Pasta with Simple Tomato Sauce

In an ideal world, I would head to my garden in late August and harvest sweet cherry tomatoes, then I’d cook them into a sauce that could be bottled and used throughout the year.  This is what my parents did in Sicily.  The reality is that I do not have their garden, their soil, nor their climate.  However, a delicious, simple tomato sauce can be made from a can of good quality Italian plum tomatoes – preferably San Marzano. 

Once you master it, you can build on it.  You can add onions, spice it up with some peperoncino or a sprig or two of rosemary, or even add bacon or pancetta to it.  The variations are endless. For a smoother sauce, you can transfer the sauce to a tall plastic container and gently pulse the sauce with an immersion blender.

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of pasta (I prefer long pasta like spaghetti or bucatini, or a short, small pasta like penne with this simple tomato sauce)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for a final drizzle
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed (you can whack them with the palm of your hand or the flat side of a knife)
  • One 35-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • Kosher salt to taste, plus more for the pasta water
  • 6-10 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces at the last minute
  • ½ cup of grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.
  2. Heat the oil in a 2 to 3 quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes. 
  3. Pour the tomatoes and their juices into the saucepan and, with a potato masher, whisk, or wooden spoon, gently mash the tomatoes and stir.  
  4. Bring the sauce to a slight boil and season lightly with salt.
  5. Lower the heat to a simmer and continue to break up the tomatoes while cooking for an additional 20 minutes.  Remove the garlic cloves.
  6. Meanwhile, add the pasta to your boiling water, timing it carefully so the pasta is barely al dente when the sauce is ready.
  7. Stir the basil into the sauce approximately 2 minutes before the sauce is finished.  Taste and season with more salt if necessary.  If your sauce needs a little sweetness, you can add a pinch of sugar or a slight drizzle of honey and stir.  The quality of your canned tomato will determine whether that is necessary.
  8. Transfer your al dente pasta with tongs directly into the sauce in the skillet and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. 
  9. Add the grated cheese and an extra drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil before serving in a shallow bowl.

Pasta with American Amatriciana Sauce

Once you master a good tomato sauce, the next step is to do like they do in Rome – add some pork for extra flavor.  The traditional way in Rome is to add guanciale or pork cheek, but at home, I simply replace that with bacon.  Some Romans swear you must add lots of onions, but I prefer to create it without them when making a quick version at home.  They also typically serve it with grated Pecorino Romano, but I also like it with grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano. 

Servings: 6

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Heat 6 quarts of water with 1 tablespoon of salt in a large pot to cook the pasta.
  2. In a wide skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  After about 1 minute, add the garlic and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes.
  3. Add the bacon and stir for approximately 4-5 minutes, until it’s sizzling.
  4. Add the San Marzano tomatoes. With a potato masher or wooden spoon, gently crush the tomatoes in the skillet while gently stirring the sauce.  Cook for an additional 15 minutes.  (You can also turn the heat up to medium-high and cook for a little less time.)
  5. When the tomatoes have been added to the skillet and the sauce is simmering, start cooking the pasta according to the package directions. Once the pasta is al dente, remove from the pot with tongs and drop it into the simmering sauce.  Toss together continuously, over moderate heat, for another 1-2 minutes until the pasta is coated with the sauce.  You can add some of the pasta cooking water if you need to thin the sauce.
  6. Turn off the heat and toss in the grated cheese.  Add a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil and serve. 

Apple Crisp

In Italy, the traditional baked fruit-based dessert is called a crostata.  Although I love a crostata made with seasonal fruit for either dessert or breakfast, the “fruit crisp” that I discovered here is just as delicious and easier to make. 

Fruit crisps are very similar to fruit crumbles, except that the crisps contain oats, making it a perfect breakfast food for me and my family.  I like this dish for dessert with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream.  You can also serve it with a dollop of plain yogurt for breakfast.

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

Fruit base:

  • 6 Granny Smith apples, or 4 apples and 2 peaches (see note*)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 4 tablespoons apple cider

Crisp topping:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup oats
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour
  • ½ cup cold salted butter, cut into pieces (you can also use unsalted butter and add a pinch of salt instead)
  • 4 teaspoons of maple quinoa granola (or substitute 3 tablespoons of regular granola and one tablespoon of maple syrup)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. 
  2. Peel, halve and core the apples, then slice them into ¼-inch slices.  Place in a 10 ½ x 7 inch baking dish or 6-8 individual ramekins.
  3. In a medium-size bowl, mix the ingredients for the crisp with your hands so the pieces of butter are incorporated well.  
  4. Break the mixture into small chunks and evenly distribute over the fruit.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown.  
  6.  Serve warm, or refrigerate overnight for a delicious breakfast treat.

*Note: You can also use Braeburn, Cortland or Jonagold apples when in season.  Adjusting the quantity to 4 apples and 2 peaches works well in the late summer months.

Potato and Herb Frittata

Italians are not known for eating large breakfasts. They might start their day with an espresso or cappuccino with a simple pastry, toast or cookie.  The frittata, an egg-based Italian dish similar to an omelette, is typically eaten for lunch, dinner, or as a snack.  At my house, we typically eat it as a weekend brunch or lunch. 

My children like their scrambled eggs loose and fluffy, so making a cheesy, creamy frittata that is not too “eggy” is how I get them all to enjoy it.  (I also keep it light on the vegetables, and often make it with potatoes, scallions, and just a few herbs instead).  Frittatas keep well, so you can also use them as sandwich fillings or serve them with a simple green salad. 

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs, whisked just until the egg yolks and whites are blended
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half
  • 3 cups cooked potatoes, sliced (you can also mix in some seasoned vegetables with your potatoes – just adjust the amount so that the total equals 3 cups)
  • ½ cup of chopped scallions (include the green part)
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) grated, shredded, or crumbled cheese (my preference is Grana Padano, Parmigiano Reggiano, or sharp cheddar)
  • Salt to taste
  • 2-3 chives, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 leaves of fresh basil, chopped or torn for garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Crack the eggs into a medium-size mixing bowl. Add your cream or half and half and the salt. Whisk just until the egg yolks and whites are blended.
  3. Whisk in all or half of the cheese (you can reserve the other half for topping the frittata before baking, if desired). Set the mixture aside.
  4. In a 12-inch cast iron skillet (or other oven-safe skillet), warm the olive oil over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the potatoes and scallions and cook for 2-3 minutes. Season with salt, to taste.
  5. Whisk the eggs again and pour over the potatoes.  Using a spatula, distribute the mixture evenly across the pan.  If you chose to reserve some of the cheese, sprinkle the remainder on top of the frittata now.
  6. Cook for approximately 30-60 seconds until the outside of the frittata turns lighter in color and then transfer the frittata to the oven. 
  7. Bake for approximately 7-10 minutes, until the eggs are puffed and opaque, and the center of the frittata still shakes a little bit when you move the pan.  (Remember that a frittata continues to cook after it’s removed from the oven, so leaving it a little loose is important so you don’t have a dry frittata with the texture of a sponge.)
  8. Garnish with a few basil leaves, slice, and serve.

Note:  If your family likes vegetables in their frittatas, I like a zucchini, mozzarella and basil combination. Chives, bell pepper and basil also go well together.  For something a little less Italian, I like manchego with cilantro and chives.

Whole Roasted Cauliflower “Cacio e Pepe”

I love whole roasted cauliflower and romanesco with good quality olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper, and grated pecorino. If you don’t have pecorino in the house, feel free to use Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese for a milder flavor. It is so simple to make, and there is typically some left over for the next day.

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 2 garlic cloves, whole, with skin on
  • 5-6 sprigs of thyme
  • 5-6 chive stems
  • 5-6 sage leaves
  • 6 tablespoons of extra virgion olive oil
  • Salt to taste
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated pecorino cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Rinse and pat dry the cauliflower. Remove the outer leaves and cut off the bottom so that it is flat. Rinse your herbs.
  3. Add the cauliflower to a Dutch oven or medium sized heavy bottomed pot.
  4. Add two cloves garlic, herbs, three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, and salt to taste.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of water, cover, and place in the oven for 35-40 minutes.
  6. Insert a long toothpick or skewer into the cauliflower to see if it is soft and ready to pull out of the oven. If not, allow to remain for another 5-10 minutes until soft.
  7. Uncover the cauliflower. Turn on the broiler, and continue to cook for another 7-10 minutes until the cauliflower is golden. If you prefer that it is more charred, you can leave it in for a few extra minutes.
  8. When the cauliflower is golden and tender, remove from the oven. Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  9. Slice the cauliflower into thick wedges. Sprinkle with sea salt, grated pecorino and freshly ground pepper. Finish with the remaining extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Tuscan Tomato and Bread Salad (Panzanella)

Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of toasted country style bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes (you can also use country style bread that is 1-2 days old) 
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks (about 4 cups)
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and cut into thin slices
  • 2 Persian cucumbers OR 1 regular cucumber, sliced
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely shredded, plus a few whole leaves reserved

Instructions

  1. Toss the bread, tomatoes, onion, and cucumbers in a large bowl until well mixed. 
  2. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the salad, and toss to mix thoroughly. 
  3. Season with sealt.
  4. Let sit for about 15-20 minutes, until the dressing moistens the bread
  5. When ready to serve, sprinkle with the basil, season again with salt, and toss gently, and serve.  Add a sprig of basil before serving.

Lasagna “Semplice”

This delicious lasagna is not only inspired by my mother’s recipe, it is also incredibly simple and uses no-boil lasagna noodles. It is much lighter than many lasagna dishes that you find here in America. There is no meat, and I use cream instead of bechamel. You can also make this lasagna with bolognese sauce if you prefer to have a little protein.

Servings: 8

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • Two 28-ounce cans whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 large sprigs fresh basil
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 15 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (about one 9-ounce box)
  • 4 cups freshly grated low-moisture mozzarella (about 1 pound)
  • 2 ½ cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano

Instructions

  1. For the sauce, heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat, and add the olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the garlic, and let sizzle until just golden, about 1 minute.  Add the crushed tomatoes, mash with a potato masher and season with salt.
  2. Simmer until flavorful and slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.  Add the basil leaves in the last 2-3 minutes while the sauce cooks. Discard the garlic cloves and the basil sprigs. 
  3. Add the creamand simmer until the sauce comes together, 3-4 minutes.  Season again with salt to taste.  You should have 6 to 7 cups of sauce.
  4. To assemble the lasagna, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spread about a cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13 inch baking dish. 
  5. Cover the sauce with three noodles (there will be extra space around the noodles, which is fine; they will expand as they absorb the sauce). 
  6. Spread another cup of sauce over the noodles, then sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and ½ cup of the grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano.  Top with another layer of noodles. 
  7. Continue with sauce, mozzarella, Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, layering in the same manner, until you have five or six layers of noodles. Make sure you top the final with sauce and grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano (not the mozzarella).
  8. Cook the lasagna for approximately 30 minutes until all of the sauce is absorbed, and the lasagna is firm. If the lasagna needs a little extra color, turn the oven up to 375 F and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes until you achieve the desired color.
  9. Let the lasagna rest out of the oven for at least 30 minutes before serving.

American Refrigerator Rolls

These rolls are inspired by my mother-in-law’s famous refrigerator rolls.  She made them twice a month and undercooked them just slightly, put them in large sealable bags and added them to her large freezer in the basement.  She pulled them out every night to heat up before dinner and had batches of them when her six children and 30+ grandchildren came home for the holidays.  Although my wife’s family loved smothering them with butter and eating them with their dinner meal, I like them with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, as a sandwich roll, or even for hamburgers.

Makes 52 rolls (so you can freeze some and enjoy later!)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons insta yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups whole milk, scalded
  • ⅔ cup Canola oil
  • 4 teaspoons salt
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 8-9 cups flour

Instructions

  1. In a medium size bowl, soften the yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the cup of lukewarm water.
  2. Allow the scalded milk to cool so that it is lukewarm.   Add it to the bowl and then add the oil, remaining sugar, salt and the water with the sugar and the yeast.
  3. Add the egg to the mix and beat well.
  4. Remove the mixture from the bowl and begin to knead by hand in a large bowl. You can also use a using a mixer with a bread dough hook. 
  5. Once the dough is soft and the ingredients are incorporated, let the dough rise for an hour.
  6. Flour your surface and begin to shape the rolls into small balls, about 3 inches in diamter.
  7. Bake a 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes until golden brown.

Rice Noodles with Cherry Tomatoes and Chili Oil

Pasta is the noodle of choice in my household, but my family loves a good rice or soba noodle dish at least once a week.   I began cooking more gluten-free noodles at home for myself and my daughter since we seem to have a slight intolerance to gluten.  This  dish combines a few Italian flavors with a few not-so-Italian flavors that I actually like to use regularly.  In addition, I love the cherry tomato/soy combination.

Servings: 4

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice noodles in a bowl of cold water to remove the extra starch. 
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. Add the noodles and allow to boil for about 4-5 minutes, so that the noodles are still al dente. The amount of time you allow them to boil will vary slightly by brand. When draining the noodles, reserve about 1/2 cup of the water.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the garlic and stir gently until it’s soft and golden, about 2-3 minutes.  Add the sliced chili; cook and stir gently, until softened for about 1 minute.  
  5. Add the cherry tomatoes, soy sauce, and ¼ cup of the hot noodle water and stir together for an additional minute.   
  6. Add the drained noodles to the skillet, and toss to coat with the sauce.  Add the pistachios (or other nuts) and season with additional salt if needed. 
  7. Turn off the heat and add freshly torn basil leaves.   
  8. Serve in medium size deep bowls.  Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and if desired, black sesame seeds.

CHEF IT UP: To make this dish extra creamy and full of flavor (but without the soy sauce), remove basil leaves from two sprigs of basil and blanch them right before you start the dish.   Using a regular or immersion blender, mix the blanched basil leaves with ½ cup of cold water and ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the mixture right after you cook the cherry tomatoes, disregard the soy sauce, and proceed with the remaining instructions. 

Homemade Ricotta

I used to make house-made ricotta daily at Felidia, and sometimes would make it on weekends with my daughter at home.  I love it on toasted bread with some seasonal fruit for a late breakfast.  I also like to serve it as a snack before dinner, or I’ll add a dollop to certain pastas and soups for some added freshness. For the best results, use organic dairy.

Servings: Makes 2-3 cups

Ingredients

  • 2 quarts whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Instructions

  1. Line a large sieve with a double layer of damp cheesecloth. Set it over a bowl. 
  2. Add the dairy and salt to a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.  
  3. Add the lemon juice, and reduce the heat to the low.  Begin to stir your ricotta mixture gently for two minutes until the mixture begins to curdle.
  4. Remove from heat, and let the ricotta sit without stirring for an additional 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the mixture through the cheesecloth, and let it drain for 30 minutes. The homemade ricotta is what you have left in the cheesecloth. 
  6. Chill until ready to use.

Note:  Homemade ricotta is delicious for breakfast, but I enjoy it anytime of day. Try adding a dollop of freshly made ricotta to a spicy tomato sauce or a spring vegetable soup for a little extra flavor and freshness.