BAKED RIGATONI SAN MARZANO

Who does not love bake pasta dishes? Rigatoni, Ziti, Mostaccioli…they’re all good. This one is meatless…with a rich marinara sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes. The rigatoni is tossed with the sauce, and a ricotta/mozzarella/parmesan mix. Then topped with more mozzarella and parmesan. If you bake it right away, it only takes about 20 minutes to cook. But, you can put it together and bake it later…with a longer cook time of course.

This recipe is really cut down using a 9×9 baking dish. Still enough for 4 people.

Ingredients:

For the marinara:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thin sliced
  • 1 (28 ounce) can of whole, peeled, San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2-3 fresh basil leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sugar or to taste
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

For the rigatoni:

  • 7 ounces of rigatoni
  • 3/4 cups whole ricotta
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme eaves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped + more for garnish
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella, 1/2 of it diced
  • 3/4 cups grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

Directions:

  • Place a medium saucepan over medium low heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and saute about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic for 30 seconds.
  • Add the San Marzano tomatoes and crushed with you hands or mash with a potato masher. Add the fresh basil and bay leaf. Add the salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, cover, lower the heat and cook for 30 minutes. Taste and reseason if necessary. Stir in the sugar and the butter. Optional: using an immersion blender, blend the marinara to your desired consistency.
  • Combine the ricotta, the salt and pepper, thyme, parsley, lemon zest, half the mozzarella, half the parmesan, and the egg. Mix well in a bowl.
  • Cook the rigatoni in salted water for about 9-10 minutes. Drain and don’t rinse. Return to the pan.
  • Place the ricotta mix in the pasta and fold in completely. Add 2 cups of the marinara and reserve the rest for another recipe. Freeze it if you like.
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Stir every together until well combined then place in a oil-sprayed 9×9 baking dish. Top with the rest of the mozzarella and parmesan. Cover with foil and bake for 18 minutes. Remove the foil and turn to broil for about 2-3 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Tent lightly with the foil and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Serve with chopped parsley and more parmesan.

CREAMY BUCATINI WITH BACON

I wouldn’t dare call this an “alfredo” or a “carbonara”. It has some elements of both, but I won’t call it either.

It is a very easy quick pasta dish that will pair well with a chopped salad and some garlic bread.

Here’s how I made it.

Ingredients:

  • 6 ounces of bucatini pasta (you can use spaghetti or fettucine0
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 tbsp unsalted butter ( I like to use Irish butter in the recipe)
  • 2 garlic cloves, thin sliced
  • 1 cup cream
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 thick slices of bacon, cooked
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives or green onions

Directions:

  • Cook the bucatini in salted water until al dente, about 9 minutes. Do not drain
  • Place a medium skillet over medium low heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the sliced garlic and saute for 30 seconds.
  • Add the cream and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer, stirring, for about 5-6 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened.
  • Dice the cooked bacon. Add 2/3 of it to the skillet. Add the parmesan cheese and stir in until melted. Add 2/3 of the chopped chives and turn off the heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Do not drain the pasta. Using tongs, place the cooked pasta in the skillet and toss until completely coated.
  • Plate with chopped chives and more bacon.

SHRIMP SCAMPI AND LEMONY PARMESAN RISOTTO

Is there a better pairing of two foods in this universe? Scampi and risotto were just meant for each other!

This recipe combines a couple elements borrowed from Marion’s Kitchen, ie, some Asian influence. Simply, I infused the risotto stock with a little star anise, green onion, fish sauce, and Shaoxing wine. Then, I finish the scampi cook with a splash of soy sauce. This just adds a level of flavor that can’t be beat without overwhelming the basics of this classIc dish.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup Shaoxing wine
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1 green onion, cut into 4-5 pieces
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter + more
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup white onion, diced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • Chopped parsley
  • Zest of 1/4 lemon
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 8-10 (u15, extra large) shrimp, peeled, cleaned, tails left on
  • 1/4 tsp red Chile flakes
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

Directions:

  • Place the chicken stock, star anise, green onion, Shaoxing wine, and fish sauce in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the star anise, turn off the heat, and keep warm until ready to use. Leaving the star anise too long will infuse too much of it’s essence for my taste.
  • Place a large saucepan over medium low heat and add the butter and olive oil. When the oil and butter is hot, add the onions and saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Do not let them brown. Add the risotto and saute another 5 minutes, stirring.
  • Add the wine and let it cook until almost gone. Then begin ladling in about 4 ounces of stock at a time, stirring and letting it cook until mostly gone before adding more. Do this until almost all of the stock is gone. Turn off the heat, cover, and let sit about 5-10 minutes. Stir in 1 tbsp butter and the parmesan cheese. Taste and make sure the risotto is cooked al dente or to your liking, It shouldn’t need salt as the parmesan is salty. Stir in some chopped parsley and the lemon zest.
  • Heat a medium non stick skillet over medium heat and add the olive oil.
  • Make sure your shrimp is completely dry using paper towels.
  • When the oil is hot add the shrimp and let it cook about 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and add the chopped garlic and red pepper flakes, stirring it all together. After another 1 minute, add the soy sauce and toss together. Do not overcook the shrimp or it will become rubbery and tough. Turn off the heat.
  • To serve, ladle some risotto in your bowl or plate and add a few shrimp. Spoon some of the garlic chile oil from the skillet over the shrimp. Serve immediately.

THE BEST BOLOGNESE

Contrary to some people’s beliefs…Bolognese is not a meat sauce made from bologna…or is it bologne! Just kidding…I digress.

So, what’s the different between Bolognese and plain Meat Sauce? Well…meat, basically. Meat Sauce is a tomato based sauce flavored with meat, usually ground beef. Bolognese is a meat based sauce flavored with a little tomato. Here’s how I make mine.

You’ll find dozens of recipes….a lot of them a very tomato forward. This one is meat forward all the way.

Where you can make a meat or marinara sauce in less than an hour, bolognese typically takes at least 2 hours. Take your time with it…stir it a lot…taste it….reseason it if necessary.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, rough chop
  • 2 medium celery ribs, rough chop
  • 1 medium carrot, peeled, rough chop
  • 2 small cloves garlic
  • 3 ounces pancetta, diced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 ounces wide pasta like pappardelle or tagliatelle
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

  • To the bowl of a food processor, add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, and pancetta. Process on low until everything is minced. Remove to a mixing bowl and set aside.
  • Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add 2 tbsp of olive oil. Crumble in the ground beef and break up with a wooden spoon. Let it cook, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink. Drain the liquid from the meat, place in a bowl, and return the pan to the heat. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Add 2 tbsp of olive oil then add the minced vegetables and pancetta. Saute, stirring, for about 5 minutes until the vegetable are translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add the cooked ground beef and the wine (I used chardonnay) to the pan and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated. Smashing with a wooden spoon.
  • Add the tomato paste and incorporate into the meat and vegetables with the spoon. Add the chicken stock, the milk, and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer again, stirring so everything gets incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Not too much salt as the pancetta is salty. Lower the heat to a bare simmer. Cook, uncovered, for about 2 hours. If if becomes to dry before the 2 hurst’s, add little more stock. Stir the sauce often.
  • Taste and reseason if necessary. Cover and keep warm while the pasta cooks.
  • Cook the pasta in salted water al dente, do not drain.
  • Spoon a quantity of the sauce in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. The amount of bolognese should be determined by how much pasta you are making right now. You will have a lot of bolognese left over.
  • When the pasta is done, using a tongs, add the pasta to the bolognese in the skillet. Turn off the heat and toss the pasta in the Bolognese. Plate to pasta bowls, add more bolognese if desired, and serve with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.

SALSA ALLA MARINARA

One of the 5 Mother Sauces in French cooking is red sauce, tomato sauce…marinara sauce. The basic difference between a classic tomato sauce and a marinara sauce is simplicity. Classic tomato sauce recipes use onions, carrots, celery, garlic, herbs, beef stock, a few spices and several hours of cooking. A simple marinara, like this one, comes together in less than an hour with only a few ingredients.

This marinara sauce works so well with any pasta or as the sauce in a lasagna or baked ziti.

It uses whole canned San Marzano tomatoes, though fresh ripe tomatoes works as well.

Don’t forget: season in layers…taste…then season again. Finishing with a couple pats of cold unsalted butter makes this sauce silky smooth.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • 4 small garlic cloves, thin sliced – about 2 tbsp of garlic
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 ounce) can whole San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 sprig of fresh basil and leaves
  • 1 tsp sugar (opt.)
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 tbsp of cold, unsalted butter

Directions:

  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium low heat. Add the diced onions and saute, stirring, abut 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Season with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Add the tomatoes paste, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, basil sprig, and sugar.
  • Bring sauce to a simmer, lower the heat to low, and place the cover askew. Simmer for 45 minutes, checking and stirring once in a while.
  • Taste and reseason if necessary.
  • Turn off the heat. Add the cold butter and stir until melted.

ITALIAN WEDDING SOUP – REDUX

I posted a version of this back in September, but this recipe is slightly different. It uses lean ground pork (instead of ground veal) and ground beef for the meatballs. Also, I chose to poach the meatballs in the stock instead of browning and baking them. I found this leads to a more tender meatball and is much easier in the long run.

Ingredients:

For the meatballs:

  • 12 ounces of lean ground beef
  • 4 ounces of lean ground pork
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs, torn in small pieces
  • 1/2 cup panko crumbs
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 1 egg

For the soup:

  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 1/2 cup minced celery
  • 1/2 cup minced carrot
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or white wine
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup Acini pasta (or Orzo)
  • 4 ounces baby spinach, stems removed
  • Grated parmesan for garnish

Directions:

  • Place the bread crumbs and cream in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low for 1 minute. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients and mix on low for 3 minutes.
  • Form the mix into 1/2 ounce meatballs, about the size of a large marble, and place on a large plate. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  • Place 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and saute for about 4-5 minutes until the vegetable begin to soften. Season lightly with salt and white pepper (black pepper is O.K.).
  • Add the dry sherry and stir for about 2 minutes. Add the stock, 1/2 tsp Kosher salt, 1/4 tsp of white pepper, and 1 tsp dry dill. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
  • Add the meatballs to the soup, cover, and simmer on low for 15 minutes.
  • Add the acini pasta to the soup, cover, and simmer for 7 minutes. Add the spinach and simmer for 1 minutes, making sure the spinach is covered. Taste and reseason if necessary.
  • Serve with grated parmesan cheese.
  • Note: Cool the soup immediately if not serving right away or for leftovers. If not cooled, the pasta will absorb too much of the soup.

THE BEST ZUPPA TOSCANA

If I had to choose today, this would be my favorite soup. It’s got Italian sausage, potatoes, a lot of garlic, and kale. A full meal soup that comes together in less than an hour, and, the leftovers freeze well.

You can substitute spinach for the kale, but kale holds up better. Also, if you aren’t going to eat this soup right away, then cool it down quickly as the potatoes can get mushy if it sits around on the stove too long.

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices of bacon, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 3/4 lb Italian sausage links (about 2), casings removed
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 3 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large Russet potato
  • 1 cup cream or half and half
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped chives

Directions:

  • Place the leeks, garlic, onion, and bacon in a food processor. Pulse until it is all minced fine.
  • Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. Add the vegetable/bacon mixture and the Italian sausage. Crumble and chop the sausage. Stir and cook everything for about 8 minutes until the sausage is no longer pink. Add the red pepper flakes, thyme leaves, bay leaf, and salt and white pepper to taste.
  • Deglaze the pan with the dry sherry and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat, cover, and cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Do not peel the potato. Cut lengthwise twice into quarters then slice 1/4 thick pieces. Add the potatoes and cook on low, covered, for about 9 minutes until the potatoes are just fork tender but not mushy. Add the cream and heat through. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Remove the bay leaf. Taste and reseason if necessary.
  • Serve garnished with grated parmesan and chopped chives or green onions.

ZUPPA TOSCANA

Yes, the Olive Garden favorite! I worked at the O.G. in the 90’s as a Kitchen Manager, so, I helped make this daily. My recipe is slightly different, ie, I use cream instead of milk and I throw in a little dry sherry.

A couple of chef’s notes: After you add the potatoes and they are cooked, if you are not serving it right away, cool it down immediately by placing it in a shallow baking dish in the reefer. If not, the potatoes will get mushy real soon. Also, don’t skimp on the garlic. I used 1 large (elephant) garlic clove, so 2 normal cloves will suffice.

Ingredients:

  • 2 thick slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Italian sausage links (about 8 ounces total), casings removed
  • 1 medium leek, diced
  • 1 cup white onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and white pepper
  • 2-3 cups kale, ribs removed, 1 inch chop
  • 2 medium Russet potatoes (1 1/2 lbs), leave skin on, quartered lengthwise then 3/8 inch slice

Directions:

  • In a large saucepan over medium heat, add the olive oil then add the diced bacon. Let it render for about 3 minutes then crumble in the Italian sausage. Cook, stirring, until the sausage is lightly browned.
  • Add the leeks and the onions and cook for 5-6 minutes. Season with salt and white pepper (use black if you don’t have white). Stir in the minced garlic, red pepper flakes, and the thyme leaves and cook for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the dry sherry and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock, lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Add the chopped kale and cook another 20 minutes. Add the potatoes and simmer gently, covered, for 10 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Do not overcook as the potatoes will be mushy. Turn off the heat and add the cream and stir. Taste and season with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately for keep warm or cool immediately.

SHRIMP CAPELLINI POMODORO

We love Capellini Pomodoro. We have it quite often as a vegetarian break from heavier meat dishes. It’s so simple…Capellini (angel hair) pasta, diced tomatoes, minced garlic, olive oil, grated Parmesan cheese, and fresh sliced basil leaves (chiffonade). Every once in a while, we throw in the garlic sautéed shrimp…and there you have it!

It takes a little prep, but comes together really quickly after that.

First, the tomatoes. I have seen recipes that call for canned, diced tomatoes. Now, I love and cook with canned tomatoes all the time, especially San Marzano tomatoes. However…canned tomatoes need to be cooked or they will have a metallic taste. Pomodoro does not involve actually cooking the tomatoes, but just quickly heating them up in a saute. So…I prefer, and advise you to use, fresh, tomatoes…specifically, fresh, ripe Roma tomatoes. Take the time to skin the tomatoes (directions below), it makes for a much more refined result. You will be happy you did. This dish also requires fresh basil leaves, dried basil will not cut it. Sorry, but this is as fresh a pasta dish as you can get. Also, remember…capellini pasta cooks in about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. It is extremely thin and only works with a short cook time.

This recipe serves 2-3 people.

Ingredients:

  • About 3 ripe Roma tomatoes
  • 8-10 ounces (8-10) extra large (U-15) shrimp
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (rolled up like a cigar and thin sliced)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 6-7 ounces of capellini (angel hair) pasta

Directions:

  • Bring a medium saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Cut a small X in the small end of the Roma tomatoes. With a small paring knife, remove the core from the tomatoes. Fill a mixing bowl with ice cubes and water. Place the tomatoes in the boiling water for no more than 30 seconds or you will stew them. Remove the tomatoes from the boiling water with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into the ice water. Let cool for a few seconds. Use you paring knife and peel the skin off starting at the X you placed in the ends. Then half them lengthwise then in half again then slice into 1 inch pieces. Set aside.
  • Make sure your shrimp is shelled and cleaned of the digestive tract.
  • Cook your capellini in salted boiling water for 2 1/2 minutes. Drain and return to the saucepan. Toss with a little olive oil so it won’t stick together, cover, and keep warm.
  • Place a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the shrimp to the skillet and spread evenly. Season lightly with salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Let cook for 45 seconds then turn and let cook another 30 seconds. Throw in the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the diced tomatoes and toss. Season with salt and pepper. Toss a few more times for about 45 seconds. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese and toss.
  • Place the cooked capellini in a large mixing bowl and add the shrimp and tomatoes. Add the fresh basil chiffonade and toss well. Serve immediately in large pasta bowls with more grated Parmesan.

PASTA e FAGIOLE

Pasta Fagioli…Pasta Fazool…or Pasta e Fagiole…however you choose to call it…it means Pasta and Beans soup. And it is one of the great meal soups. It’s got everything…vegetables, meat (Italian sausage or ground beef), pasta, and beans.

As always, you will find dozens of recipes from dozens of Italian chefs. No argument here…this is just my take on it. And, it is pretty much an accurate representation of Olive Garden Pasta Fagiole…I was a Kitchen Manager with The Olive Garden for 3 years.

I chose to use cannelini and red kidney beans, but you can use any favorite bean, tender bean. I the pasta is ditalini, but any small pasta, like elbow macaroni, will work.

One chef’s note: I would suggest you cook the pasta (Ditalini in this case) separately then add it at service. No matter how much stock or liquid you have in your soup, the pasta will almost always absorb most of it and it become Pasta Fagiole Stew instead of soup. When I freeze Pasta Fagiole, I cool the soup first, then add cooled pasta before freezing. Believe me, it is a method that works great, preserving the integrity of this iconic Italian soup.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 pound Italian sausage, removed from the casings
  • 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, chopped
  • 1 large rib of celery, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 (15 oz) cans of cannelini, red kidney, or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
  • 4 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups ditalini
  • Grated parmesan
  • Chopped parsley

Directions:

  • Add olive olive oil to a large saucepan over medium heat.
  • Place chopped onions, carrots, and celery in a food processor and process until finely minced. Add to the saucepan and saute for 7 minutes, stirring, until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add the minced chopped rosemary, and garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
  • Add the diced tomatoes and the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add the drained and rinsed beans and let simmer for another 15 minutes.
  • Cook the ditalini according to package directions (about 8 minutes). Drain and cool.
  • Reheat the ditalini in some hot water, a microwave will do. Then ladle soup into bowls, some pasta and garnish with grated parmesan and chopped parsley.