Italian · Recipes

Meatballs with fresh oregano

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Meatballs aren’t very glamorous, but they sure are comforting. Making them from scratch with fresh ingredients makes a huge difference in taste and really brings out the flavor – because so many people are used to greasy, store bought versions, they will think you have legendary skills when you share them.

I like the versatility – you can make it with poultry, use it in a garlic roll ( for maximum comfort food), serve it as a stand alone dish or top it over a steaming bowl of pasta. For busy folks like me, you can make extra and freeze ( they keep well), or take short cuts and still have a good dish.

My mom, who is my favorite cook, points out that it’s all in the technique- something I am glad to share with you. You can use lean beef, but closer to 85% is preferred. As you know, fat = lots of flavor. Sausage is also optional, however I always blend it. The recipe I grew up with combined beef, sausage and veal.

The Ingredients

  • 1lb of ground chuck
  • 1 lb Italian sausage, mild
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tsp minced garlic
  • salt & pepper
  • fresh oregano & parsley (* you can use dried)
  • olive oil
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can whole peeled tomatoes
  • I roll (*you can use breadcrumbs)

Tear the bread into pieces and process until fine. Assemble the beef, sausage egg, bread, 1 tsp garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, oregano, parsley and blend well. The consistency should be sticky. If the mixture is too slimy, add more bread.

The texture should be easy to roll between your two hands. Shape 12 meatballs. Make sure they are well-rolled to avoid them falling apart, but make sure not to be too rough as you want them to be juicy.

Add 1 tsp of olive oil to the pan and swirl it around. Remember the oil here is for flavor only, so you don’t want to go overboard. The meat will create enough juice in the pan. You can use a non-stick like I did or use a regular pan if you prefer the meatballs to have a crunchier crust. Often, I will add a tiny bit of garlic here, as well.

Brown the meatballs for about 7 minutes. I turn them gently with a fork or spoon. A common mistake is to squeeze the meatballs in order to get them to cook faster, but this destroys the juiciness and makes them tough. You barely want to touch them.

Add the tomatoes (breaking them up with your spoon if desired), a little more oregano (1/4 tsp), 1 tsp garlic and salt & pepper to taste. You can add a pinch of sugar if you want to the sauce. Then, bring the sauce to a rapid boil and then reduce to a rolling simmer for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are done.

I like to add fresh grated parmesan to the sauce. Voila. Steam not included:)

*If you want to make a meatball sub, I would heat up the oven to 400 degrees. Split a few hoagie rolls and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Bake ten minutes and then add the meatballs and sauce.

Baking · Italian

Rosemary Ciabatta Bread

I have been stress baking lately, and looking to truly get more knowledgeable with my baking. I have always considered myself a much stronger cook than baker, although I have some solid basic skills, thanks to my mother). My mother’s family used to own a bakery, and had the ability to hand make (and slice) dobos tortes and other delicacies. I have, like so many of us, warm memories playing in dough and creating joy for others. So, getting more skilled at baking, in many ways, is a return to my roots.

This recipe is adapted from Paul Hollywood (The Great British Bake Off). It uses a free-standing mixture. Ciabatta is normally very wet, so using the freestanding mixer simplifies the process. This recipe calls for a long, steady rise. Resist the temptation to add more flour or rush things along.

I added in rosemary, because it is my favorite herb to add to bread. It has so many healing properties (anti-inflammatory, soothing your stomach, relief from cramps) that I can’t help but use it for my foccaccia, ciabatta and rustic breads. I have two large bushes that grow in my yard, so the rosemary I use is organic and fresh.

You will need:

  • 4 cups white bread flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • A freestanding mixer
  • A square plastic tupperware (with lid) lightly oiled with olive oil. The square helps shape the loaf.
  • Semolina (for dusting)
Italian · Recipes

Pasta y Fagioli soup

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This version of Pasta y Fagioli is simple and hearty. My secret weapon was my cousin’s Italian herb mix (she grows her own herbs and dries them for Christmas presents). Instead of using spicy Italian sausage, you can opt for pancetta (if you want to live it up), mild italian sausage, or even chicken sausage. I like it best with a combination of spicy and mild sausage. I serve it with warm Italian bread for dipping in the soup. You can also assemble the soup and cooked it in a crockpot for 4-6 hours. I often do this during the work week, so I have a great meal to come home to.

You will need:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound mild or spicy Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I used reduced sodium. If you use regular, adjust your salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1-2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp Kosher salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, to taste. I also add 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper if I am using mild sausage.
  • 1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can Cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Cooked pasta to add to the soup (i.e. macaroni, ruffles, fusilli)

Slow cooker Instructions:

  • On the stovetop, Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water; drain well and set aside.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add Italian sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, about 3-5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and put in the slow cooker.
  • Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the stockpot. Stir in garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add to the slow cooker.
  • In the slow cooker, add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, beans, 1/2 cup water; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook for 4 hours.
  • Top with parmesan cheese and serve over a cup of pasta.

Stove top Instructions:

  • Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large stockpot or over medium heat. Add Italian sausage to the skillet and cook until browned, about 5 minutes, making sure to crumble the sausage as it cooks; drain excess fat and set aside.
  • Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the stockpot. Stir in garlic, onion, carrots and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 4-5 minutes.
  • Add chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, drained Italian sausage and 1/2 cup water; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes. Allow the soup to simmer for longer, so the flavor will deepen and improve – around an hour.
  • On the stovetop, Cook pasta according to package instructions in salted water; drain well and set aside.
  • Top with parmesan cheese and serve over a cup of pasta.
Italian · Recipes

Classic Risotto with Chicken

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Risotto is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. For a long time I was scared to make it homemade because I heard it wasvery labor intensive. But I find if you prepare correctly, it’s really not that bad and very much worth it. The recipe below makes enough for 6 people. I served it with some crusty French bread because we love our carbs and it’s perfect for sopping up extra grains.

You can make this vegetarian or throw in a variety of protein.

You will need:

  • Arborio rice – 2 cups
  • 1/2 cup minced white onion
  • Olive oil, 2-3 tbs
  • Unsalted butter , 5-6 tbs
  • Garlic – 1-2 cloves, minced
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup Dry white wine or vermouth
  • 6 cups Chicken broth
  • Sea salt and pepper – to taste
  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces
  • Shrimp
  • One link – Italian chicken sausage (regular Italian sausage or pancetta will do)
  • Frozen peas – handful
  • Fresh grated Parmesan-about a 1/4 cup
  • *fresh herbs, if available
  • Large pan (I prefer my cast iron skillet)
  • Saucepan for broth
  • Pan for cooking the protein

Mincing the onions

Steps:

  1. Important! Heat chicken broth in a saucepan and have a ladle ready. As you cook the risotto, you will need to spoon hot chicken broth into the rice. Keep it on low to maintain the heat
  2. heat 1-2 tsp of oil in a pan. Add the proteins of your choice and season with garlic, pepper and salt. Add the peas during the last few minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, Melt 2-tbs of butter and 2 tbs of olive oil.
  4. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until they are translucent.
  5. Add the rice and coat the grains with oil for about one minute or so until they are clear.
  6. Add the wine, stirring the grains around until the liquid disappears.
  7. For about 15 to 20 minutes, add one ladle full of broth at a time stirring the grains around until the liquid evaporates. The rice will become starchy and creamy. Season with salt and pepper
  8. Use a taste test to determine the doneness. Most Italians prefer to have a tiny bit of bite.
  9. In the end, add the Parmesan and several tablespoons of butter to the Risotto without stirring it in. Put a lid on the pan and let it sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Then lift the lid and stir in the melted butter and cheese. Add in the proteins that you want at this time. You can also sprinkle in a little bit of fresh parsley or another herb of your choice for color. Enjoy!

Italian

Chicken with Sun Dried Tomatoes

You will need:

  • 8 boneless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more, to taste
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup julienned sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, drained
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves,
  1. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper, to taste.
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large oven-proof skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken and sear both sides until golden brown, about 5-8 minutes per side; set aside.

4. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in the skillet. Add garlic and red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in chicken broth, heavy cream, sun dried tomatoes, Parmesan, thyme, oregano and basil.

5. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Return chicken to the skillet. Cook for 15 minutes or so until cooked through and sauce is slightly reduced.

7. Serve immediately, garnished with basil, if desired. I chose to serve this dish with pasta, and it worked out very well. Enjoy:)

Source: damndelicious.net (adapted with some modifications)

Italian · Recipes

Meatball Sandwiches

This is the ultimate comfort meal. Seriously. Eat this when you have had an absolutely miserable day and it is cold and wretched outside. No regrets.

You will need:

  • 1 pound ground beef, 1 pound italian sausage (mild)
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • Slices of provolone cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • 6 hoagies buns
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Step one: preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wrap 2 cloves of garlic in aluminum foil and roast for 15 minutes.

Step two: mix beef, sausage (squeezed out of its casing), minced garlic, breadcrumbs, oregano and egg and form into meatballs.


Step three: cook meatballs in a large nonstick pan at medium heat – be sure to not overcook. Add tomatoes, salt and pepper. Simmer for an additional ten minutes.  Top with fresh grated Parmesan.


Step four: while meatballs are simmering, split hoagies and brush the insides with olive oil and the roasted garlic. Heat in the oven for about 7-8 minutes until desired texture.

Step five: place three meatballs in the hoagie and top with provolone. Put subs back in the oven to melt the cheese for an additional five minutes. Enjoy!

Italian · Recipes

Caprese Chicken

This was a delicious choice for the summer. I used fresh basil and tomatoes from my garden, and the result was a really simple, refreshing meal. I like to serve it with mashed potatoes. Using a good quality balsamic vinegar is also important – there are many types that are infused with flavors that would be interesting to try.

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts
  • Olive oil, 2-3 tbs
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar, good quality.
  • Fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half.
  • Mozzarella, fresh and thinly sliced. (you may substitute shredded)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Step one:

Heat olive oil on medium heat. Salt and pepper the chicken liberally. Cook chicken for six minutes on each side, and then remove from heat.

Step two:

Saute garlic in the balsamic vinegar for several minutes, until softened. Add the basil and tomatoes and cook it down for 5 minutes, until they begin to soften.

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Step three:

Add the chicken back in the pan, and thinly sliced mozzarella on top. Cook for 6-8 more minutes or until the mozzarella is melted, and serve. Enjoy!

Italian · Recipes

Homeade Marinara Sauce

There are many iterations and recipes about how to make a good Marinara sauce. Here is what I use – I prefer it because it is simple and a proven winner over the years.

You will need:

  • 1 28 oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes (certified DOP, if possible)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 7 garlic cloves, peeled and slivered
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 large basil sprig, fresh
  • pinch, crushed red pepper flakes

Step one:

Pour tomatoes in a bowl and crush with your (clean) hands or use a food processor. Pour 1 cup of water in the empty can and swish to get a little tomato juice. Save it for later.

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Step two:

In a large sauce pan or skillet, heat oil over medium – add garlic when it is ready. As soon as the garlic is sizzling (do not overcook), add the tomatoes. Then the reserved tomato water, the pinch of red pepper flakes, and salt. Stir.

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Step three:

Place the basil sprig (stem included) on the surface. Let it wilt and submerge into the sauce. Simmer until the sauce is thickened and oil on the surface is a deep orange, around 15 minutes.

Italian · Mediterranean · Recipes · Side dish

Orzo & Feta Salad

This is a very refreshing salad to bring to a party or serve at lunchtime. We used to have a grocery store that made an excellent version of this, and the recipe that follows is the inspiration. I also borrowed heavily from a version that Gia DeLaurentis makes. The beauty is you can add or sub in any ingredients you want. For example, there are versions with fresh tomatoes or garbanzo beans – whatever inspires you.

Recipe level: easy

Serves: 6

Time: 20 minutes

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 c. orzo
  • 4 c. Chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • 3/4 cup feta
  • 1/2 cup sweet pepper, chopped fine
  • Sundried tomatoes, chopped fine
  • 1/4 c pitted kalamata olives, quartered

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 c. Red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 c. Virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil
  • 1/4 c. Fresh mint

Step one:

Boil the chicken broth and add the orzo. Make sure to stir, because orzo can get starchy. Cook for about seven minutes and then drain and set aside.

Step two:

Assemble the dressing and then toss with drained orzo.

Step three:

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Italian · Recipes

Orecchiette and Sausage

This is a classic Italian winter dish. I really like to make it when it is cold outside, because the pasta is creamy and filling.  I also like to use spicy sausage instead of mild, or blend in a proportion of both. Broccoli rabe is the classic vegetable used in Italy, but regular broccoli or an alternate like kale or peas is also fine.  I’ve also seen a variation with cooked tomatoes that was especially delicious. In truth, rather than being a purist, I embrace my grandmother’s philosophy of cleaning out the vegetable drawer with what is on hand. There is a lot of variety to the dish, but what is below is closest to the classic version. This will feed around 5 to 6 people. Feel free to ramp up the butter and/or cheese if you want something more decadent.

Many non-Italians are not used to incorporating pasta water, but I highly recommend it, as it helps add creaminess to the overall dish. Also, make sure to salt your pasta water:) Fresh grated cheese really makes a huge difference. There are debates about which cheese is canon, but I personally prefer a blend of Asiago & Parmesan.

You will need:

  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings (or spicy, if you prefer)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 reserve pasta water
  • broccoli florets or kale
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 4-5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Asiago, Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan ( I personally use a blend of Asiago & Parmesan)

Step one:

Make sure to salt your water for the pasta with kosher salt. If you cannot find orecchiette, substitute small shells. Cook the pasta al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water to set aside.

Step two:

Once you have the pasta started, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the sausage. Cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until the sausage starts to brown, 5-6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook a minute more. Season the meat with salt & red pepper flakes. Remove the meat from pan. Add the reserve pasta water, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, broccoli, chicken broth. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the butter until melted and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce. Add the sausage back in.

Step three:

Add the cooked and drained pasta and toss well.

Fresh grated cheese really makes a difference here. It is really worth the extra step and effort. However, if you have to substitute it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t find Asiago or Romano, it’s fine to substitute Parmigiano Reggiano.