil sprigs
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

To make the tomato sauce.

Pulse the chopped tomatoes in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, or pass through the medium blade of a food mill. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, wide nonstick skillet or saucepan and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to a minute and add the tomatoes and their juice, the honey, salt, oregano and basil sprigs. Stir and turn up the heat. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the basil sprigs and add freshly ground pepper. Measure out 4 cups of sauce and save the remaining for another recipe.

Combine the ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and then stir into the 4 cups of sauce to thoroughly combine. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To make the pasta:

Heat a large pot of water to boiling.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF and oil a 2-quart baking or gratin dish with olive oil.
When the water for the pasta comes to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt and cook the pasta for a minute or two less than the instructions on the package indicate. It should still be a little underdone as it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the tomato-cheese sauce and stir together until the pasta is thoroughly coated.

Transfer the pasta to the baking dish. Toss the breadcrumbs with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned about 45 minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


Italian American cuisine is a popular and delicious cuisine. It is a style of cooking adopted throughout the United States that was shaped by Italian immigrants and their descendants. However, what is known in America as Italian food is often not found on the table in Italy.
No one in Italy knows what marinara sauce is. There may be different variants of such a sauce that depend on regional or family traditions (with or without garlic, with or without onions, with or without carrots, with or without a pinch of sugar to counter acidity, etc.) but tomato sauce is simply called “salsa” or “sugo” depending on whether you’re from northern or southern Italy. What’s commonly called marinara sauce in America is tomato sauce in Italy that is the base for pizza, pasta, etc., but without garlic or onion or herbs that are not fresh basil.

Parmigiana in Italy is made with eggplant, tomato, caciocavallo cheese, and basil. No chicken or veal. At best, in some parts of Italy, they alternate the layers of eggplant with prosciutto or beaten eggs for added flavor.

Below is a classic recipe for chicken that I grew up on and it is still a big favorite in my family.

Chicken Parmigiana

2 servings

Ingredients

1 cup plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 egg, beaten lightly
2 chicken breast halves
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups Homemade Marinara, see recipe
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
4 slices of mozzarella cheese
4 oz thin Spaghetti, cooked al dente

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375˚F.

Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, 1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Place bread crumb mixture, flour, and egg in three separate dishes.

First, dredge the chicken breast halves in flour, making sure to shake off any excess. Dip in beaten eggs and, like the flour, make sure to let any excess drip off. Finally, dredge in the breadcrumb mixture to coat well. Allow breaded cutlets to rest for a few minutes on a plate before frying.

Heat olive oil in an ovenproof skillet on medium-high heat. Fry chicken until golden. Be sure to turn for even cooking, about 4-5 minutes per side.
Top each breast with Marinara, covering each piece, place the skillet in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, or until bubbling.

Place two slices of mozzarella on each piece of chicken and bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese melts.
Serve with the cooked spaghetti mixed with the remaining marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce

Pasta alla marinara (“mariner style” pasta) does exist in Italy, but it’s usually prepared with shellfish and olives. In the United States, the term “marinara” refers to the simple tomato-based “red” sauce that’s a standard in Italian-American cooking.

Ingredients

3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 large onion, chopped fine
1 carrot, chopped fine
1 celery stalk, chopped fine
1 tablespoon olive oil
One 6 oz can tomato paste
Four 28 oz containers Italian 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 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.

Italian Leaf Salad

Ingredients

1 small head of lettuce, washed and dried
1 small red onion, cut into ring
Italian black olives to taste

Italian Dressing

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Tear the lettuce leaves into small pieces.
Place the greens, olives, and onion in a medium salad bowl.
In a jar, combine the dressing ingredients. Shake well and pour over the greens. Toss and serve.

 


Serve with a green vegetable or a mixed green salad.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 (6-oz) salmon fillets, skin removed and patted dry with paper towels
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1/2 cup diced fresh tomatoes (seeds removed)
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon prepared basil pesto
Thin Spaghetti, cooked

Directions

In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Season salmon all over with salt and pepper.

When the oil begins to shimmer, add the salmon skin-side up and cook until deeply golden, about 6 minutes.

Turn over and cook 2 minutes more. Transfer to a plate.

Reduce the heat to low and add the butter. When the butter melts, stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the shallot and cook until tender.

Add the chopped tomato and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the tomatoes soften.

Stir in the heavy cream, parmesan, and pesto and bring mixture to a simmer.

Reduce heat to low and simmer until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Return the salmon back to the skillet and spoon the sauce over the fish. Simmer until the salmon is cooked through, about 2-3 minutes more.

Place some cooked spaghetti on each serving plate and place the salmon on top. Pour the sauce in the skillet over the fish and spaghetti.


I have family visiting, so this week I will share with you some of our main dish entrees. Complete this meal with meatballs or Italian sausage, salad and bread.

Spinach and Ricotta Stuffed Manicotti

Makes 8-10. Double the recipe for the crepes and filling to make two dishes.

Crespelle Batter
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/8 teaspoon salt
Butter for crepe pan

To make the crepes:

Add the flour gradually to the milk with a whisk in a medium bowl with a cover. Add the eggs one at a time and beat well after each addition. Add the salt.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Heat the crepe pan and butter the pan.
Pour a scant ¼ cup of batter into the hot pan. Tilt the pan around with a circular motion so that the batter thins out and forms a round crêpe about the size of the pan. Cook until the edges of the crêpe become whitish and the inner portion yellow and partially solid.
Using a wide spatula, turn the crepe over and cook briefly (about 30 seconds).
Remove to a plate to cool. Repeat with the remaining batter, buttering the pan for each crepe. Place a sheet of wax paper between the layers to keep them from sticking together.

Marinara Sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 (26-ounce) cartons Pomi finely chopped tomatoes
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper, plus more as needed
4 fresh basil leaves, minced

Directions

Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a cover. Add the garlic and onion. Sauce for 2-3 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer the sauce with the cover ajar for 1 1/2 hours or until thickened.

Spinach and Ricotta Filling
2 cups cooked spinach, squeezed dry
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for baking
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

Combine the filling ingredients. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble the manicotti.

To assemble the manicotti:

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F and lightly brush a 9×13 inch baking dishes with olive oil.
Spread a thin layer of sauce across the bottom of the baking dish.
Place 4 tablespoons of the filling down the center of a crepe. Roll it up and place it, seam-side-down the baking dish. Repeat with the remaining crepes and filling. Top with marinara sauce spreading it evenly over the manicotti and sprinkle with Parmesan. Bake the manicotti for 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.


Fried Chicken

Serves 4

Ingredients
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
11/2 lbs chicken thighs
½ cup vegetable oil

Spice Rub
1/2 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 tablespoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon Himalayan salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions

Combine all the spices for the rub in a glass dish large enough to hold the chicken.

Rub the spice mixture over all the sides of the chicken thighs. Refrigerate covered for several hours.


Set a rack in a baking sheet. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Combine the milk and two eggs in a shallow dish. Place the flour in a large deep bowl.
Heat the oil until it shimmers in a deep skillet.
Dredge the chicken in the flour, then in the egg mixture and dredge in the flour again.


Fry over moderately high heat, turning, until deep golden, 4 minutes on each side.

 

Transfer the chicken to the rack in the baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, until crispy and the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. The inner temperature of the chicken should register at 65C/150F when the chicken is cooked through.

Old Fashioned Macaroni & Cheese

This dish can be baked at different temperatures depending on how you are cooking other parts of the meal. By itself bake the casserole at 375 degrees F for 20 minutes. For this meal bake the casserole for 15 minutes while the chicken is baking

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1/4 cup butter, divided
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
11/2 cups milk or Half & Half
1/4 lb. (4 oz.) processed cheese (Velveeta), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups cooked elbow macaroni
1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs

Directions

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in medium saucepan on medium heat. Whisk in flour and black pepper; cook 2 minutes stirring constantly. Gradually stir in milk. Bring to boil; cook and stir 3 to 5 min. or until thickened. Add Velveeta; cook until melted, stirring frequently. Stir in macaroni.
Spoon into a 2-quart casserole coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with Cheddar. Melt the remaining butter and toss with the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle over the casserole.


Bake 20 minutes with the chicken until heated through and the top begins to brown.

Green Bean Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound fresh green beans, ends trimmed
Fresh basil, chopped into thin ribbons
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin on the cross-wise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Sea salt

Directions

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the beans and let them cook for about 7 minutes until done but still bright green and quite crispy. Drain the beans in a colander.

In the same saucepan heat the oil with the rosemary and garlic.
Add the beans and lemon juice and toss in the flavored oil. Arrange on a serving plate, sprinkle with basil, shallot rings, and salt. Let sit at room temperature until serving time.


Grilled Pork Chops

This recipe makes 6 servings but the recipe can easily be cut down to 2 or 3 servings.

Ingredients

1/2 cup water
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons lemon pepper seasoning
2 teaspoons minced garlic
6 boneless pork loin chops, about 2 lbs total and cut 1-inch thick

Directions

Mix water, soy sauce, vegetable oil, lemon pepper seasoning, and minced garlic in a wide glass dish; add pork chops and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours.


Preheat an outdoor grill or stovetop grill pan for medium-high heat and lightly oil the grate.
Remove pork chops from the marinade and shake off excess. Discard the remaining marinade.
Cook the pork chops on the preheated grill until no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes per side. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read 145 degrees F (63 degrees C).

Summer Pasta

Makes: 6 to 8 servings

ingredients

12 ounces dried tagliatelle or fettuccine pasta
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 red onion, finely chopped
Pinch crushed red pepper, or more to taste
2 cups yellow summer squash, diced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons finely grated zest
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain.
In a large, deep skillet, combine the olive oil, garlic, red onion and crushed red pepper. Cook over medium heat about 3 minutes or until the onion begins to soften. Stir in the yellow squash, tomatoes and torn basil. Season with salt and pepper.
Reduce heat to low and simmer until the squash is tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add the cream and lemon zest; stir.

Stir in the drained pasta. Mix and add the Parmesan. Transfer to a large serving bowl.

Citrus Green Beans With Toasted Pecans

Ingredients

1 shallot, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon lime zest
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted
Salt & pepper

Directions

Cook green beans in boiling salted water to cover in a large, deep skillet with a cover, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes; drain.
Heat the oil in the skillet and add the shallot. Cook until tender. Add the green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Add the three zests and three tablespoons of juice. Stir. Adjust seasoning.
Sprinkle with pecans and serve.



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