Category Archives: Italian

Spinach & Cheese Manicotti with Homemade Marinara Sauce

When I was pregnant, I prepared and froze meals to heat up after the baby was born.  The baby is now a sprouting 9 month old and I still prepare frozen meals.  It’s a great way to ensure that there’s always food in the house without worrying about spoilage.  My favorite freezer meals are of the Italian-inspired variety.  While, I usually always make lasagna, I wanted to change things up and try manicotti.

And, while I usually use store-bought marinara, I was all out and made my own.  With simple ingredients cooked slowly, the resulting sauce was astounding.  Full of flavor and fresh unlike some jarred sauces you may run across.  I can’t wait to try more variations for different types of pasta dishes!

Spinach & Cheese Manicotti

adapted from Allrecipes.com

Ingredients:

  • 1 (8 oz) package of manicotti shells
  • 1 (15 oz) container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 (10 oz) package of frozen spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry and chopped
  • 1/2 cup onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp parsley, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 big pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (divided)
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (divided)
  • 4 cups marinara sauce, recipe below

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, spinach, onion, garlic, egg, parsley, pepper, salt, garlic powder, and nutmeg until well combined.  Stir in 1 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese.
  3. In a 9 x 13 baking dish, spread 1 cup of marinara sauce.  Spoon the filling into a large plastic or piping bag.  Snip the corner and squeeze the filling into the uncooked manicotti shells.
  4. Place each filled shell into the marinara sauce.  Fill up the remaining shells and lay them over the marinara in a single layer.
  5. Cover the pasta with the remaining marinara.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese over the pasta dish.  (If you want to make a freezer meal, stop here and cover for freezing.)
  6. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes.  Remove the foil and cook for an additional 15 minutes.

Marinara Sauce

barely adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 (32 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves

Directions:

  1. In a large casserole pot, heat the oil over a medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onions and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon of each salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
  4. Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.
  6. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.

 

 

 

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4 Comments

Filed under Italian, Pasta, Sauces, Vegetarian

Lombardi’s v. Grimaldi’s

Since we’re on the comparison track, another quest of mine in NY was of course, the pizza quest.  Needless to say that Binks and I are huge pizza fans and you really just can’t go to NY without getting a NY slice.

After some minor research, we compared the highest and most popularly rated pizza places in NY according to Yelp – well minus a few that I didn’t get to try.

First, to Lombardi’s.  After we walked from the Lower West side to SoHo, we were famished.  Upon reaching Lombardi’s we were concerned about the stated wait time of approximately 45 minutes.  What was supposed to be a long wait turned into a 15 minute rest time as many people whose names were called, I think, just didn’t hear it.  So, we were immediately seated and given a menu.  We knew what we wanted.  Half of the Original Margherita and half pepperoni.

Delicious.  Let’s start with the crust as it really was my favorite part.  Usually unnoticed, this crust was perfectly chewy and had a taste – and not just a ‘I’m there as a bread’ taste.  Second, the sauce was quite flavorful without being overpowering for the pie.  I preferred the margherita, but Binks favored the pepperoni – probably for the added saltiness. Can I say that b/c of this experience, I now am requiring (to whoever will listen) that all my pizzas come with fresh basil baked in?!?!  Hello Flavor Town!

I left a very happy and satisfied blimp.

A few days later, we took some cousins, my sister, my mom and my aunt on a trek to Grimaldi’s.  We met them up near Wall St., which I discovered is not that large of a street at all, and decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge.  Slightly over a 1 mile walk, at around .25 miles, my mom and aunt started wondering how much longer it would be.  Oy ve.

Once we got there, around 7:00 p.m., the line was discouraging.   For our group of 6, this seemed daunting as we were sure that the 2-person groups would be picked over us, which was happening.  But, 30 minutes later, the Grimaldi’s person came out and said, who was that group of six?  We raised our hands – how polite.  He said, “You’re up – come on in.”  You could feel the tension in the line.  And the happiness on my mom and aunt’s face.

We got in and got seated.  We ordered one margherita pie and one pepperoni.

This is what I managed to get a picture of after our hungry group saw the food.

I have to say, didn’t beat Lombardi’s.  And, I was expecting it to considering that everyone says the best pizza comes from Brooklyn.  Everyone I talked to anyway.  Tell me if you know different.  I liked it but it left me wanting something more from the slice.  For instance, the crust lacked real flavor to me.  While cooked perfectly, I wished for the texture of the one from Lombardi’s.  Also, (again b/c I was spoiled), there was a lack of flavor in the sauce – especially the basil flavor.  And, unfortunately I know why.  Watching them making it, I noticed that at the end of the assembly, the man simply throws a pinch of (what I saw of) Italian seasoning and basil right in the middle of the pie.  So if you look at the slice above, there is a basil leaf there and aside from that, no real depth of flavor compared to my previous experience at Lombardi’s.  We all picked the pepperoni – the other one was deemed too plain.

So, in this comparison of Grimaldi’s v. Lombardi’s – Lombardi’s takes the pie!

Oh and turns out – there’s a Grimaldi’s in Dallas – whomp whomp whomp.

Other places I wanted to (and one day will try) – DiFiara’s and Lucali – obviously, this list is not exhaustive.

Have you been to either?  Do you agree or disagree with me?  Are you a NY pizza fan?  What’s your favorite NY place?

19 Comments

Filed under Italian

And then, I Ate.

I have been in a foodie funk lately.  Be it the pregnancy or the insane work hours, but eating has been the last thing on my mind.  And, then, NY happened.  I vacationed in NY for the past week.  And by vacationed, I mean I was there for my cousin’s wedding and was busier than when I am at home.  That didn’t stop me from eating though.  I deemed that there are no triglycerides in NY!  Binks and I did everything we could to find little pockets of time to just be alone in the city, away from demanding family.  (After the wedding was done, of course).

I try to avoid touristy things when I travel.  I hate tours.  Nay.  I despite tours.  My favorite way to travel is to walk around and look around.  I have not been disappointed to date.

However, when traveling, I tend to be very tourist-y when it comes to food.  With my new-found addiction to Yelp, I was in a rampage in NYC.  Except, that ATT service rendered my iPhone a POS in the city.  Nonetheless, on the way to find a pizza place, we stumbled upon Carmine’s.  Who knew it was a thing?

We went in for lunch.  Binks and I usually share when we go out but at Carmine’s, sharing is required.  All meals are served family style.  The portions are large and the food is quite simply – pretty fantastic.

They started us out with the bread basket.  There were wonderful saucy, cheesy pieces of bread that Binks and I quickly devoured around.

I apologize that all you can see are remnants of the sauce.  It was THAT good.

We ordered the rigatoni with sausage and broccoli.  Hey, I had to get in my veggies somewhere!

It was wonderful and saucy.  The pasta – perfectly al dente.  The sauce – perfectly FRESH!!  You definitely don’t taste tomato paste.  And, yes, I have been to places and tasted the tomato paste.  Haven’t you?

So, Binks and I usually would have stopped our meal here.  But, a couple of things happened.  First, the waiter messed up our order.  We asked for red sauce, but they brought it out in white.  So, no biggie.  Second, the waiter spilled water next to me.  Mind you, an apology would have been just fine, but these wonderful people not only apologized but also gave us free dessert!

Binks chose the tiramisu.  I agreed.

I thought they would bring out a slice of tiramisu.  I thought, I should save room for second dessert later (more on this to come soon!).  I thought wrong.

When I saw the waiter walk to us with this, I accidentally let out some expletives.  It was THAT big.  I mean a whole pie plate of tiramisu!!  For two of us.  Binks and I finished 1/8th of it and was really sad we couldn’t take it home as we were going to be walking around for a bit.

Verdict: The best tiramisu I’ve had in a long time.

Everything meshed together perfectly, the mascarpone with the coffee soaked cake and bites of chocolate shavings.  I was in Italian heaven.

Thinking back I should have eaten more of it.  Thinking at that time, my pregnancy stretch pants would have busted.

Have you been to Carmine’s in NY?  What’s your opinion?  Do you dig tours?

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Filed under Italian

I Woke Up At 3:00 a.m. So United Could Sleep In

Remember when I said my flight to San Fran was at 6:30 a.m.?  In order to get to the airport on time without panic, I had to get up at 3 a.m.  So, I got up at 3:00 a.m.  Then, I get to the airport and find that my 6:30 a.m. departure was delayed to 8:42 a.m.  Reason:  The pilots need to sleep before the flight.  I understand the legal ramifications of pilots and sleep, but how this could not have been anticipated is beyond me.  Needless to say, there was a lot of uncomfortable airport sleeping.

But, I got my second run once we landed in San Francisco.

Because we landed prior to check-in, we went straight to Fisherman’s Wharf.

As Binks and I were quite famished by the time we landed, we stopped off Boudin for a quick lunch.  While waiting for lunch, we were happy to see what was next door.

I ordered the California Veggie sandwich for lunch.

The sandwich was exactly what I needed after the flight.  Yummy bites of cucumber, tomatoes, roasted red bell pepper, pepper jack cheese, sun-dried tomato spread, onions and balsamic vinegar really made this sandwich the deliciousness that it was.

Binks got the half special: (1. half sandwich and 2. half soup).  Of course we had to try the famous clam chowder.

This sandwich totally reminded me of this.  Boudin, you really did not hold back at all on portions, did you?  Binks and I should have just split a meal.

After our large lunch, we walked.

And met a new friend.

We took a boat cruise tour, and enjoyed sites that we could not fit into our trip to San Fran this time around.  Like Alcatraz.

We walked to the Ferry Building but only to realize that the Farmers’ Market had closed. I have had my heart set on a bit of a Frog Hollow Farm pear.

After wandering, we checked into our hotel and rested.  An hour later (fighting any and all temptations to just fall asleep for the night), we left the hotel room to tour around more…and eat dinner.

After some considerable Yelp-ing, we found Firenze by Night.  This was one of the best Italian meals I have ever had.

I ordered the eggplant dish (the name of which I cannot remember).  Basically, it’s breaded eggplant, layered with caramelized onions, tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.  It’s heaven on a plate.  Although my picture doesn’t do it any justice at all.

And in the north-eastern portion of my plate, Binks shared his ravioli with meat sauce with me.  This meal was magical.  So magical that it stopped Binks in his tracks from just hoovering his food in 5 minutes.

After this hectic day, it’s time to unwind with some mindless TV and much-needed sleep.  Good night everyone!  🙂

Are you a clam chowder fan?  Have you tried Boudin?  Any suggestions in the Bay Area? 

A big thank you to Rice Kernel’s mom for the Bay area suggestions!  🙂

10 Comments

Filed under Bread, Italian, Vacation

Easy Breezy Beautiful

Cover Girl Lasagna.

I’m a fan of make-ahead meals.

During a busy week, my make-ahead meals are a life saver, a budget saver and a health saver.

Instead of ordering pizza or grabbing something on the way home, I can come home, open the freezer and bake a main dish within an hour.

My favorite make-ahead meal:  Lasagna.

After several attempts with several recipes, this is my absolute favorite.

While it isn’t the easiest to put together and requires some time on my part, it is quite worth it.

I never get tired of lasagna.  I can have it for a week-straight – lunch and dinner – which is exactly how long this recipe lasts.

My Favorite Lasagna
adapted from here

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onions, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
  • 2 (6.5 oz) cans tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp white sugar
  • 1 tbsp fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 4 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 12 lasagna noodles *I buy the ones you do not have to pre-boil
  • 16 oz skim milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Directions:
  1. Heat a dutch oven (or large pot) over medium-high heat.
  2. Once pot is hot, add olive oil and wait for it to heat up.
  3. Once oil is hot, add onions and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes, until soft.
  4. Add ground beef.  Cook until browned.
  5. Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water.
  6. Add sugar, basil, fennel seeds, Italian seasoning, 1 T salt, pepper and 2 T parsley.
  7. Cover and simmer for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally.
  8. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  9. Make ricotta mixture:  combine ricotta cheese, egg, 2 T parsley and nutmeg.
  10. Assemble in the following layers:  (a) 1.5 cups of meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna dish, (b) arrange approximately 6 noodles to cover the meat sauce, (c) add 1/2 of the ricotta mixture to the noodles and spread evenly, (d) add 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese slices, (e) add 1.5 cups of meat sauce over the cheese slices, (f) sprinkle 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese over the meat sauce, (g) arrange another 6 noodles to cover the top, (h) add remaining 1/2 of the ricotta mixture to the noodles and spread evenly, (i) add 1/3 of the mozzarella cheese slices, (j) add 1.5 cup of the meat sauce over the cheese, (k) add remaining mozzarella cheese slices, (l) sprinkle remaining Parmesan cheese on top.
  11. Spray foil with non-stick spray and cover the lasagna dish.
  12. Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes.
  13. Remove foil and bake an additional 25 minutes.
  14. Remove from oven and allow to set for about 10 minutes before serving.

Are you a fan of make-ahead meals?  What’s your make-ahead meal?

20 Comments

Filed under baking, Favorites, Italian

A Biscotti By Any Other Name…Would Be Cake Rusk

One of my favorite tea-time snacks as a kid was Indian cake rusk.  Do you know what it is?  Have you had it?

Well, it is delicious.

Since then I’ve grown up.

Since then I’ve also realized that cake rusk is really biscotti.  Since then I’ve made biscotti.  Several times.  And called it cake rusk to my Indian family so they too can understand – and awe at my creation.

And what I mean by “my creation” is that I used the recipe from Smitten Kitchen and changed it up a tad.

This is hands-down my favorite biscotti recipe.

The flavor is outstanding.  The subtle citrus combined with almonds makes this cake rusk biscotti perfect for tea time or any time at all.

Biscotti/Cake Rusk
–  adapted from here

Ingredients:

  • 3  1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 T baking powder
  • 1/3 t salt
  • 1  1/2 cup sugar
  • 1  1/4 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 T vanilla extract
  • 1/4 t almond extract
  • 1 T orange juice
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  3. Mix sugar, melted butter, eggs, vanilla extract, almond extract, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
  4. Mix flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.
  5. By hand, not using an electric mixer, incorporate the flour mixture in three batches into the sugar/butter mixture.
  6. Incorporate until everything is blended and smooth.
  7. Add almonds to cookie dough.
  8. Divide dough in half and shape into two logs onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  9. Make each dough into a 13-inch-long and 2-inch-high log.
  10. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes.
  11. Remove from oven, but do not turn off oven.  Or, if you have to turn off the oven, note that you must have the oven back at 350 F when you re-bake the cookies.
  12. Cool completely.
  13. Once cool, transport the cookies (holding onto the parchment) to a cutting board.
  14. Cut each log into 1/2 wide slices.
  15. Lay each slice back on the cookie sheet with cut sides facing down.
  16. Bake for 12 minutes.
  17. Turn the cookies over and bake for another 8 minutes.
  18. Remove from oven and cool on a cooling rack.

FYI – Currently listening to: Pleasure Songs by The Mary Onettes

Do you like biscotti?  Have you tried the Smitten Kitchen recipe?  Do you drink it with tea? 

19 Comments

Filed under baking, Cookies, Desserts, Italian, Vegetarian

The Sauce And The Mess

Are you a clean freak?  I am.  I can go INSANE with the cleaning.  And, I do – especially in the kitchen.

I’m obviously looking for affirmation.  So, tell me you’re crazy like me!  Are you?

And nothing – and I mean nothing – messes up a kitchen like making your favorite marinara sauce.  Whether from scratch or Semi Olie-Made, it’s all a mess.  But, what’s a girl to do when all she wants for dinner is to hit up the sauce?  You make it anyway and worry about the consequences after the delicious meal is over.

See my pretty kitchen?  That sauce looks harmless right?

It’s not.  It’s a tomato-licious volcano ready to explode EVERYWHERE.

A closer look only proves my point.  The pot is already spewing and I can imagine the horror and catastrophe to be left behind once it really simmers.  (Are these my actual thoughts when I cook?  Yes.  And, yes – I have problems.  No judgment!)

At this point you may be thinking/pondering of the following:

1.  Why didn’t she just use a bigger pot?  Great question folks!  I have no answer other than – I didn’t think it would get this large.  That’s what she said.

2.  What is that around the stove trim rings?  Don’t know what I’m talking about.  Look again:

This is my NUMERO UNO tip for keeping your stove clean – FOIL!  If you have ever cleaned them, you know it’s a mess.  You have soak, scrub and sometimes repeat the process. 

I tend to cook many meals at one time and it takes a toll on my stove top.  If you’re like me, you know that things get stuck after that much heat.

Wrapping the rings in foil is a trick my mom taught me to ensure that I have one less thing to clean.  I not only wrap the ring, but I also the part under the ring – the cup-like part with the hole in it.  (That’s what she said.)  If you think of the name – tell me and I can delete this whole pathetic paragraph with one word!

Easy keep-it-clean tips/tricks like these help me relax just a little bit more when I cook.  Tips/tricks like these help me relax just a little bit more while I enjoy my favorite marinara sauce.

Marinara Sauce Vegetarian

Ingredients:

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28 oz) canned tomatoes, diced
  • 1 (12 oz) bag of cherry tomatoes, halved (or you can use regular tomatoes – 1 cup chopped)
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp honey (vegan option: sugar)
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled finely with your hands
  • 1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Heat large (don’t make the same mistake I did) sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Pour olive oil and heat.
  3. Add onions and garlic.  Saute until translucent.
  4. Add fresh tomatoes, honey, salt and bay leaves.  Cook until the tomatoes become soft and the juices start flowing – approximately 10 minutes.
  5. Pour entire can of tomatoes into sauce pan.
  6. Cover and reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.
  7. 30 minutes before the sauce is done – add the tomato paste, basil, oregano, garlic powder, and black pepper.

Extra:

–  I added tempeh to mine as follows:

  • 30 minutes before the sauce is done, I saute 8 oz tempeh (roughly chopped) in another pan with some olive oil until fully heated inside and a bit browned on the outside.
  • Add it into the sauce about 15 minutes before the sauce is done.

–  This is a chunky sauce.  If you want it to be smoother, run the final sauce (prior to the addition of any tempeh) through the blender.  Or use your immersion blender.

How do you keep your kitchen clean while you cook?  What’s your keep-it-clean tip/trick?  Do you wrap your stove rings in foil?  Are you a clean freak?

11 Comments

Filed under Favorites, garlic, Italian, olive oil, Uncategorized, Vegan, Vegetarian