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!)
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!
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!
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!
As the nights get colder, and very cold in some parts of the country, who doesn’t love a warm, satisfying, and delicious pot pie to help you settle into the night? This particular pot pie was made with leftover turkey and green beans from Christmas dinner, and the gravy was made with some of the leftover turkey stock I had made to prepare the gravy. (Shredded chicken and regular chicken broth will work just fine!) In addition to that, I added a half bag of frozen vegetables and some cubed potatoes. Could not have been easier!
To make the gravy, use equal parts butter and flour. (I used 4 TBSP butter/flour with about 4 cups warmed stock.) Start by melting the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, whisk the flour into the butter and keep whisking for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste. Slowly add in the stock, whisking constantly until fully combined. Let “gravy” simmer for a few minutes, adding salt/pepper to taste. (You might want to add a little extra salt/pepper at this point as the frozen vegetables will need the flavor.) Once the gravy is bubbling and thickened a bit, add in all the rest of the ingredients: 2 cups chopped turkey or chicken meat, 1.5 cup frozen vegetables, 1 cup diced potatoes (frozen hash brown size potatoes work here, too,) and any other leftover veggies you want to add in. I also had some leftover green beans that I chopped and added.
For the crust and assembly, it’s up to you. You can put the pot pie mixture into a buttered baking dish and top with your homemade or favorite brand of biscuit dough, or you can go with pie crust – either homemade or your favorite from the store. If using pie crust, you can use both bottom and top crusts. If using biscuit mixture, just lay on top of the pot pie mixture. Before baking, I like to brush dough with an egg wash (1 egg beat with a tablespoon of water) and sprinkle with coarse salt. I use Maldon sea salt. Bake at 400-425 F for about 30-40 minutes until brown and beautiful! Let rest for at least 15 minutes, dig in and enjoy! Any questions, just ask. Buon appetito!
Nothing says Thanksgiving like delicious homemade gravy – poured over almost everything! Don’t be stressed by the ‘on the spot’ timing of gravy making, depending on having enough pan drippings to make a decent gravy, or the fear that the gravy may or may not turn out to your liking! The answer is in making a big batch of homemade turkey stock well in advance of the big day.
Every year, I make my big batch of homemade turkey stock, freeze it in quart size containers, then no worry about having the pan drippings that are going to make or break the star of the show – turkey and gravy!
HERE’S HOW: This time of year, you’ll start to see turkey wings, backs, and thighs in the grocery store. I used 4 turkey wings and a few backs that were already packaged at the store. Place them in a large roasting pan with a couple of cut up carrots and celery stacks (great time to use the leafy greens of celery,) one large onion cut in quarters and a full head of garlic cut in half lengthwise across (skins and all,) several sprigs of thyme and rosemary, generous coating of good olive oil, generous sprinkles of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Into a 400F oven for about 45 minutes to one hour – everything should be golden brown and crispy.
Transfer turkey/veggies into a large stock pot, cover with water by a couple of inches, bring to a boil, then simmer for a couple of hours. Taste along the way to ensure a flavorful broth, adding more salt and pepper to taste as this is going to be the flavor for your gravy. After a couple of hours, remove the turkey wings (and any other parts with meat) to a side bowl. Strain out all the other parts and veggies, reserving the hearty, delicious, flavorful broth. You’ll probably end up with 5-6 quarts of stock, so use a couple for the gravy and store the rest as the base for some delicious homemade turkey soup! (It’s also nice to give a quart or two away to a friend to help ease their Thanksgiving day stress.) The turkey meat from the stock bones makes a great turkey salad!
MAKING GRAVY: This step couldn’t be easier – and stress free! Heat one quart turkey stock in pan on stove top – heated through to simmer. In another large sauce pan, you’re going to make a roux (roo) as the base of the gravy. (Fancy, right?) Add equal parts butter/flour [6TBSP each] over medium heat. (You can substitute good olive oil for the butter.) Using a whisk (or fork) blend together over medium heat until mixed well and bubbly. Continue whisking for a minute or two to cook out the flour taste. From there, start adding broth, ladle by ladle, continuing to whisk with each addition. You’ll probably use the entire quart of stock, so make the gravy to a consistency that’s to your liking. Taste and add additional salt/pepper to ensure full flavor for the big bird! Keep warm on very low temp, or turn off and reheat as you’re ready to gather around the Thanksgiving table.
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!
- 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!
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.)
Nothing says summer like fresh veggies from the garden! When the abundance of cherry/grape tomatoes is too much to eat now or even give away, why not make this quick and easy (1, 2, 3) fresh roasted tomato sauce? You can enjoy some of it over your favorite pasta today – and freeze in small containers to enjoy when you’re yearning for a taste of summer!
- Wash and dry (remove stems) cherry/grape tomatoes
- Toss with olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper on a sheet pan – roast at 400F for 30-40 minutes until the tomatoes start to caramelize and the juices escape onto the pan. Cool slightly after removing from oven.
- Blend in food processor, little by little, along with a couple of garlic cloves, a handful of Italian parsley, a few tablespoons of olive oil, and more kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
That’s it! Enjoy over your favorite pasta and bite into summer goodness!
Truly is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – and 4 – Buon Appetito!