Italian, Savory

Stuffed Zucchini

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This is a versatile recipe and it will most certainly make the “veggie-haters” eat zucchini.  For this particular recipe, I used ground beef with Italian flavors.  You could use taco spices for a Mexican spin and you can change up the protein with ground chicken or turkey.  You can also make this a 100% vegetarian meal by using beans, corn, quinoa, and peppers as a filling.  I have also heard a friend use crabmeat as a filling, which I have to try next.   However you choose to make this, it is a fool-proof way to jazz up zucchini!

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Ingredients

2 large medium-sized zucchini

1 medium onion, chopped

1.5 cups of ground beef

1/2 tsp of minced garlic

1/4 tsp of Calabrian chili paste

1 tsp of Italian seasoning

1 tsp of tomato paste

1/2 cup of tomato basil sauce

1 Tbsp of fresh parsley, chopped

1 Tbsp of olive oil, plus additional oil to brush on zucchini

Shredded mozzarella cheese for melting on top, as much as you like

salt and pepper for seasoning.

Method:

Slice zucchini down the middle, length-wise.  Using a melon baller or a spoon, scoop out the inside of the zucchini, making a hollow “boat”.  Season with a little bit of salt and let the zucchini rest for 30 minutes to an hour.  This will pull out some of the excess liquid in the zucchini and also season the flesh.

Preheat oven to 375F.  While that happens, move on to making the filling.

Heat oil in a skillet and add the ground beef.  Saute till it starts to brown.  Then add all the remaining spices except for the tomato basil sauce and parsley.

Cook all the ingredients, till the beef is dark brown, and all the spices have bloomed and are married together.

Finally, add the sauce and parsley and cook for an additional 7-9 minutes.  At this point, you can store the filling in the fridge for later use or you can proceed to the next step.

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Using a paper towel, blot the excess moisture off the Zucchini and arrange them, cut-side up, on a greased baking pan.  Sprinkle the cavity with some black pepper and bake the zucchini for 10 minutes.

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Pull out the zucchini and fill then with beef mixture.  You will note in the picture that two of the “boats” have more filling than the other two, personal preference really, I like more vegetable and my husband prefers more beef.  He also likes more cheese as you will see in the following pictures.

 

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Baked the filled zucchini for another 10 minutes.

Top the boats with cheese (as much as you like) and bake for another 8-10 minutes, or until the cheese is melty and bubbly!  Turn the broiler on at the end if you want to brown the top of the cheese.

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Serve piping hot!

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Classics, Dinner, Italian, Meat, Savory

Braciole

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This is my take on a classic Italian Braciole or beef-roll ups.  This is an easy and hearty dish that looks extremely elegant.  You can make the filling several days ahead and if you use store-bought marinara sauce, this meal comes together in about a half an hour, elevating any boring weeknight to date night!  Here is how I made this dish.

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Ingredients:

For the roll-up:

2 pieces of flank-steak, pounded thin (the package might say “braciole)

A double batch of Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach

1 Tbsp of breadcrumbs

Salt and cracked black pepper to season the meat, about a 1tsp of each.

1 Tbsp of olive oil

Kitchen string cut into 6-8 pieces, long enough to wrap around and tie the rolled meat

For the sauce:

1 cup of marinara or tomato-basil sauce

1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tsp of Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp of balsamic vinegar

Method:

Cook the spinach and mushrooms (you can find the recipe here).  You will need to double the recipe so that you have enough filling.  The filling can be made several days in advance.

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Mix the bread crumb with spinach and mushroom filling.

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Divide the filling on to the two pieces of flank steak and spread it on to the meat.  Press the filling down, so that it sticks to the meat–it will stay in place when you go to roll it.

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Starting from the short end, roll the steak up like a jelly-roll, tightly; tucking in any filling that may fall out.

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Using the pre-cut kitchen twine ( I like to cut it ahead of time), tie up the rolls tightly.

Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet and once it is hot, add the beef roll-ups.  I like to add some additional cracked black pepper at this step, makes for a really nice crust!

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Sear on high heat, about 2-3 minutes per side, making sure you get the entire surface of the roll browned–not just top and bottom.  After you get the initial sear, you may lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, rolling the beef to a different surface ever 2 minutes.  The entire process will take about 15- 20 minutes.  It might take longer if your rolls are larger.

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let the beef rolls rest for at least 5 minutes before you cutting the string and slicing the meat.

While the beef is searing, heat all the ingredients for the sauce in a small saucepot.  You are looking to warm up the sauce so that all the ingredients get a chance to blend in and impart their flavor.  You keep the sauce on a low simmer the entire time the beef is cooking.

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To plate dinner, spoon sauce on a plate and arrange two slices of the braciole/beef-roll up.  Pour yourself a glass of red wine and dinner is served!

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Classics, Comfort food, Dinner, Italian, Savory

Spaghetti and Meatballs

 

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Nothing gets more comforting than spaghetti and meatballs.   If you have read my Simmer Sauce Solutions article, you will know that I have good pasta sauce in my pantry all the time, making it extremely easy to pull together this meal.  During this pandemic, as we all spend Easter away from our families, a simple, classic meal like this is just what the soul needs.  I did not grow up with spaghetti and meatballs, I had Murgh Kofta.  However, my husband did and he associates this meal with a lot of wonderful childhood memories. Therefore, the pressure was on to remake this meal to his liking–after all, you don’t want to mess with food memories.  So this recipe is now our family’s version of spaghetti and meatballs; the husband approved and we had hearty Easter dinner!  So if you are like me and did not grow up with this classic Italian-American meal, I hope you try it.  If you like it, please drop a comment below!

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Ingredients:

1 pound 80/20 beef (you need the fat for flavor)

1 small onion

2 tsp of minced garlic

1 tsp of salt

1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes

1 tsp of dried parsley

4 Tbsp of breadcrumbs

1 egg

1, 24oz jar of Victoria’s Tomato Basil sauce

1/2 box of pasta or however much you need to cook for your family.

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F and line a metal baking dish with parchment paper

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In a food processor, chop onion and minced garlic together, The smaller the chop, the better, it will make smooth, round meatballs.

In a bowl, add the minced onion and garlic, beef, egg, parsley, red pepper flakes, salt, and breadcrumbs.

With your hands (yes, your hands!! you have to use your fingers to mix), start mixing all the ingredients together, without folding the in the beef–it is in the bowl, but just work around it.  Once all the other ingredients are mixed, start folding in the beef.  It is critical not to overmix the meatball mixture, nobody wants dense meatballs that tough like hockey pucks.

Roll meatballs into 1-inch rounds and place them on a baking sheet.  I got approximately 12 meatballs from this recipe.

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Bake for 30-35 minutes, till the meatballs are brown and cooked through.  Half-way through the baking process, I remove most of the oil that sweats out from the meatballs–you don’t want to start a grease fire in your oven.

Remove meatballs from the cookie sheet and drain and cool on a paper-towel lined plate.  At this point, you can cool the meatballs completely and freeze them or you could proceed to bathe them in the tomato sauce.

Start cooking the pasta according to package directions.

In a separate pot, add the meatballs and cover them with jarred tomato sauce, just enough to cover all the meatballs.  I like to add some dried basil and red pepper flakes to “wake-up” the jarred sauce, but that is entirely optional.  This brand is really good to begin with!

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Reserve, half cup of the startchy cooking water, and drain the pasta, 2 minutes shy of the cook time.  Return the drained pasta to the pot, add the pasta water and enough of the jarred sauce to coat the pasta.  Cook the pasta in the liquid for another two minutes till most of the liquid has evaporated and pasta is completely cooked through.

Plate the pasta with meatballs and extra sauce and serve piping hot.  A garnish of basil would be great, but during this pandemic, I am working with what in the fridge and pantry.

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Classics, Comfort food, Dinner, Gluten-free, Italian, Poultry, Savory

Chicken Cacciatore

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For those who know me and also read my recipes, you might have noticed that I cook with whatever is lying around.  I rarely “follow” recipes, most of it is by smell, look and taste.  Nevertheless, I love collecting cookbooks and my inner scientist can respect the importance of a well written “protocol”/”recipe”.  So I dusted off a cookbook that I got for Christmas and cooked this recipe–with a few changes

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Ingredients:

2 Tbsp olive oil

2 pounds of chicken breast, cut into cubes

1 large onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

1 tsp of rosemary

1 small can of chopped tomatoes

salt and pepper

(original recipe called for fresh rosemary, chicken thighs and tomato paste)

 

Method:

Heat oil in a skillet, season chicken with salt and pepper and saute till browned.  Set aside.

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Add onions, garlic, mushrooms and rosemary to skillet.  Season with salt and saute till softened.

 

Add chopped tomatoes and 1/4 cups water.  Return chicken to pan.

Cook on low heat till sauce reduces.

Serve with crusty bread.

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Classics, Cupcakes, Italian, Sweet

Chocolate Cannoli Cupcakes

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This summer, I have been on a Cannoli kick.  I guess it started with the Cannolis we had for our rehearsal dinner.

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Then we were out in Boston getting some more at Cafe Vitorria.  As a result, whenever I wanted make something, the “Cannoli” flavor kept coming up.  So here is a super easy recipe for Cannoli cupcakes.  I also used the ingredients to build a my Chocolate Orange Charlotte.

Ingredients:

Store bought chocolate cake mix

1 15oz container of Ricotta Cheese ( I used part-skim, feel free to use full fat)

4 tbsp of vanilla frosting (I used this, because it was lying around in the pantry)  OR 4tbsp  powdered sugar.  Sweeten to your liking.

1 tsp of almond extract

2tsps of ground cinnamon

mini chocolate chips and pistachios (unsalted-shelled) for garnish

Method:

Make batter and bake cupcakes as per package directions.  I baked 6 cupcakes and used the rest of the batter to make 2 9″ round cakes for my Chocolate Orange Charlotte.

Allow the cupcakes to cool completely

In the meantime, mix the entire container of ricotta cheese with 4tbsp of frosting (or 4tbsp of powdered sugar) with almond extract and cinnamon

Fill into a piping bag attached to a star-tip (this is what I did; frost as you like) and pipe onto your cupcakes. You will not use the entire frosting for 6 cupcakes, I saved it for my cake recipe.  You will probably use the whole thing if you are making 12 cupcakes.  This frosting will make a great Cannoli Dip with graham crackers or you could use it for my other favorite recipe “Cannoli Cups

Sprinkle with mini-chocolate chips and pistachios (other toppings could be orange peels, almonds or nothing at all)

Serve and watch your friends devour !

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Italian, Quick Dinner

Fig, Arugula, Prosciutto Pizza

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Here is my all time favorite pizza! I prefer to eat lactose free so this pizza has no cheese, but I recommend goat cheese or ricotta for this recipe.

Prepare store bought pizza dough mix as per the instructions.  I like to add salt, pepper, olive oil and rosemary to the crust prior to baking.

Once the crust has baked off and cooled slightly, spread the fig butter and top with arugula and prosciutto.

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Fish & Seafood, Gluten-free, Italian, Lent, Quick Dinner

Basil-Scallion Shrimp with Spaghetti Squash


I recently discovered spaghetti squash and I have fallen in love with it.  While it definitely does NOT taste like pasta, it certainly feels like you are indulging in it.  You can twirl long strands of golden squash in sauce and eat it out of a bowl and feel full–not a bad deal ! Then, shrimp was on sale and I had to finish up the basil and scallions in the fridge, and so this dish came to being.  May I just say, that sometimes, throwing things in together really work ! I hope you will try this dish.

Ingredients:

1, medium sized spaghetti squash

1lb of medium, peeled, de-veined  raw shrimp

7-8 scallions

1 bunch of basil

1/2 tbsp of minced garlic

1 can of diced tomatoes (mine had garlic, basil and oregano added)

1/2 cup stock (chicken or vegetable)

2 tsp of red pepper flakes

2 tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Method:

Heat oven to 400F

Cut squash in half, length-wise.  Remove seeds and drizzle 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add salt and roast the squash cut side down on a baking sheet for 40-50 mins till the squash is fork tender and you can run your fork through the flesh to produce “spaghetti”.

  
 Chop the scallions and set aside the green parts.


Heat 1Tbsp of oil in a skillet, add the garlic and white part of the scallions and saute till pale.

Next add the tomato, broth and the red pepper flakes.

  
 Simmer for 5mins and then add the shrimp.

Shrimp cooks very quickly, so keep an eye on it and the minute they are pink, remove them from the pan. Keep cooking the sauce till desired consistency.  

   Add the shrimp back into the pan, once the sauce is thick and take off heat.
Chop the basil and mix with the green part of the scallions.


Add the herb mixture once the dish in off the heat and stir to combine.  The idea is to keep the greens, looking green and rather raw–tastes really fresh and wonderful !

Spoon shrimp and sauce over spaghetti squash and enjoy !

  

Classics, Italian, Pastry, Treats

Tiramisu

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An Italian classic, perfect for hot summer nights !

Ingredients:
2 cups boiling-hot water
3 tablespoons instant-espresso powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
3 tablespoons Tia Maria (coffee liqueur)
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup dry Marsala
1 pound mascarpone (2 1/2 cups)
1 cup chilled heavy cream
36 savoiardi (crisp Italian ladyfingers; from two 7-ounce packages)
dark chocolate shavings for garnish

Method:

Stir together water, espresso powder, 1 tablespoon sugar, and Tia Maria in a shallow bowl until sugar has dissolved, then cool.

Beat egg yolks, Marsala, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water using a whisk or handheld electric mixer until tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat. Beat in mascarpone until just combined.

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Beat cream in a large bowl until it holds stiff peaks.

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Fold mascarpone mixture into whipped cream gently but thoroughly.

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Dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into coffee mixture, line bottom of a 13- by 9- by 3-inch baking pan with 18 ladyfingers in 3 rows, trimming edges to fit if necessary. Spread half of mascarpone filling on top. Dip remaining 18 ladyfingers in coffee and arrange over filling in pan.

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Spread remaining mascarpone filling on top and dust with chocolate shavings. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours.

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French, Italian, Salad

Nicoise goes Italian

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Recently I met up with a dear friend of mine who happens to be from Italy.  Of all the things that she gave me were  two cans of really good italian tuna packed in good olive oil.  I looked through my pantry and some ingredients called for a traditional French Nicoise salad, but then some of the others screamed Italian, so this is what I can up with.  Barely no cooking involved, just a combination of good ingredients and super healthy.  Should you choose to be a purist I am attaching a link to Julia Child’s Salade Nicoise recipe.

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/recipe/julia-childs-salade-nicoise-8255829

For my rendition you will need:

Hard boiled eggs

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Flash steamed green beans (I would go for fresh beans, even though I used canned beans)

Artichoke hearts

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Sundried tomatoes

Good Tuna packed in good Olive oil.  You could also get adventurous and poach tuna fillets in olive oil and then flake them.

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capers

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salt and pepper for seasoning.

Now assemble according to your taste.

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Italian, Quick Dinner

Sausage Spinach Saute

A hearty, speedy skillet dinner.  With hints of Italian flavors, this dish would pair really well warm, crusty garlic bread on a cool summer evening.  With just a few ingredients that don’t even need to be fresh (i.e canned and frozen will work) and you can have dinner on the table in less than an hour.  Here is what you will need.

Ingredients:

1 lb of spicy Italian sausage

16 oz bag of thawed frozen spinach

1 medium onion sliced

1 can of white beans

1 Tbsp of olive oil

1 tsp of chopped garlic

A dash of nutmeg

salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.

Method:

In a skillet add the sausage links and fill with a little bit of water and 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Cook the sausage till cooked through and the casing in lightly browned.

Remove the sausage, and to the same pan add the remaining oil and add the garlic.  Saute till fragrant and then add the onions.  Saute till pale golden.

Then add the spinach and the beans and saute till the spinach wilts down.

Season with nutmeg, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes and then toss in the sausages.

Plate up hot, straight from the skillet with some garlic bread !!!!!