Happy Sunday! I hope you are enjoying a long weekend celebrating our great country.
My family and I are thankfully having a mostly lazy weekend – play dates, baking, and chores, with a dinner with friends planned for the 4th. We’ve had a whirlwind could of weeks with me away for a week and some family in town. I’ve been enjoying playing catch up. Enjoying the relative quiet in the house. And enjoying taking a little bit of time to menu plan, blog plan, and vacation plan.
Store-bought ravioli or tortellini with homemade pesto from the freezer has become an easy weeknight staple in our house. It takes so little effort and time to make that we really have no excused for ordering out when I’ve got the pasta and pesto in the freezer. I stock up on homemade pesto when my herbs (or my mom’s herbs) are growing like crazy over the summer time. They’ve been planted for less than two months and they’ve already started to grow a bit wild. I’ve already have to trim them back several times, freezing sage leaves and making both cilantro and basil pesto.
Tortellini with Fresh Basil Pesto
By Books n’ Cooks
Serves 2 as a main dish, 3-4 as a side dish
Ingredients for the Tortellini:
- 1-9 oz. package store-bought cheese tortellini
- 1 c. fresh basil pesto (ingredients and instructions below)
Ingredients for the Basil Pesto: (makes 1 cup)
- 2 c. packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
- ¼ c. pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic, skins removed
- pinch of kosher salt
- pinch of black pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
Prepare tortellini according to package. While tortellini are cooking, make the pesto. (If tortellini are finished before pesto, drain, toss with a little bit of olive oil to avoid sticking, and cover to keep warm.)
Make the Pesto: Place all ingredients except olive oil in a food processor. Pulse until large chunks. With the food processor still running, slowly pour in olive oil. Turn off when thoroughly combined.
Toss tortellini and pesto, until tortellini are completely coated. You may not need the entire cup.
Freezing Pesto: Basil pesto freezes wonderfully and is one of my favorite things to stock up on over summer, for quick weeknight dinners throughout the year.
To freeze, transfer pesto to an airtight container (I use mason jars) and freeze until ready to use. Pesto may be defrosted in the fridge or for 30-60 seconds in the microwave (don’t forget to take off the metal lid and rim!)
November was supposed to be a quiet month for me. October was crazy but November was completely open. It was supposed to be a chance for me to relax and recharge before the Christmas holiday season kicked into gear.
As hard as I tried to keep the month open, my plan didn’t really work out. I’m not even completely sure how the month got so busy, or what, exactly, we did. We had a houseguest for a couple days, that we didn’t previously plan, but I think that other than that, it was just very busy with some long days (including weekends) at work, a week of sick kiddos, and struggling to keep up with housework. As the month ended, I ended up feeling more exhausted than refreshed.
The crazy month is why this recipe has taken a bit longer than I wanted to post. This lasagna is a go-to recipe for me, particularly for cooler weather and large-scale entertaining. While it is a good bit of work (it probably takes an hour or so to put together), it has 3 qualities that make it a favorite.
1) It can be made in advance and refrigerated or frozen.
2) It makes a huge dish and can easily serve 8-12 people. Or, it makes a lot of leftovers for weekday lunches or busy weeks when leftovers are all that we have for dinner.
3) Everyone loves it.
Unlike a lot of other lasagnas, it’s light on the cheese and full of meat. Also a little different from other recipes, I added a few extra layers – for a total of 4 layers of noodles – as we like a nice, thick slice.
This recipe has been heavily adapted from my mom’s old Good Housekeeping cookbook, Step by Step.
Make Ahead: This recipe can be made in advance, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, and frozen for at least a couple of months. Lasagna should be allowed to defrost completely (about 2 days in the fridge) before baking according the the instructions below. If lasagna isn’t completely thawed, keep covered and bake until lasagna is hot throughout, before removing foil and cooking uncovered for the last 15 minutes.
Beef & Sausage Lasagna
Makes one large (9×13) lasagna
- 1-16 oz. package lasagna noodles
- 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
- 1/2 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 medium onion, small dice
- 1 Tbs. minced or crushed garlic
- 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 1 tsp. granulated sugar
- 1 Tbs. Italian seasoning
- 2 Tbs. dried basil
- 1-15 oz. container part-skim ricotta cheese
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 c. fresh Italian parsley
- 2 c. (8 oz.) shredded part-skim mozzarella
- 1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
Make the Meat Sauce: In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef and both sausages, using a wooden spoon to break up any large chunks. Add onion and garlic, and continue to cook until translucent. Discard any excess fat, and add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, kosher salt, sugar, Italian seasoning, and basil. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil and lower heat, simmering for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook noodles according to package. When done, use tongs to remove noodles from water and lay noodles flat on a clean dishtowel on the counter. Allow to cool until you’re able to handle them with your hands.
Make the Ricotta Layer: In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, egg and parsley.
Assemble the Lasagna: On a clean countertop, line up meat sauce, lasagna noodles on the towel, ricotta, a small bowl filled with the shredded mozzarella, and a large (9×13 at least) baking dish. It will make assembly easier and cleaner if everything is in one single work area.
First, spread a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce (I like to avoid the meat chunks for the bottom later) across the bottom of the baking dish, so that lasagna noodles don’t stick. Next, add a layer of lasagna noodles, followed by one-third of the ricotta, about 1/2 c. of the mozzarella, and about a quarter of the meat sauce. Do this two more times, so that you have 3 complete layers.
Add the final layer of lasagna noodles. If you have extra ricotta, you can add it here. Otherwise, top with remaining meat sauce, remaining mozzarella, and the grated Parmesan cheese. Feel free to add a little extra of either or both cheeses, if lasagna is not sufficiently covered.
Bake covered with aluminum foil for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted and starting to brown. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving.
Serve hot with a side salad and your favorite fresh bread or garlic bread.
My husband pretty much requires meat at dinner. Doesn’t matter if it’s red meat or chicken, but he’ll rarely feel full or satisfied without one or the other. Occasionally, I’ll test the waters with a veggie-based pasta or a seafood-based dish, but those options are rarely winners with him. This pasta dish is one of the few exceptions.
Whole wheat pasta makes this dish filling. Walnuts provide crunch; Parmesan provides some saltiness. And fresh parsley (or freeze-dried parsley in a pinch) is a burst of freshness. And I love that the ingredients are always in my pantry and the dish can be finished in roughly 20 minutes. Yes, this dish is definitely a winner.
The photo isn’t the prettiest – it came out darker than I had hoped, but I think the baby’s hand is a cute touch. 🙂
Pasta with Walnuts, Parsley & Parmesan
Adapted from The Food You Love by Ellie Krieger
- 2/3 c. walnuts, chopped
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. whole wheat spaghetti
- 1/2 c. fresh parsley, chopped (I’ve also used freeze-dried parsley if I don’t have any fresh parsley in the house)
- 1/3 c . low-sodium chicken broth*
- 1/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 c. shredded Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot to a boil over medium heat, to cook the pasta in. When boiling, add the pasta and cook until desired doneness (for
my hubby us, cooked throughout instead of al dante). Drain and return pasta to the pot it was cooked in. Hopefully by the time it’s done, the next steps are done and you’ll be ready to assemble the dish.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet over medium-low heat, toast walnuts until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Move to a bowl and set aside. In the same skillet, saute garlic in olive oil until garlic is browned, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat (or if it’s going to be a little while until your pasta is done, reduce heat to lowest setting to keep oil warm).
Toss cooked pasta, chicken broth, garlic & olive oil, walnuts, parsley, and a little salt and pepper. Toss with 1/2 c. Parmesan cheese.
Portion out and top with remaining Parmesan.
I’m always on the look out for easy, quick dinners that don’t make a huge mess in the kitchen. Bonus points if veggies are incorporated right in. After being up a couple times a night (Sophie’s almost 9 months old and still not sleeping through the night) and working all day, dinner needs to be as low-fuss as possible.
This recipe, or the version I had originally pinned from Shape Magazine (the link is apparently no longer good), fit that bill. One pot meal and a veggie made this pasta dish a weeknight reality. I updated the recipe to add a bit more flavor and freshness – a little extra red pepper flakes and some fresh basil. I also decided against using chicken stock to cook the pasta. Even with the low-sodium broth, I found it a bit salty and just… off. When I needed to add extra liquid, I used plain water, and that seemed to help.
Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe
Adapted from Yummly
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage
- 12 oz. broccoli rabe, trimmed and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4-5 c. water
- kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1/2 c. freshly chopped basil
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add sausage, crumbling it into pieces until completely cooked. Transfer to a plate, leaving behind as much of the oil and juices as possible. Add broccoli rabe and garlic to skillet. Sautee until beginning to wilt. Transfer to plate, again leaving behind as much of the oil and juices as possible.
Pour 4 c. water into skillet. As it heats, scrape bottom of the pan with a wooded spoon to loosen burnt bits. When boiling, add pasta. Cook 7-9 minutes, until not quite tender. Add sausage and broccoli rabe back to pan and continue cooking until pasta is ready and sausage and broccoli rabe are hot. If needed, add additional water (I had to).
Remove from heat. There should be little water left in the pan – just enough to be a sauce. Season with salt, red pepper flakes and toss with 1/2 c. grated Parmesan.
Serve with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Last month I attempted macarons. I was so excited, I thought they were going to come out – the temperamental cookies had “feet” and everything! However, I was never able to get the darn things off the baking sheet. I was sooo disappointed.
After my failed macaron attempt, I had a container of marscapone cheese in the fridge (the cookies were supposed to have a marscapone-raspberry filling). I rarely cook with marscapone and was struggling to find a recipeto use it up. Lucky for me, the perfect recipe popped up – tomato marscapone pasta. I love that it’s quick and easy (30-45 minutes end-to-end, mostly inactive time, depending on whether you follow the cooking times below… I’ve definitely cut the simmering time short at least once before), but even more, the sauce was impressive. The marscapone adds a slightly creamy texture to the sweet tomato sauce, making a simple meal something special. Thanks to The Jey of Cooking for a great new recipe!
Tomato Marscapone Pasta
- 2 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 large shallot or 1 small onion, small dice
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 8 large basil leaves, finely chopped
- 1/4 c. red wine
- 4 oz. mascarpone cheese
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 lb. of pasta, cooked
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat olive oil. When hot, add garlic, shallots/onions, and red pepper flakes. Cook for about 5 minutes, until onions are soft.
- Add tomatoes and basil. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
- Stir in red wine and simmer for another 20 minutes. Now is a good time to start cooking your pasta.
- Just before pasta is ready, stir marscapone into tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper. Lower heat to low and leave on the hot burner until pasta is ready. Drain pasta and stir in tomato-marscapone sauce.
Serve hot with a grated Parmesan cheese, a side salad, and some fresh bread.
The past couple weeks have been pretty rough. Too much work, too little sleep. Too many errands and chores, too little relaxation. So this past weekend, I promised myself that I would do what I wanted to do. I refused to do any work; I refused to do chores or errands. It was all about me.
The weekend ended up being packed. I went for a walk with a friend. I made strawberry muffins for Stampin’ Up, and at Stampin’ Up, I made Christmas cards (Christmas in August). I went out to dinner and drinks and to see Wicked in the city. And then, since I’ve been craving warm, cozy meals (hopefully thinking that the heat would finally break), I spent the day making marinara sauce, two batches of veggie lasagna, ziti with spinach and spicy Italian sausage, and homemade focaccia bread. (Stay tuned for recipes this week). This was lunch, dinner and dessert for the week as well as breakfast and lunch for the “Bakery.”
The below marinara sauce was the base for the weekend’s cooking. It’s taken me a while to perfect it. I loved my mom’s marinara sauce, but her recipe wasn’t very helpful when I first started cooking – a list of ingredients to add “to taste.” I ended up taking her recipe and a couple of others, building and adapting until I found a combination I was happy with. Now, I’ve made the sauce so many times that I really can go by taste, without a recipe, but I wrote the proportions down, just for you. The recipe is easily multiplied and freezes well.
By Books n’ Cooks
- 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 onion, small dice
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 14 oz. water
- 1 6-oz. cans tomato paste
- 1/2 Tbs. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 1 Tbs. dried basil
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 Tbs. sugar
* May add dried parsley, red pepper flakes, additional herbs and seasonings according to preference.
In a medium-large sauce pan over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onions and garlic, stirring and sauteing until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes, water (I fill the empty tomato can halfway with water, swirl to get remaining tomato bits), and tomato paste. Stir and let heat for a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients. When sauce is warm, taste and add additional herbs if needed. (I love the basil and fennel and typically have a heavy hand with those.)
When heated and starting to bubble, lower heat and let simmer for 2 hours. Pull out bay leaf before serving.
First impressions about Brussels sprouts…. and go….
Let me guess. First thought is “ew.” Followed by something like, “who eats that?” I used to think the same. When we were little my mom would steam them, stinking up the kitchen. My youngest brother was the only one of us fooled into eating the “baby trees” (no, wait, that was broccoli…. well, it was something like that).
Anyway, then one day, when I was in high school or college, my mom roasted the Brussels sprouts until they were crispy. The veggies were non-stinky, so I gave them a whirl. I was officially a convert. Roast ’em and you’ll get a slightly sweet taste and crunchy texture. Throw on some salt and maybe some bacon, and it quickly became one of my favorite sides, and the only way I’d eat Brussels sprouts.
Then this recipe came long. The Brussels sprouts were cooked pretty much the same – sliced instead of halved but roasted until crispy. Tossed with pasta, pecans, and a very light Gorgonzola-cream sauce, this recipe is sure to win over Brussels sprout-haters. Give it a try. Even a doubtful coworker cleaned his plate.
Pasta with Brussels Sprouts, Gorgonzola & Pecans
Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 102 (p. 107)
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground back pepper
- 4 c. (20 oz.) Brussels sprouts, trimmed
- 3 1/2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 lb. dried pasta, such as shells or orecchiette
- 1 1/2 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans
- 2 large shallots, minced
- 3/4 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. Gorgonzola, crumbled
Position an oven rack in the lower third of the oven. Place a heavy rimmed baking sheet on the rack and heat the oven to 500°F. You want the baking sheet hot before you roast the Brussels sprouts.
Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water and a bit of salt, for the pasta. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Prepare the Brussels Sprouts: In a food processor fitted with the slicing disk, slice the Brussels sprouts. When the baking sheet is heated, remove from oven. Place Brussels sprouts on baking sheet, and use a large spoon to toss with olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, and 1/2 tsp. black pepper, until Brussels sprouts are coated. (You can also toss the Brussels sprouts, oil, salt, and pepper, in a large bowl, and then spread on the baking sheet, if you prefer.) Make sure Brussels sprouts are spread out in a single layer before roasting, until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes (stirring halfway through).
Cook the Pasta: As Brussels sprouts are roasting, cook pasta according to the box, draining once cooked.
Make the Sauce: In a skillet over medium heat, melt 1/2 Tbs. butter. Add pecans, cooking until pecans are toasted and butter is browned, about 3 minutes. Be sure to stir frequently. With a slotted spoon, remove pecans and place on a plate. In the same skillet, melt the remaining butter. Cook shallots until softened, another 3 minutes, still stirring frequently. Add cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat, and add 3/4 c. Gorgonzola, stirring until melted.
Put it Together: In a serving bowl, toss pasta, pecans, Brussels sprouts, and Gorgonzola-cream sauce. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 c. Gorgonzola. Serve warm.
The Barefoot Contessa is one of my go-to recipe sources when I’m looking for something new to try. Like Fine Cooking, Ina has never failed me. That’s why I was so very excited to receive five of Ina’s cookbooks for Christmas (I now own her whole collection).
This recipe was from Ina’s newest cookbook, How Easy Is That? This weeknight bolognese was certainly quick and easy, and a nice change from my hubby’s favorite meat sauce. The bolognese sauce was a little sweeter than we’re used to (perhaps because I used shiraz I had on hand, instead of a drier red wine) but still really good.
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa’s How Easy Is That? (p. 154)
- 2 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 lb. lean ground sirloin
- 4 tsp. minced garlic (4 cloves)
- 1 Tbs. dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
- kosher salt
- ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 c. dry red wine, divided
- 1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste
- 1/4 chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
- 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
- 3/4 lb. dried whole grain pasta, such as small shells
Make the Bolognese Sauce: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat olive oil. Add ground sirloin, breaking up with a spoon and cooking until browned. Add garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes – stirring and heating for just a minute. Add 1 c. of the red wine, scraping the bottom of the pan. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 Tbs. kosher salt, and 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Start the Pasta: At this point, start boiling water with a bit of kosher salt for pasta. Cook per directions on the box.
Finish the Bolognese: At the same time, add remaining 1/4 c. red wine, nutmeg, and basil to sauce. Stir and continue simmering until pasta is finished, about 10 minutes. (Sauce should thicken slightly).
Drain pasta. Toss pasta, bolognese, and Parmesan together.
Serve hot, with extra Parmesan sprinkled on top.
Nutrition: I eliminated the 1/4 c. heavy cream called for in the recipe (if you want to use it, add it with the nutmeg and basil) and whole grain pasta to make this dish a bit healthier. The above recipe, with 5 servings, was 560 calories per serving.
Apologies but no story today – I’m in the midst of some traveling (hence why there hasn’t been a post in over a week) and am running about. This gnocchi will most definitely be on my menu when I return – it’s quick yet satisfying. Even the hubby likes it despite not having lots of meat in it. 🙂
Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Bacon, Onions & Peas
Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 85 (p. 84a)
- Kosher salt
- 1 lb. frozen gnocchi
- 3 oz. thick-cut bacon (about 3 slices), cut into 1/2-inch-wide pieces
- 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 c. thinly sliced or diced yellow onions (about 1 medium-small onion)
- 1/2 c. frozen peas
- 1 tsp. minced fresh thyme
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and drain.
Meanwhile, in a large (preferably 12-inch) non-stick skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Pour off any fat from the skillet.
In the same skillet, heat 2 Tbs. of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook until they begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are limp and golden brown, 10 minutes more. Stir in the peas and thyme, season with salt and pepper to taste, and transfer to a small bowl.
Wipe the skillet clean with a paper towel, and heat the remaining 2 Tbs. oil over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi and cook, tossing occasionally, until they’re lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Gently stir in the onion mixture, bacon, and Parmigiano, along with enough of the reserved cooking water to moisten and coat the gnocchi, about 4 Tbs. Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmigiano.
When I was little, I used to hate cheese. I was the weirdo that took it to the extreme, taking the cheese of pizza. But as I’ve grown, my taste has changed, and I’ve come to really enjoy some cheese. The formerly-dreaded cheese tortellini is one of those foods that I’ve recently taken a liking to.
This tortellini salad has become one of my favorite sides and lunches. With the veggies, it’s a wonderful accompaniment for a summer BBQ. Throw in some grilled chicken and you’ve got a filling pasta salad for lunch.
Adapted from Good Housekeeping’s Step by Step Cookbook (p. 328)
- 2 pkgs. (9-oz each) tortellini
- ¼ c. white wine vinegar
- 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 tsp. sugar
- ½ tsp. salt
- ¼ tsp. pepper
- 1 medium red pepper, cut into 1/2-inch squares
- 1 medium yellow pepper cut into 1/2-inch squares
- 1 jar (6 oz) marinated artichoke hearts, drained and cut in half
- Parmesan or asiago cheese
May also add grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula or spinach, or any other veggies of choice.
Prepare tortellini as directed and drain.
Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, salt, pepper.
Finish the Salad: Add peppers, tomato, and artichokes to tortellini. Toss with dressing. Garnish with grated cheese.
Serve at room-temperature or cold.