Category Archives: Italian

Avocado & Walnut Pesto

avocado pesto pasta

When summer hits here, and I mean really hits, it means we’re in for 2.5 months of humidity that penetrates so deeply that even ones bones feel saturated with sweat.

I rarely relish the thought of spending any time at all in a kitchen with a heated oven, which means I become even more committed to meals that require a pot, a stovetop, and little else (although, in this case, a food processor helps).

I’ve made this recipe twice in the past month and I expect to make it a lot more. Topped with roasted or grilled veggies, it’s a complete meal. The avocado imparts a smooth, buttery texture while the walnuts add just enough crunch.

Plus, skip the Parmesan, and you have a sauce fit for a vegan.

Avocado Pesto
Makes 4 healthy servings

1 pound of pasta
2 ripe avocados
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup walnuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
olive oil, as needed

1) Boil a large pot of water and cook the pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside both the water and the cooked pasta.
2) Place the avocado flesh, basil, lemon juice, garlic, grated Parmesan, walnuts, salt and pepper in a food processor and blend until the walnuts are finely chopped. If the mixture is too thick to blend, slowly pour in some olive oil.
3) Spoon the pesto over the pasta and toss together. Add in the pasta water a little at a time if the pesto still needs to be thinned out. Serve immediately.

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One-Pot Pasta

pasta pot

Sometimes you need to be able to throw everything into a pot and call it a meal.

I had one of those days yesterday. April was taunting me with one of its proverbial showers when I’d already grown re-accustomed to the warm North Carolina spring and my sewing machine wasn’t cooperating and I was grumpy and the pimple on my chin was growing large enough to declare autonomy. Basically, in no mood for cooking. Or human interaction, for that matter.

The last time I had this dish it was made for me by a dear friend, and I find that when I need a lift, summoning up a fond food memory often does the trick. (With the proper meal accompaniment, of course.)

Now that I’ve made it myself, I am officially a convert. The pasta starch imparts a creamy texture to the sauce and the steps could not be easier. It’s a meal worth sharing, and I am grateful that I was able to share it with my friend — and now with you.

plated pasta

I adapted my recipe from this one.

One-Pot Pasta
Serves 4

12 ounces linguine
16-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups fresh spinach
1 onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cups water
4 sprigs basil, divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Parmesan cheese

1) Combine first eight ingredients in a pot wide enough to allow the pasta to lie flat against the bottom. Add 2 sprigs of basil and 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
2) Put the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Stir regularly for about 10 minutes.
3) Serve the pasta with the remaining 2 sprigs of basil, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Confetti Vegetable Sauce

I’ve been keeping something from you.

More than a year ago, I was hanging out in Italy. Mostly just eating, but sometimes cooking. Obviously, my life tends to revolve around food as it is, but my fixation was only exacerbated by being in a place where food serves as a language of its own.

The point is, I learned how to make this really amazing, really simple sauce, and then I proceeded to not share the recipe with you for more than a year. My host in Pisa taught me how to make this sauce. That’s right; you’re looking at a real Italian recipe from a real Italian person.

Once you make it, I imagine you’ll forgive me. Basically everything in here is easily substituted, too. Try it with eggplant. Try it with sour cream. Try it without any dairy at all. Then, let me know how it turned out!

Confetti Vegetable Sauce:
Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 zucchini, grated
1 squash, grated
1 red pepper, grated
1 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
your favorite pasta, cooked and drained

1) Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add zucchini, squash and red pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until most of the water has been cooked off. Drain the vegetables.
2) Place the pan back on the stove and lower the heat to medium-low. Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and the tablespoon of butter. Stir in the garlic. Cook until light brown.
3) Stir in the well-drained vegetables until the mixture is very warm. Turn the heat to low and combine the mascarpone cheese. Remove from heat. Add salt and pepper.
4) Spoon sauce onto your favorite pasta and top with fresh basil.

Eggplant, Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce

Oh, hey there. Have you missed me? I’ve certainly missed this blog. And cooking.

In the past three weeks, I lunched with friends in Raleigh and said my goodbyes, I packed my life into boxes and suitcases, I flew to New York City, I started a job, and I moved into an apartment in Brooklyn. Somehow, the move was easier than it sounded. I survived, at least.

And now I have a NYC kitchen. You might be surprised to learn that I managed to fit all of my kitchen supplies into it, with room to spare.

The first thing I made was this sauce, just like mom makes. Sweet and savory and hearty and just right for these first cold days of fall.

Folks, I’m baaaaaaaaaack.

Eggplant, Sausage and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Sauce:
Serves 8
three tablespoons olive oil, divided
two red peppers, chopped
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound sausage, removed from casings
16 ounces tomato sauce or diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
salt & pepper to taste
feta cheese, if desired

1) Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread chopped red peppers evenly on a cookie sheet, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and put in oven. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until soft and slightly blackened around the edges.
2) 10 minutes before the red peppers are done, place a pot on medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add eggplant and onion. Cook until soft.
3) Meanwhile, cook sausage until browned. Add sausage, roasted red peppers and minced garlic to pot.
4) Stir in tomato sauce, cayenne pepper, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook until bubbling.
5) Serve with pasta and sprinkle with feta cheese.

The Italy Recovery Period

For every two weeks that a person is in Italy, he or she requires one week of recovery. It’s a little-known fact, but one should not engage in any mentally or physically challenging tasks immediately upon returning to one’s home country, including, but not limited to, food blogging. Following all that R&R, it’s important to slowly transition back into a schedule. After all, I had to fulfill many strenuous duties as a tourist in my two weeks in Italy:

– Checking out some famous buildings, statues and fountains

 

– Swimming in assorted seas and lakes (like Lake Albano, pictured here)

 

– Shuttling the kids around, and sometimes putting my super-sized sunglasses on their itty-bitty faces and deriving far too much amusement from it

 

– Eating food that other people cooked for me
That last one has really done me in. I haven’t cooked in–please withhold your shock–two weeks. My Italy vacation began with the promise of infinite food inspiration and ended with sheer gluttonous laziness. “Why cook when Italians can do it for you?” I have often wondered in a post-pizza-and-gelato daze. There are few moments more joyous than watching your waiter weave his way toward you with a pizza the size of a Monopoly board, contentment washing over your sun-weary skin and carb-starved stomach when you realize that whole pie is for you, solely and exclusively. And you didn’t have to make it.

But, folks, I’m back. And I’ll be cooking again pronto.

Italian Steak Sandwiches

It’s impossible not to be inspired here, really. I could wax poetic about Italy all day, but I think it’s best to write this post channeling the same simplicity that I have noticed in the food here. Fresh and, often, sublime, yes. But also simple.

Since we’re talking inspiration, this picture depicts my view during lunch today (and every day):

Ha! Totally kidding. My back is actually facing the Mediterranean Sea where I sit at our table, so actually my view looks more like this:

Yes, life is good. And so is this sandwich. And its name is derived from the place it was born, and nothing more. I hope I don’t offend any Italians out there with a culturally inaccurate sandwich.

And for those of you who have been to Italy before, I have to ask: Where are the best places to go in Florence and Rome? And by “go,” I mean “eat.” Obviously.

Italian Steak Sandwiches:
Serves 4
2 medium-sized cuts of flank steak
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
2 medium sweet onions, cut in 1/2-inch strips
2 medium red peppers, cut in 1/2-inch strips
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 large loaf of bread (I used ciabatta, but I’ll opt for a less dense bread next time)
1 large mozzarella ball, sliced
A few sprigs of basil
Pesto or your favorite sandwich spread

1) Season steak on both sides with salt and pepper while heating a large pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add steak. Cook for about 4 minutes on each side. Set steak aside on a cutting board.
2) Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add onions and peppers. Cook for 2 minutes, then add balsamic vinegar. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3) Cut steak into strips. Slice bread into four sections, then cut each section in half again to make the sandwich. Add steak strips to the base of each sandwich, then layer with onion and pepper mixture, mozzarella, and basil. Spread pesto or other sandwich spread on the top half of the sandwich. Serve warm (I heated ours up on a pan with another pan on top, panini-style) or cold.

Grilled Chicken & Pesto Pasta

Happy Father’s Day! Sadly, mine is across the ocean from me, so I cannot cook for him today, but at least I can promise to make this recipe, or any other, for him when I return. (Dad, this blog post serves as a coupon, of sorts. Redeemable for whenever I’ve recovered from jet lag and financial destitution caused by the unforgiving euro.) I love you, daddy! Thanks for passing on to me your height, sardonicism, and love of cats. I’ve forgiven you for not endowing me with your math skills, don’t worry.

Holiday aside, I was recently accused of not posting enough chicken recipes. I’ve already shared a few of my thoughts on chicken back when I roasted a chicken for the first time, but I do not especially enjoy cooking meat in general, and avoiding meat purchases at the grocery store saves me a decent amount of money. When I do buy meat, I’m pretty particular about where it comes from. A local producer is preferable, but, at the very least, I always buy organic meat, for a variety of environmental and ethical reasons. Still, I’m not as particular as these people:

Nope. I haven’t reached that point… yet.

Since I’m always open to recipe requests, I searched for a simple, summery recipe where I could satisfy my friend Kasey’s desire for more chicken and my desire to become more comfortable in front of the grill. Hopefully I satisfied the former, although my cousin grilled while I prepared the other ingredients, so my grilling experience has not developed further. If one person’s on the grill and the other at the stove, you can knock out this dish in under 30 minutes.

Pasta has been on my mind a lot recently because tomorrow I head to Italy for two weeks. I’ve never been before, and I’ll be staying with my family on an agriturismo in Tuscany. My dreams are saturated with images of fresh, plump mozzarella, vibrant tomatoes and warm bread, all drizzled with silken olive oil, frolicking through lush Italian fields and into my belly. At the very least, I’ll write a mental draft of the version of Eat, Pray, Love that I’d actually want to read, entitled Eat, Eat, Eat. (Interspersed with some sleeping, sunning, and a short walk or two, but that title is significantly less marketable.)

Grilled Chicken & Pesto Pasta:
Serves 4
4 small, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
10 ounces of pasta (noodles are fine, but bowties would be wonderful, too!)
3 tablespoons reserved pasta water, divided
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes
1/2 tablespoon butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 cup milk, divided
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons pesto (I’m going to try this recipe with homemade walnut pesto soon)
6 tablespoons cream
1 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

1) Prepare grill to medium-high heat. Marinate chicken with olive oil, salt and pepper. (I let my chicken marinate for a few hours ahead of time, but right before should be fine, too.) Grill chicken for about 10 minutes, 5 per side, until insides are no longer pink. Set chicken aside to cool, then slice into generous chunks.
2) Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, reserving 3 tablespoons or so of pasta water. Set pasta aside to cool. Add 1 tablespoon of pasta water to a bowl with the sundried tomatoes to restore some of their moisture.
3) Whisk together 1/4 cup of milk and flour in a bowl and set aside. Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add garlic to pan and cook for 1 minute, then add then milk and flour mixture, stirring constantly. Mixture should thicken almost immediately. Stir in pesto and remaining 1/2 cup milk and all the cream. Cook until sauce thickens (about 5 minutes). Add remaining 2 tablespoons of pasta water to the sauce and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
4) Pour sauce on top of pasta, along with the chicken. Drain any remaining pasta water from the sundried tomatoes, then add to the pasta. Toss the pasta to coat thoroughly, then garnish with basil and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.