Tag Archives: Italian

Sicilian Tuna and Potatoes

Last week I found a decent looking, big piece of tuna on sale at my local supermarket (Lowes Foods). Jim’s not into the usual ahi preparation – seared on the outside, raw in the middle – so I had to come up with something different. I couldn’t find a recipe that fit my mood so I combined a bunch of flavors and came up with my own recipe.

I had a bunch of leftover black garlic roasted potatoes – that was my start. Scanning the frig, I saw fennel, red bell pepper, herbs and lemon. I started writing down ingredients and then put them into cooking order. The resulting dish was full of flavor. Real comfort food.

Why Sicilian tuna? Because tuna, fennel, peppers, capers and lemon conjure up an image of lunch alongside a rocky Sicilian shore.

If you don’t happen to have roasted potatoes lying around, you could take time to make some or use white beans instead. The rest of the dish takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. 

Sicilian Tuna and Potatoes recipe from Grabbing the Gusto

Sicilian Tuna and Potatoes

You’ll need a large sauté pan.

  • Olive oil
  • Large piece of tuna
  • Medium onion or leek, sliced
  • Fennel, green stems removed, trimmed, sliced
  • Red, orange or yellow bell pepper, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
  • 3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3/4 cup grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Roasted potato cubes or wedges
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • Garnish: chopped fresh parsley and basil

Heat oil. Sauté tuna on both sides until it’s cooked to your liking. Remove to a plate.

Add more oil if needed. Sauté onion, fennel and red bell pepper until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, ground fennel and capers, stirring frequently, until fragrant and sizzling but not browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook until softened.

Add wine, bring to simmer and cook about 1 minute. Stir in tuna, potatoes, parsley, basil, lemon zest and juice, salt and pepper and cook a few minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in butter if you’re using it. Taste for salt and pepper and add more, if needed. You could also sprinkle it with a little more parsley and basil.

Italian Fig Cookies – Cucidati for Christmas

I love Italian cookies. My grandmother’s neighborhood in East Cambridge, Massachusetts had a fantastic Italian bakery, Royal Pastry Shop. Whenever we went to Grandma’s house, she would send out my Grandpa to get donuts, Italian cookies or Portuguese sweet bread. But the Italian cookies were always my favorite.

Even today, Italian cookies from Royal are bound to show up at a family event. My cousin even had them at her rehearsal dinner on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I’m hoping someone brings them to Christmas this year. But just in case, maybe I’ll make some of my own, starting with these fig cookies.

Every few years, I bake a lot of Christmas cookies. Last year was one of those years. I made these delicious Italian fig cookies along with several others. They take some time since you have to make candied orange peel – unless you’re lucky enough to find high-quality peel in a store. Plus, there’s the rolling and cutting. But, by gosh, they’re worth it. I made five different cookies last Christmas, and these were our favorites.

itlalian fig christmas cookies cucidati recipe

Italian Fig Cookies – Cucidati

Makes about 5 dozen cookies

You’ll need a vegetable peeler, small saucepan, tongs, food processor, plastic wrap, two baking sheets, parchment paper or Silpat, rolling pin, pastry brush,


  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces cold unsalted butter or 1/2 pound cold lard, cut into pieces
  • 4 large eggs


  • One 12-ounce package dried Calimyrna or Mission figs
  • 1/2 cup unblanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup plump golden raisins (rehydrate in hot water if necessary)
  • 1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced (see recipe below)
  • 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dark rum
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large egg beaten with a pinch of salt, for egg wash
  • Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Put flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a food processor fitted with the metal blade; pulse just to mix. Add the butter pieces and pulse 20 times. Add eggs and pulse until dough forms a ball on the blade. Remove from processor and knead briefly on a lightly floured work surface until smooth. Shape dough into a log and wrap in plastic.

Remove stems from figs and cut the figs into medium-size dice. Put figs and remaining filling ingredients into the food processor and pulse with the metal blade until finely chopped. Scrape filling onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead to blend it, and shape it into a rough log. Cut the log into 12 even pieces.

Position racks to divide oven into thirds and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Divide the dough into 12 even pieces.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, on a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough under your hands to form a 12-inch rope. Use a rolling pin to roll the rope into a 3- by 12-inch rectangle. Run a blunt knife under the dough to make certain it hasn’t stuck to the work surface and brush the top of the dough with egg wash.

Roll a piece of filling into a 12-inch rope and center it on the rolled-out dough. Pull the dough up around the filling, making a seam, and roll it into a cylinder, about 15 inches long. Cut them as long as you want.

Transfer the cookies to the prepared baking sheet. Bake cookies for 15 minutes, or until a light golden color. Transfer to racks to cool.


  • 1-3/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Multicolored nonpareils

Sift sugar then add milk slowly to form a soft, smooth icing. If icing gets too thick, microwave it for 10 seconds to thin it enough for dipping. Hold cookie in your hand and turn upside down so you can dip the top half in the glaze; turn over and place on pan. Do about six quickly then immediately top with sprinkles (nonpareils) so they will stick. Allow icing to harden overnight; then store in air-tight containers or freeze.

Original recipes: Cucidati (Italian Fig Cookies), Proud Italian Cook and Cucidati (Sicilian Fig-Filled Cookies), Nick Malgieri, Great Italian Desserts, page 198

Candied Orange Peel

  • 1 large navel orange
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Using a vegetable peeler, cut the orange part of the peel from the stem end of the orange down to the navel end, forming long 3/4 to 1-inch-wide strips.

Bring a heavy small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the peels and cook for 1 minute. Drain and then rinse the peels under cold water. Repeat cooking the peels in the saucepan with fresh boiling water and rinsing under cold water.

Stir the sugar and 1/2 cup of fresh water in a heavy small saucepan over medium-high heat until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Add the orange peels and simmer over medium-low heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the peels to a sheet of parchment paper to dry slightly, about 1 hour.

Original recipe: Candied Orange Peel, Giada De Laurentiis, Food Network

Pork Milanese

We’ve all been there. You have absolutely no idea what to make for dinner, and time is running out. There’s no way you have the energy it takes to cook a decent meal. Take-out, anyone? But you really want to have a proper dinner. Take heart, I have a solution: Pork (or Chicken) Milanese. It’s quick, delicious, and doesn’t take too much effort, plus, you can pound out your stress.

I could eat Pork Milanese once a week, but I know I’ll have those nights when I need my old stand-by so I save it for those desperate moments. I love getting a hit of lemon with the crunchy coating and the tender tasty pork inside.

The original recipe on the Food & Wine website uses 1/4” of olive oil in the skillet. I don’t use nearly that much. I add just enough to cook the cutlets, perhaps two tablespoons. You have to play with your heat if you have an electric stove to keep the temperature hot enough to cook the meat but not so hot that the coating gets overly browned.

All my adult life I’ve had gas stoves until I moved here to North Carolina. Electric stoves suck! Ok, maybe that’s an over-reaction, but I can’t get that same control of heat like I could with gas. It’s high then low then high, ugh. I must be getting better at it because I don’t curse nearly as much while cooking, but if I ever have too much money hanging around, I’ll convert this kitchen to gas.

Enough bitching. Enjoy this quick dinner. It’s a great addition to the quick meal repertoire.

pork cutlet milanese recipe

Pork Milanese

You’ll need a meat pounder/mallet, two plates, two wide shallow bowls, large skillet, and some paper towels.

  • 4 pork boneless cutlets, pounded 1/4 inch thick
  • Salt (or garlic salt) and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup panko crumbs (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (2 ounces)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • Olive oil, for frying
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Season the cutlets with salt and pepper. Put the flour on a plate and the egg in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, mix the panko with the cheese, oregano, and nutmeg. Line a plate with paper towels.

Dredge the cutlets in the flour, tap off the excess, and then dip in the egg, allowing any excess egg to drip back into the bowl. Finally, coat the cutlets with the panko mixture, pressing to help the crumbs adhere.

Heat olive oil in the skillet until shimmering. Add the cutlets to the skillet and fry over medium-high heat, turning once, until crisp, golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Drain the pork on the paper towel-lined plate. I usually squeeze lemon over the pork while it drains on the plate, and serve extra wedges on the side.

Original recipe: Crispy Pork Milanese, Food & Wine

White Pizza

Back in the ’80s and ’90s I was the General Manager of Geppetto Restaurant in Bethesda MD. I was young at the time, in my 20s when I took on that role. It was a formative experience. Yes, that’s cliché to say, but I learned more about people, leadership, management and myself in those years than I probably did anywhere else. I didn’t know that at the time. I figured it out later.

Another thing I didn’t know at the time: I absorbed a lot of knowledge about cooking and food. I guess you can’t stand next to a sauté cook day after day without picking something up.

We were known for our pizza. It reigns in my mind as some of the best pizza I’ve ever had. Ever. There is nothing like a Sm Neo roni on mush – all my old Geppetto chums know that’s a small thin crust with pepperoni, onion and mushroom. It remains the pizza of my dreams.

But a rival to that Sm Neo was our Pizza Bianca. We had the best imported (and aromatic) Fontina cheese. It stunk in a good way.

While I was working at Geppetto our white pizza recipe was published in Gourmet’s “I had a delicious dish, can you get the recipe” column. Since I was a longtime Gourmet subscriber, I still have the clipping from the magazine.

The crust isn’t nearly as good as the Geppetto crust, but we had advantages at Geppetto: a guy whose full-time job was making the pasta and pizza dough, semolina in the flour mix, and a long rise for the the dough. Even though it’s not the same crust, it turned out better than I expected. Some of the center pieces could be a bit crispier but my choice of pan could have caused that. The topping (sauce and cheese) tasted just like my memories. I’m very pleased and can’t believe it took me this long to make.

white pizza bianca Geppetto

Geppetto White Pizza

You’ll need a heavy duty mixer (or you can knead for a longer time by hand), mixer bowl and dough hook, clean dish towel, food processor (or blender, or you can finely mince and mix ingredients by hand), spatula, rolling pin and two sheet pans. The recipe says to use a cake rack or flat perforated pan. I used what I had: a cookie sheet and a sheet pan.


  • 1 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
  • 1-1/2 packages dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups (plus) all-purpose flour, plus more
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 large shallot
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley – I didn’t have dried, so I used about 1-1/2 teaspoons of fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound Fontina cheese, grated — Imported is best, the stinkier the better, but use what you can find.

Sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water in mixer bowl. Stir to dissolve. (I like to let it sit for a few minutes before adding anything else.) Add salt, mix to blend. Add 2-1/2 cups flour and oil. Put bowl on mixer and mix with hook at low to medium speed about 5 minutes until dough forms ball and cleans sides of bowl, adding more flour, one tablespoon at a time, if necessary. I used about 6 extra tablespoons, but your amount will depend on the humidity level of your flour plus other magic factors. Continue mixing until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

Note: This is the part of the recipe where you’re on your own. The amount of additional flour you’ll need will depend on the humidity level in the house and the dryness of your flour. The time it will take to arrive at the desired “smooth and elastic” stage varies as well. Here’s some advice from Alton Brown about what that stage looks like: “Tear off a small piece of dough and flatten into a disc. Stretch the dough until thin. Hold it up to the light and look to see if the baker’s windowpane, or taut membrane, has formed. If the dough tears before it forms, continue to knead the dough.”

Cover the bowl with a dish towel and let it rise in a warm draft-free area for 1 hour. I usually heat the oven to 150 and then turn it off and let it cool down a bit. Then I put the bowl in and shut the door or leave it ajar if it still feels too warm.

Mix all the sauce ingredients (not the cheese) in a food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides every now and then.

Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Pat each half into a round. Let stand 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 475. On a lightly floured surface, roll each round into a 1/8” thick circle (or rectangle depending on your pan shape). Transfer to your pans. Spread with sauce. Sprinkle with Fontina cheese. Bake until edges of pizza are lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes, depending on all kinds of things. Cut into squares and serve immediately.

We usually served these plain, but I had a couple of regulars who always asked for prosciutto on theirs. Many of us topped the slices with chopped pepperoncini. I’m happy to just eat it plain. Swoon.


Rachael Ray’s Minestra has been the backbone of my go-to minestrone soup recipe for many years. Yet, the first time I made it, I felt it was lacking some critical ingredients. I added carrots, celery, tomatoes, zucchini, roasted red bell pepper, rosemary and red pepper flakes. That’s why I call mine a minestrone, not a minestra. With all the additional chopping, I don’t think it qualifies as a 30-minute meal, but it’s a flavorful, comforting soup that’s perfect for a cold night.

What’s the difference between minestra and minestrone? I wondered too. Here’s what I learned. Minestra means soup in Italian. The word minestrone is made up of minestra (soup) and the suffix -one, an augmentative suffix, per Wikipedia. Minestrone literally means the big soup, the one with many ingredients. Since my soup has many more ingredients than Rachael’s, and tastes like a big soup, I call it a minestrone. 

The original recipe doesn’t call for much time on the stove, and I’ve left those instructions here in case you’re short on time. But I prefer to relax and let the pot sit on the stove a little longer. It’s a flexible recipe so add or subtract whatever you like – vegetables, herbs, pesto, potatoes, pasta or rice. I dice the vegetables, but lots of folks like them in bigger pieces.

minestrone minestra soup recipe


You’ll need a deep, large, heavy pot or dutch oven.

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 celery rib, chopped
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/8 pound pancetta, bacon or sausage, chopped
  • 2 pounds escarole, kale or spinach, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 2 (14-ounce) cans of cannellini or great northern beans, drained
  • 1 can petite diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 zucchini, chopped
  • Roasted red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 1 sprig rosemary, chopped
  • A couple pinches ground nutmeg
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • Salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Grated or shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano, for topping

In a large pot over moderate heat, saute onion, carrots, celery, garlic and pancetta in oil for 3 minutes.

Add the greens and wilt them down to fit in the pot. Add beans, tomatoes, zucchini, roasted pepper, broth, rosemary, nutmeg, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook over medium to medium-high heat for 12 minutes, or until greens are softened and no longer bitter.

You can keep it simmering gently on the stove for much longer. I would, I think it helps the flavor, but it’s good to go after only 15 minutes, per Rachael.

Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese on top, and a chunk of hearty bread and a glass of red wine on the side.

Original recipe: Minestra, Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals, Food Network

Grape Focaccia

I used to be pretty handy with yeast. I would go through phases where I played around with baking breads, breakfast pastries and pizza. There’s nothing like the smell of bread or croissants baking in the oven. In Arlington I lived across the street from a really good pastry shop (the one I eventually worked in), and loved it when the wind blew those aromas onto my balcony.

It’s been a long time since I opened a package of yeast, but a few weeks ago I had the urge to make a whole wheat pizza. I was going to use my mixer to knead the dough because that’s been my habit, it’s how we did it in school and in the shop and it stuck with me, but my KitchenAid attachments were in the storage unit. I’m glad they were. It felt good to knead. A dough is really yours if you knead it. I know that sounds corny, but try it and see if you agree. And really, a mixer saves you what? About six or seven minutes? I rather knead.

The pizza came out great. I used a recipe from Eating Well. A whole wheat pizza dough that you make in a few hours will never be anything close to a regular dough that rises over time, but it was tasty, a different pizza experience, but a really good Friday pizza night dinner.

I saw this recipe in the local paper, a New York Times recipe from Melissa Clark. The same week I saw Giada De Laurentiis make grape focaccia on the Cooking Channel. She added shallots and garlic to hers. I followed Melissa’s recipe with Giada’s additions, but adjusted the topping ingredient amounts a bit. It made a delicious sweet and salty Sunday afternoon snack. And Monday morning breakfast. And Tuesday morning breakfast too.

I know yeasted doughs can be daunting, but if you use fresh yeast and follow all the instructions, you’ll do fine. No matter what happens, the focaccia will be delicious.

grape rosemary shallots garlic focaccia

Grape Focaccia

You’ll need a small skillet, instant-read thermometer, large bowl, dough scraper (optional), clean dish towel and a 11×17″ sheet pan or cookie sheet.

  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for greasing and drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped, divided
  • 2 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour, more as needed
  • 2/3 cup fine cornmeal
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, divided
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 garlic clove minced
  • 1/2 large shallot, cut into thinly sliced rounds
  • 1 cup seedless black or red grapes, halved
  • Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling.

Warm the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the rosemary leaves. Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.

Place 3/4 cup lukewarm water (105 to 115 degrees) in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over it. Let it stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Stir the olive oil mixture, 1-2/3 cups flour, cornmeal, 3 tablespoons sugar and salt into the yeast mixture. Stir until a soft dough forms.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Knead until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, or knead in a stand mixer with a dough hook attached, for about 5 minutes. If using the stand mixer, finish the dough by hand, on a floured surface, for 1 minute. Add more flour if the dough feels sticky. According to the recipe, it could need as much as another 1/4 cup if the dough feels very sticky. You want damp but not unworkable dough.

At this point in the recipe I was wondering if I messed up measuring because the dough was really sticky and soft. It absorbed at least an additional 2/3 cup of flour as I was kneading. Did I forget to add the cornmeal? I’ll never know until I make it again. I used my dough scraper in my right hand as I kneaded so I wouldn’t gunk up two hands. But it all turned out well. The dough doubled in size during its rise and rose again when baked.

Oil a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, and turn to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover the bowl with a dish towel. Place the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour. Good places for rising dough: gas oven with just the pilot light on, on top of the refrigerator, in a dishwasher a few hours after it’s run  and it’s still a bit warm, near a heat source (but not on or too close to it), or a sunny (but not drafty or too hot) window.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a large cookie sheet or baking pan with some olive oil.

Punch down the dough, then pat it into the pan, stretching it gently into a square or oval about 3/8- to 1/2-inch thick. It should not fill the entire pan. Sprinkle the dough with the garlic and shallot. Scatter the grapes over the dough, pressing them in lightly. Sprinkle the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon rosemary and flaky sea salt over the grapes. Drizzle all over with oil. Bake until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.

Original recipe: Grape Focaccia, News & Observer

Linguine with Walnut Pesto

Slurp, ahhh. I just finished the last of my Linguine with Walnut Pesto leftovers. I’ll confess: I hoarded it all to myself. I made it a few nights ago when we already had more than enough to feast on for dinner. I had it for lunch the next two days. I’m sad it’s gone.

As much as I love basil pesto, I’ve never tried any other type of pesto. I’ve seen lots of recipes for arugula pesto and just a few weeks ago, at a blogger event for Whole Foods Market’s new Cooking Raleigh community (more about that later), I heard a fellow blogger rave about collard greens pesto. I’m intrigued.

This is a great pasta to throw together when you have a hankering for comfort and happen to have some walnuts and dairy in your frig. I bought a pint of heavy cream for a recipe I never made, so the first time I made this I used about a half cup of that instead of ricotta cheese as the original The Kitchn recipe suggested. The second time I used a combination of half and half and 2% milk. You could probably use any type of cream or milk, maybe even cream cheese, or omit the dairy and use pasta water for a lighter dish.

I’ve used linguine and fettuccine in this dish. I prefer the thinner linguine. Depending on your choice of dairy, it can be a heavy dish even without the extra weight of the pasta.

Now you have a good reason to splurge on a can of walnut oil. Once you open it, keep walnut oil in the refrigerator since it has a tendency to get rancid if kept at room temperature.

This Ligurian recipe is from The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti. I imagine that’s a very dangerously delicious cookbook. As if I don’t have enough pasta in my life!

linguine fettuccine walnut pesto recipe

Doesn't look like much, I know.

Linguine with Walnut Pesto

You’ll need a large pot and lid (for pasta), food processor (or blender), two small bowls and colander.

  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (or regular old parmesan), plus more for serving
  • 1/3-1/2 cup heavy cream (or your choice of dairy)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound linguine
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil. Add the pasta, stir to separate the noodles and cook until al dente, according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, put the walnuts, garlic and salt in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. With the motor running, dribble in the olive oil and walnut oil and process just until combined. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the parsley, cheese and cream. Add a few grinds of pepper and stir the mixture until it is well combined and creamy.

Ladle out about 1 cup of the pasta water into another bowl. Drain the pasta. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in the pesto. Add a little of the cooking water at a time and toss until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce, adding more water as needed. I like to reserve the pasta water I don’t use and add it to the leftovers before refrigerating them. It’ll help get the pasta back to a creamy consistency when you reheat it.

Sprinkle with cheese and black pepper when serving. Pour a glass of red wine and ahhhhhh.

Original recipe: Linguine with Walnut Pesto, The Kitchn

Eggplant Pepper Sausage Parmesan

I love eggplant parmesan, but this is much better, so it’s a fitting recipe for my 200th Gusto post. Woo hoo! I’m glad this recipe ends up being my 200th  because I made it up as I went along, and you can too. It’s also a fairly healthy recipe if you don’t go overboard on the cheese.

It all started one Saturday evening when I had a big eggplant, a few poblano peppers, some Italian turkey sausage and no dinner plans. Looking in the cupboard I discovered some spaghetti sauce and in the frig I had basil pesto and mozzarella cheese. I swear I’m not Italian but you wouldn’t know it sometimes. My mind started clicking and my stomach started growling.

This is more an assembly job than anything else, but it’s easier if all your ingredients are ready to go. First you need to roast your eggplant and peppers.

To prepare the eggplant, I peel it, slice it crosswise and lay the pieces out on a foil-lined sheet pan or toaster oven tray. Brush the slices with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil, but not too close to the flame or element; they need to cook, not char. When the top sides are golden-brown, flip them over, brush with oil, sprinkle with salt and roast until golden-brown and cooked.

I used poblano peppers the first time I made this, and after having red bell peppers the second time, I prefer the poblano. They have a more interesting flavor and add green to the layers. To prepare the peppers, cut off the top, remove the stem, seeds and ribs, slice the body into slabs and lay all the pieces (including the top, cut in half) on a foil-lined sheet pan or toaster oven tray, skin side up. No brushing or salting is required. Broil until just the skin is charred, not completely burnt through. Place the pieces in a plastic bag and seal. Let them steam until they’re cool enough to handle, then peel off the skin.

Get the rest of your ingredients ready – mise en place first! My sausage was raw so I had to cook that ahead of time too. You can make this dish with any combination of ingredients you like and in any order, but here’s how I did it last time.

eggplant sausage pepper parmesan recipe

Eggplant Pepper Sausage Parmesan

You’ll need a sheet pan (for roasting ingredients), plastic sealable bag (for steaming roasted peppers) and a baking dish.

  • Eggplant, sliced and roasted
  • Roasted poblano or red bell pepper, cut, roasted and skins removed
  • Italian sausage slices, cooked, sliced crosswise
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Basil pesto
  • Shredded cheese, mozzarella or Italian mix
  • Optional – parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 and let the assembly begin! I made stacks, keeping eggplant with the same diameter in the same stacks. Here’s how I assembled it:

  • Spread a thin layer of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the baking dish.
  • Place slices of eggplant in the dish, separated a bit.
  • Spoon some sauce (maybe a tablespoon) on each one, spread it around.
  • Add a few sausage slices to each one, 2-4 slices depending on the size of the eggplant.
  • Add some cheese to each, maybe a tablespoon, you be the judge.
  • Then it repeats, sort of. Another slice of eggplant.
  • Some sauce.
  • Now add a slice of roasted pepper.
  • Add a bit (maybe a half teaspoon) of pesto, spread it around.
  • More sausage.
  • Another slice of eggplant.
  • More sauce.
  • And the final sprinkling of cheese, go a bit heavier this time. You could add a sprinkle of parmesan on top too.

Bake at 375 for 15 minutes. Everything is already cooked so you’re just allowing it to melt and meld together.

Serve with spaghetti and tomato sauce, garlic bread and a green vegetable, like broccoli or broccoli rabe. Oh, and of course, red wine.

Pasta with Italian Sausage and Peppers

I never intended to write a post about last night’s dinner, fettuccine with Italian sausage and peppers, because I made it with a jar of spaghetti sauce. I didn’t think a “semi-homemade” recipe merited a blog post. How Sandra Lee! Did you know she lives with NY Governor Andrew Cuomo? I bet he’s had this dish a hundred times.

But then I thought, why not? It’s a quick and easy recipe that’s really delicious. It doesn’t even look or taste like a processed meal. Maybe some of my friends would appreciate adding this to their repertoire.

My next nagging thought: isn’t this one of those dishes, like hamburgers, that everyone already knows how to make? No, I shouldn’t assume everyone knows how to make this. Heck, a lot of people probably wouldn’t even think about making it. Sure, if you’ve spent a lot of time around an Italian-American family or kitchen, you’re used to seeing this pasta. But I doubt everyone thinks about this dish when they see sausage and peppers on sale.

My cooking inspiration was the Italian sausage on sale at Lowes Food this weekend for $2.97/pound. Hot or mild, the meat man asked. Hot, please. I picked up a few bell peppers and then scored a package of sliced Portobello mushrooms for 79 cents – one of those deeply discounted items I love so much. Whenever I buy these crazily discounted foods, I come home so happy, bragging to Jim about each of my finds. “Do you know what a deal that is?!?” I’m not sure he’s even listening anymore, but I can’t help myself and will continue to share my enthusiasm with him. Ha, sorry honey!

If you use mild Italian sausage instead of hot, taste the sauce toward the end and see if it needs any additional heat. If it does, add a little crushed red pepper flakes. I used 1-1/2 jars of spaghetti sauce because I wanted enough sauce for a pound of pasta. I like a saucy sauce. Plus there’s enough for dipping your garlic bread. Yes, buy or make some garlic bread. And red wine.

raleigh freelance writer food associations

Pasta with Italian Sausage and Peppers

You’ll need a large pot with lid and a large deep pan.

  • 1 pound of pasta – fettuccine, linguine, penne – it’s your choice
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • Hot or mild Italian sausage, sliced into ½” pieces
  • 2 green bell peppers (or 1 green and 1 red), sliced into thick strips
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • Mushrooms, sliced – use as many white, cremini or Portobello as you wish
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 to 1-1/2 jars of spaghetti sauce – have a second jar on hand, just in case
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • Ground black pepper
  • Optional – crushed red pepper flakes
  • Fresh Italian parsley
  • Parmesan cheese

Put a large pot of water on the stove, cover it and bring it to a boil over high heat. When boiling, add salt and the pasta. Give it a good stir and cook according to pasta package directions for al dente.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large deep pan on medium heat. Don’t use too much oil, maybe a teaspoon will do it, because the sausage will give off a lot of grease. Cook sausage, stirring so all sides cook, until it’s browned and cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add peppers, onion and mushrooms to the pan. Cook, stirring every now and then, until softened, about 5 minutes. Make some room in the middle of the pan, and add the garlic to the bottom. Cook about a minute or until just starting to golden.

Stir in the spaghetti sauce. Add oregano, basil and black pepper. Turn the heat down to low and let it simmer very very lightly. The sauce is already cooked so you only need to heat it up, but a little extra time at really low heat will help the flavors meld. Be careful not to burn the sauce by using too much heat. Stir and taste. If you want more heat, add a little crushed red pepper flakes. Season with anything else it needs – additional salt, pepper, basil or oregano.

Meanwhile, drain the pasta when it’s cooked to al dente. When the sauce is ready, add the pasta and parsley to the pan and mix it all up. I let it sit a bit more (maybe a minute or two) so the pasta absorbs the sauce flavors. Hopefully you’ll have enough sauce to coat the pasta. If not, quickly add more sauce from the jar, stir it in and taste again for seasoning.

Serve the pasta with parmesan cheese. Have your garlic bread and red wine ready too.

This recipe makes enough for two big eaters with plenty of leftovers for breakfast or lunch the next day. Breakfast of champions!

Broccoli with Garlic and Hot Pepper

This recipe is the one I’ve referred to in many other posts as “my go-to broccoli recipe.” It’s about time I share it. It’s sooo easy to make and always turns out well unless you overcook it and end up with olive green broccoli. It’s happened to this distracted cook!

You can adapt the amount of crushed red pepper and garlic depending on your tolerance for heat and garlic breath. There’s one thing I do want to set straight here: garlic breath is not bad breath, it’s just garlic breath.

I don’t measure when I make this recipe. I use the amount of broccoli I have on hand and just wing the rest. The recipe is very cook-friendly. Feel free to add other vegetables, like mushrooms (as in my photo below) or red bell pepper.

If you normally throw out (or compost) your broccoli stems, shame on you! Seriously, don’t throw them out; try cooking them this way. Don’t worry, they taste like broccoli. We add broccoli florets to our salads and I save the stems so I can add them to this dish.

If this doesn’t grab your interest, here are some other broccoli dishes from my past:

raleigh freelance writer

Broccoli with Red Pepper Flakes and Toasted Garlic

You’ll need a large skillet with lid.

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Broccoli florets and stems – florets chopped into fork-size pieces and stems sliced into ¼” pieces (about 1 head)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1-½ teaspoons fresh basil or ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • 1-½ teaspoons fresh thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup water or chicken broth
  • Optional – grated Parmesan

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add broccoli, salt, red pepper, basil, thyme and garlic. Sauté a few minutes. It’s okay if the broccoli caramelizes (gets a bit brown), it adds to the flavor.

Add 1/4 cup water or broth. Cover, reduce heat to low, and cook for a few minutes or until broccoli is crisp-tender (or however you prefer it). If the pan is drying out too much and you’d like to cook the broccoli longer, add a bit more liquid for extra steaming time.

Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving, if you wish.

Original recipe: Broccoli with Red Pepper Flakes and Toasted Garlic, Cooking Light, March 2007