Healthy Italian Cooking at Home

Category Archives: macaroni & cheese

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It’s harvest time and the last of summer’s fresh fruit and vegetables are coming to market. Salad ingredients, beets, cucumbers and peppers are all still available. And there should still be plenty of zucchini, green beans, spinach and corn to play a supporting role on your dinner plate.

The first autumn/winter vegetables are putting in an appearance now in the shape of Brussels sprouts, butternut squash, cabbage, pumpkins and mushrooms,

Apples and pears are plentiful, too. It’s also time to enjoy the last of the berries, plums and tomatoes. Comfort food is back.

Spinach Bacon Quiche

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Ingredients

  • One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, at room temperature
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Half a sweet onion, diced
  • 2 cups leftover cooked spinach or frozen and defrosted
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup half & half
  • 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided

Directions

Fit the pastry into a 9 inch pie plate and crimp the edges. Place in the refrigerator.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cook the bacon until crisp in a medium skillet. Remove and place on a paper towel to drain. Crumble when cool.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan and saute the chopped onion in the remaining bacon fat. Add the spinach, thyme, salt and pepper. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool.

In a measuring cup, combine the eggs and half & half.

Take the pie shell out of the refrigerator and place the pan on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle 1 cup of cheese evenly on the bottom of the pie crust. Then sprinkle with the crumbled bacon. Spread the spinach onion mixture over the bacon.

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Slowly pour the egg mixture over the spinach. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Place the baking sheet in the middle of the oven. Bake the quiche for about 40-45 minutes until the top is golden and puffy and the quiche does not “wobble” in the center when gently moved

Let the quiche rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Fall Beet Salad

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2 servings

Ingredients

  • Olive oil for coating the beets
  • 3 golden beets
  • 1 Valencia orange, peel removed and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1/4 fennel bulb, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, coarsely chopped

Dressing

  • 2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest of half an orange
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Make the dressing: Whisk the orange zest, raspberry vinegar, honey, and salt and pepper together in a small  mixing bowl. Set aside.

For the beets:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

Place the beets on a foil-lined baking sheet and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool. Peel and cut into thin rounds.

Arrange the beets, orange slices and sliced fennel on a serving dish and sprinkle with the chopped shallots. Drizzle with half of the dressing of the dressing and reserve the remaining dressing to serve with the salad,

Cover the salad with plastic wrap and chill until serving time.

Chicken with Corn Salsa

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2 servings

Corn Salsa (see recipe link here)

For the rub:

  • 2 tablespoons taco seasoning (see recipe link here)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • Combine to make a paste
  • Rub the paste over both sides of 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts
  • Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

For grilling on a gas grill:

Prepare a gas grill for indirect heat: Turn all burners to high and close the lid. When the temperature inside the grill reaches 400°F, lift lid and turn off one of the burners.

The area over the turned-off burner is the indirect heat area.

Brush the grill with vegetable oil. Place chicken skin side down over the indirect-heat area; close the lid and cook 15 minutes. Turn chicken over, close the lid and cook another 10 minutes.

Move chicken over direct heat and cook, turning once, until skin is well browned and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes.

Watch carefully; dripping fat or any added oils catch fire easily (a small spray bottle filled with water is handy for taming flames).

Place the cooked chicken on individual plates and place corn salsa on the side.

Zucchini Vegetable Kebabs

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The kebabs go well with any grilled meat or fish.

For the Marinade

  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 teaspoons pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Whisk together the marinade ingredients in a small measuring cup.

For the Kebabs

  • 2 skewers
  • Vegetables cut into one inch pieces:
  • 1 cup zucchini
  • 1 cup red bell peppers
  • 1 cup red onion

Directions

Combine the marinade and vegetables in a large bowl. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Remove vegetables from the marinade and thread on skewers, alternating the vegetables. Place the skewers on the grill and cook 7 to 10 minutes on each side or until tender.

Mac & Cheese

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This makes a wonderful side dish for grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb dried short pasta (mezze penne, elbows)
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • ¼ cup butter, diced
  • ½ cup instant flour (Wondra)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried yellow mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 8 oz 2% milk Velveeta processed cheese, cut into cubes
  • 8 oz mild cheddar, shredded
  • ½ cup dried plain breadcrumbs

Directions

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

In the same pot mix the cold milk with the instant flour; add the butter and place the pan on medium heat.

Stirring often, bring the sauce to boiling, reduce heat and cook until thickened, whisking often. Add the salt, mustard and cayenne. Add the velveeta cheese and heat until melted.

Add the cooked pasta and mix well. Pour into a greased 9×13 inch baking dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs and shredded cheddar together and sprinkle over the top of the casserole.

(The casserole can be made ahead to this stage and refrigerated until baking time. Add 15 minutes to the baking time if the casserole is refrigerated.)

Bake for about 25-30 minutes until heated through.

 


I still remember the first time I cooked Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was four years after my husband and I had married. Up until that year, my mother-in-law always made Thanksgiving Day dinner. It was her specialty and that was fine with me. I was never really a fan of turkey and all the trimmings and, since I spent Thanksgiving with my in-laws, I got to spend Christmas with my family. This arrangement was fine with my husband because my mother always made lasagna on Christmas.

How I came to make Thanksgiving Day dinner was not for a joyous reason. My father-in-law passed away at a young age about a month earlier and the family was devastated. I offered to make dinner in place of my mother-in-law, who wasn’t up to the job and didn’t even want to celebrate the holiday. We didn’t want her to be alone and convinced her to have dinner with us. The rest of my husband’s family was also invited.

This was a big deal for me because I had never cooked a turkey before, but I welcomed the creative challenge. It was fun planning the menu and I came up with recipes that reflected my Italian heritage. Unfortunately my creative endeavors were not met with rave reviews (other than my husband’s) because I did not make the traditional side dishes that my in-laws were used to having with their turkey dinner.

Nevertheless, I continued to try my hand at different side dishes through the next few years and as my children grew, their likes and dislikes played a great part in how these side dishes evolved. My mother-in-law continued to have dinner with us on Thanksgiving and actually looked forward to my new approach to developing our own traditional meal.

The following are the favorites my family have come to enjoy on Thanksgiving. I don’t make all these dishes at one time (with the exception of the cranberry sauce) but tend to rotate them each year to keep things interesting. All you need is a turkey or a turkey breast,  a stuffing of your choice (see post for recipes: https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/11/09/choose-your-stuffing-or-is-it-dressing/) and 3 or 4 of the side dishes below and your feast menu is ready to go.

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Cranberry Sauce

Fresh and frozen cranberries work equally well. If you are using frozen, add one to two minutes to the cooking time.

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cups orange juice
  • 1/2 cup Truvia for Baking or Domino Light sugar or 1 cup regular sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest

 Directions:

Bring orange juice, sugar, and salt to boil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add cranberries and simmer until slightly thickened and two-thirds of berries have burst, about 5 minutes. Stir in orange zest Transfer to serving bowl and cool completely, at least 1 hour. Serve. (Sauce can be refrigerated for 1 week.)

 

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.

Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.

Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes

Sometimes I cook chopped kale with the potatoes and mix it all together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 thyme sprig
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Directions:

 In a large saucepan, cover potatoes with cold water by 2 inches and add 1 tablespoon coarse salt. Bring to a boil; cook until potatoes are very tender and easily pierced with a fork, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain; transfer to a large bowl. Reserve 1/2 cup potato cooking water.

Meanwhile, heat together the milk, garlic, rosemary, and thyme then remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse flavors.

Strain the flavored milk through a fine sieve, add the olive oil and gently reheat. Using a potato masher or fork, mash potatoes with olive oil and milk until smooth. Add some of the reserved cooking water as needed to moisten. Season with salt and pepper.

Celery Bake

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole bunch celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup evaporated milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons Wondra all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs

Directions:

Separate celery stalks and leaves. Reserve leaves and cut stalks into 1/2 inch pieces. Put celery in a medium saucepan and fill halfway with water. Add salt, bay leaves and place celery leaves on top.Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook 5 minutes uncovered. Discard celery and bay leaves. Drain and set aside; reserving a 1/2 cup of the celery cooking water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In the same saucepan add evaporated milk and flour; whisk. Add butter and turn heat to medium and cook sauce, whisking constantly, until it starts to bubble. Remove from heat and whisk in celery cooking water.

Spray a medium baking dish with cooking spray and add half the celery, half the sauce and sprinkle with the almonds. Next, add remaining celery and sauce. Sprinkle top with breadcrumbs.

Bake casserole 30 minutes.

 

Italian Baked Macaroni with Fontina

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound small shell macaroni
  • 1 cup half and half (fat free works just as well)
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese
  • Salt
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Directions

Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot for cooking the pasta. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13×9 baking dish with cooking spray set aside.

Dice the butter and place in a large bowl. Warm the half & half in the microwave, about 1 minute. Cover to keep warm. Shred the Fontina cheese and add to the bowl with the butter. Set aside.

When the water comes to a boil, add salt and the shells and cook until they are 1 to 2 minutes shy of al dente. Drain.

Add the warm half & half to the Fontina and butter. Stir until the cheese starts to melt. Season with salt to taste and the nutmeg.

Stir the shells into the bowl with the cheese. Toss to coat well. Pour the mixture into the baking dish.

Combine the bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese; sprinkle over the pasta. 

Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the topping turns golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Number of servings-6

 

Balsamic-Glazed Cipollini Onions

Cipollini originated in Italy and the word means little onion in Italian.

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 16 cipollini onions, trimmed and peeled
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat olive oil in a medium ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Add onions, stem side down, and cook, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and continue browning on opposite side, about 2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper.

Add vinegar and sugar; cook, until slightly syrupy, about 2 minutes. Add chicken broth, thyme, and garlic; bring to a boil. Transfer skillet to oven and roast until onions are easily pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 15 to 20 minutes.

 

Creamed Spinach

Ingredients:

  • 2 pkgs. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons 1/3 less fat cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons skim milk
  • salt and pepper

Directions

Heat oil in small saucepan and add garlic; cook 1 minute

Add spinach and heat.

Make a well in center of spinach and add milk and cheese.

Heat and stir until cheese is dissolved throughout spinach. Season with salt & pepper.

Spinach-Stuffed Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 6 medium tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 3/4 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomato. Scoop out pulp, leaving a 1/2-in. thick shell. Invert tomatoes onto paper towels to drain.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet. Add spinach; cook and stir 7 minutes. In a bowl, combine bread crumbs and Italian seasoning. Set aside 1/4 cup for topping. Add spinach and cheese to remaining crumb mixture. Sprinkle tomato shells with garlic salt and pepper; stuff with spinach mixture. Place in a greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish. Toss remaining oil with reserved crumbs. Sprinkle over tomatoes. Bake, uncovered, at 375° F for 20-25 minutes or until crumbs are lightly browned. Yield: 6 servings.

 

Cherry-Stuffed Acorn Squash

Ingredients

  • 3 medium acorn squash
  • 2/3 cup dried cherries or cranberries
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons butter

Directions:

Cut squash in half; discard seeds. Place squash cut side up in two 13-in. x 9-in. baking dishes coated with cooking spray.

Combine the cherries, brown sugar, lemon peel, nutmeg and salt; spoon into squash halves. Sprinkle with lemon juice; dot with butter.

Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 45-55 minutes or until squash is tender. Yield: 6 servings.


 

Pensacola_Beach_1957_White_SandMy husband and I love having our children and their families come for visit and we love visiting them in their homes. Family is important to us and even though none of us live near each other, we keep in touch daily.  When we are together, it is always great fun. So much to do – swimming in the pool, riding the waves at the beach or racing go-karts – brings out the hunger pangs and Grandma has a fix for that.  I am sharing some of my grandchildren’s favorite foods; kid-friendly meals that I have tried to make healthy without sacrificing flavor.

The dish that wins, hands down, as the number one favorite, is chicken fingers. They are healthy because they are baked with minimal fat instead of fried. To date, no one has noticed that they are not fried. The steps to prepare this dish are listed below:

Unfried Chicken Fingers

  • 1/2 pound chicken breast tenders (fingers), about 8
  • 1/4 cup refrigerator egg substitute
  • 1/2 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • Olive oil cooking spray   

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Coat a 9”x 13” glass baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
Place chicken fingers in a shallow dish and pour the egg substitute over them.  Rotate and coat all the fingers.

Chicken Fingers coated in egg substitute.

Place bread crumbs in another shallow dish and dredge fingers in crumbs.

Chicken Fingers coated in bread crumbs

Place in prepared baking dish in a single layer. Drizzle fingers with 1 tablespoon olive oil.

Chicken Fingers drizzled with oil

Bake 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.  Turn fingers over and bake 15 minutes more.

Baked Chicken Fingers

Serve this dish with a healthy ranch dip (recipe below) and apple slices for lunch.
Chicken fingers may be frozen and reheated in a hot oven.  I usually prepare a supply when I know the children are coming, so that they are handy when we need them.

Healthy Ranch Dip

  • 1/2 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup low fat buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup olive oil mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar 
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • Dash of Worcestershire
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Whisk together all the ingredients and chill.

  1. Chicken fingers also make a good dinner option with low-fat macaroni and cheese and a green vegetable.

Low-fat Macaroni and Cheese

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. uncooked elbow macaroni ( whole grain pasta is better)
  • 2 cups skim milk
  • 3 oz. Velveeta Light Cheese cut into thin strips
  • 8 oz. Monterey Jack shredded cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons Italian seasoned bread crumbs

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a 13”× 9” baking dish with cooking spray.

Boil macaroni in salted water until tender but firm.
While pasta cooks, whisk together flour and 1/2 cup milk in small bowl.
Pour remaining 1½ cups milk into large saucepan and heat on low. Once milk is slightly warmed, turn heat to medium-low and add flour and milk mixture, stirring until thick.
Reduce heat slightly and add butter, cheeses and salt.
Cook until smooth (about 5 minutes).
Drain macaroni, then combine with sauce mixture, stirring thoroughly.
Pour into prepared baking dish. Sprinkle breadcrumbs lightly and evenly on top and bake 25-30 minutes.

    2.  Another good dinner option: soup and calzone:

Easy Stracciatella Italian Soup

Ingredients

8 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked orzo pasta (very small pasta)
10 oz. package frozen, chopped spinach ( thawed and well-drained)
1 egg (beaten)
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

In a large pot bring chicken broth to a boil on high heat.
Stir in orzo; cook approximately 10 minutes until tender but slightly firm.
Stir in spinach, salt and pepper to taste.
Cook approx 5 minutes.
Add in beaten egg to soup stirring constantly until set and cooked.
Serve in kid- sized bowls.
Sprinkle with cheese before serving.

Tomato and Mozzarella Calzone

  1. Store bought pizza dough or ½ of the recipe for homemade dough, (see post, http://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/05/04/its-friday-lets-have-pizza/)
  2. Flour, for dusting
  3. Homemade Tomato Sauce (see post for recipe, https://jovinacooksitalian.com/2012/04/19/hello-world/
  4. Sliced skim mozzarella cheese
  5. Salt, pepper and dried oregano

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  • Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces, shape into balls, then flatten and roll out into 6 inch rounds on a lightly floured surface. Brush cold water around the edges.
  • Spread marinara sauce over the dough, spreading evenly and leaving a small border around the edge. Place slices of mozzarella on one side of each dough round and season with oregano and a little black pepper.
  • Enclose the filling by lifting over the other side of the dough. Press the edges firmly together to seal and transfer to a large baking sheet.
  • Cut a couple of tiny holes in the center of each calzone. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the calzone is pale-golden.  Serve with additional sauce.                                                                                                                                                                                               


Vanilla & Chocolate Rocks

Of course we can’t forget dessert.  My grandchildren (and children) love these cookies. This recipe can be doubled and the cookies freeze well.

Adapted from King Arthur
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter 
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1  cup unbleached all- purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chunks
Directions
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.
Melt the butter blend in a large microwave-safe bowl, add the sugar, and return to the microwave for 30 to 45 seconds, till the mixture is hot to the touch.
Cool slightly, and beat in the vanilla, baking powder, salt, espresso powder, and egg substitute.
Let cool to lukewarm, then add the flours and chocolate chunks, stirring briefly, just until well combined.
Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets. (I put 12 cookies on one baking sheet) Bake the cookies for 9 minutes, until they’re barely set.
Remove them from the oven, and cool right on the pan. Yield: 2 dozen cookies.


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