Mac & Cheese – Italiano!

Cacio e Pepe – Cheese and Black Pepper – that’s it!  It’s a Roman staple and the easiest most delicious dinner to make, any day of the week!  First things first – have about 2 cups freshly grated Romano and/or Parmesan cheese.  Either grate it yourself or buy it fresh grated.  (No green cans here!)

Dish of spaghetti with white cheese sauce

Cacio e Pepe

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and try using less water than normal when cooking pasta.  (One of the secrets to the ‘cheesy’ sauce is the starchy pasta water.  The less water, the more starch!)  Once you salt the water (like the sea,) add the pasta and cook to al dente.  Meanwhile, melt about 3-4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat.  Once melted, add about a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.  Simmer and whisk for about a minute, then add about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.  Whisk around and remove from heat.  Let stand about 3 minutes.

After about 3 minutes, start adding the grated cheese, little by little, and you’ll see a black pepper cheese sauce start to form.  (Do this too quickly after taking the butter/water off the heat and you’ll end up with glue!)  Keep adding the cheese until it’s all incorporated.  The cheesy black pepper sauce will be fairly thick.

Before draining the pasta at al dente, reserve about another cup of pasta water to the side.  Drain pasta and let stand about 3 minutes.  Again, too hot, the cheese will turn to glue.  Add the pasta, one bunch at a time and continue to toss around in the cheese sauce.  Add a little more pasta water, as needed, to lighten the sauce.  Once it’s mixed, you’re ready to eat!  A little extra grated cheese at this point won’t hurt anything!  Buon appetito!  Ci vediamo presto!

Advertisements

Fresh Homemade Manicotti

The word ‘stuffed’ (when describing a dish,) typically conjures up visions of savory cheeses, spinach, and a variety of other delectable ingredients – delicately wrapped inside a piece of tender meat or hearty pasta.  Today I made homemade manicotti shells, a la crepe-style, and stuffed them with a mixture of Ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, spinach, toasted pine nuts, and crispy pancetta!  (Add anything you’d like – mushrooms and/or sun-dried tomatoes would have also been tasty!  Leave out the pancetta for your vegetarian friends.)  A real show-stopper, especially when your guests find out you made the manicotti shells!  It honestly couldn’t be easier:  Make the batter, quick griddle the manicotti shells/crepes, mix up the filling – and you’re ready to roll, literally!

Manicotti - Ready to Bake

Manicotti – Ready to Bake

Manicotti - Crepe-Style

Manicotti – Crepe-Style

Manicotti - Stuff and Roll 'Em Up

Manicotti – Stuff and Roll ‘Em Up

1.5 Cups Flour, 1.5 Cups Milk, 6 Eggs – Whisk together until smooth – drop onto lightly greased skillet or griddle – making thin crepe-style manicotti shells.  They cook very quickly – maybe a minute or two with a quick flip.  Remove from pan to parchment-lined sheet pan.

Spread filling in a thin layer, roll ’em, and place in a baking dish with sauce on the bottom.  Top with additional sauce and cheese, and it’s ready for the oven.  375 F (Covered – 30 Minutes) Remove foil and continue baking until bubbly and golden-brown!  Buon Appetito!


Too many tomatoes?

UPDATE – Recommendation:  Here’s an added tip to the following directions for skinning fresh tomatoes and freezing before use to make a delicious pasta sauce.  If you prefer to ‘seed’ tomatoes (as much as you can’ before making sauce, then BEFORE FREEZING, cut out the stem area, cut each tomato in half across the middle, and the most of the seeds will squeeze right out.  (I found it harder to get the ‘seed’ the tomatoes once frozen whole, even after defrosting before use.  Hope that helps!

Now onto the original post:

Summer gardens are the best!  Fresh fruits and vegetables that pop with flavor and keep you coming back for more and more.  As much as we love them, we usually find that they are all ripe ready in large bunches – so what to do with all of them?  Here’s an idea for garden fresh tomatoes that can be put ‘on hold’ until you’re ready to make your next batch of homemade pasta sauce:  Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes!

Picture of Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes

Fresh Frozen Peeled Tomatoes

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  • Have a large bowl of ice water on hand
  • Rinse tomatoes and cut a small ‘X’ opposite the stem end
  • Drop in batches of 4-5 into boiling water
  • 45-60 seconds later you’ll see the ‘X’ start to split up the sides
  • Remove tomatoes to ice bath with slotted spoon
  • Skin will easily peel away!

Line a sheet pan with parchment or wax paper and place peeled tomatoes on sheet pan.  Place sheet pan in freezer until tomatoes are frozen.  Transfer to freezer bag and store for up to 6 months – defrosting when you’re ready to make fresh homemade pasta sauce!

Ciao e Buon appetito!


Stuffed Peppers – Turkey-Quinoa… in a Crockpot – yikes!

Okay, I admit it.  Never had, nor never wanted a crockpot.  I love to cook, so I never saw the point.  Given that, we got one this year and I did make a delicious Chicken Chili Verde.  Although that worked well for that purpose, I still couldn’t think of any reason to use, or want to use, a crockpot.  As my dad and I talk about food and cooking most every time we talk, he told me he had just made stuffed peppers in a crockpot.  (That surprised me because I never knew the crockpot to be his go-to cooking method.) . I guess I was hungry when we talked because that sounded so good to me, and I knew I’d make enough for a few to go into my freezer pantry.   Today being Father’s Day, though my father is 3,000 miles away, was the day I put crockpot stuffed peppers to the test!  Results:  AWESOME!

3.5 hours on high in the crockpot, then 20 minutes in the oven at 400F (I couldn’t help myself because to me it’s all about the golden color and added texture/taste.) . Here you have it, healthy, delicious, nutritious Turkey, Quinoa, Spinach, Feta, Crimini Mushroom, and Diced Tomato stuffed peppers!

(I had enough extra stuffing left for about 4 more peppers, so I made those directly in the oven.  Same result, but with 2+ hours with lots of checking, covering/uncovering, removing liquid, etc.)

Still not a crockpot convert, but it will be my go to cooking method the next time I’m craving stuffed peppers!  (Stuffed peppers allow you the freedom to put whatever you want in them, so get creative and have fun.  If you want more information about these peppers, let me know.)

Buon appetito!


Ready for the week ahead – and beyond!

Another fun day in the kitchen getting ready for the week ahead, putting a twist on an old favorite and sharing a nutritious breakfast cookie that’s perfect for those days you’re running out the door!

You know I’m a big fan of the versatile breaded chicken tender, so today I thought about preparing eggplant in the same way to make Eggplant Parmesan.  The original recipe shared back in 2011 starts by lightly frying the eggplant slices on the stovetop before assembling.  Today I decided to start with breaded eggplant slices that I baked in the oven before putting the layers together.  I even made some more of my favorite chicken tenders while I was at it!

Picture of breaded eggplant slices

Breaded Eggplant Slices

Picture of breaded baked chicken tenders

Breaded Chicken Tenders

 

 

 

 

As I was in and out of the refrigerator, I remembered I had some fresh basil that I bought last week to make the Basil & Goat Cheese Chicken Breasts, so in staying true to form with ‘never throwing anything away,’ in the food processor went the basil leaves and PRESTO, out come a few small containers of PESTO!

Picture of 3 small containers of basil pesto

Basil Pesto

 

 

 

 

Finally, I made another double batch of these delicious and nutritious Peanut Butter Power Cookies.  I found this recipe last August when I was looking for an ‘on the go’ breakfast treat to share as we headed out on a small group trip, and these have been a staple in our house from then on.  A double batch makes about 30 cookies, so I store them in the freezer and they are ready anytime.  I grab a couple to eat in the early morning hours on my way to the gym – feeling good about it all the way there!

Picture of Peanut Butter Power Cookies

Peanut Butter Power Cookies

 

Ready for the week ahead – and I hope you are, too!  Buon Appetito!


Homemade Cavatelli!

Last day of winter break before going back to work tomorrow, so what better way to spend part of it than making homemade fresh pasta, Cavatelli to be exact!  My absolute favorite!   It’s very similar to a (potato) gnocchi, but made with ricotta cheese, and instead of little dumplings, the dough is rolled into little shells.  I posted this very easy (3 ingredients) recipe  a while back, and today’s updated post shows the same pasta made with my very vintage hand-crank Cavatelli machine.  The previous post, Sunday Cooking, shows a picture of hand-rolled pasta shells.  A little more free-form than these more uniform shells, but either way, they’re great!  (If you do get your hands on a machine, it’s even more important to have very dry and well-floured dough so it doesn’t get stuck in the machine!  Thanks, Dad, for that in-the-moment advice!)  It’s a good idea to lay them in a single layer on a sheet pan to freeze so they don’t stick together when put in a freezer bag for storage.  Take them right from the freezer into a pot of boiling salted water for 4-6 minutes.  They’ll float to the top when ready!  Buon Appetito!

Picture of fresh pastaCavatelli

Picture of vintage pasta makerCavatelli Machine


Lasagna, Olé

Simple, savory, and absolutely delicious!  Just a short post today to highlight a twist on lasagna – Chili Verde Lasagna.

cv-lasagna_2

Picture of Chili Verde Lasagna

Chili Verde Lasagna

Make like you would any other lasagna, and simply substitute the typical tomato sauce for your favorite chile verde.  I used some homemade chili verde from the freezer on a whim, and it did not disappoint!  (I used what I had on hand as the regular cheeses:  ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan, but you could certainly substitute/add some other delicious Mexican cheeses.  Here’s a link to the Chili Verde recipe I made a while ago from the Ambitious Kitchen:  http://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/2015/12/healthy-slow-cooker-chicken-chile-verde/

¡Buen apetito!