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Posts Tagged ‘italian food’

Dinner Rush! Rigatoni with Meat Sauce and Peas

There’s no sense in even trying to deny the allure of rigatoni. You love it, you know you love it and there’s no shame in admitting it. Those thick tubes of perfectly cooked pasta, harboring secret pockets of saucy delight. Don’t even try to wipe the drool off your keyboard. Resistance is futile.

Seriously, though, if you’re hankering for quick and easy weeknight comfort, this is the ticket. A lean blend of flavorful meats and just a touch of cream make for a sauce so delicious and silky it’ll leave that pantry can of vowel-shaped spaghetti shaking on its shelf. And don’t worry about all that healthy talk — there’s totally peas in here, so you’re getting your green for the day. Plus everyone deserves a little carb comfort now and again, right?

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Cotechino e Lenticchie, or What Italians Eat on New Year’s for Good Luck

Photo by Kankana Saxena

This hearty Italian dish from the northern Italian region of Umbria is said to bring good luck because the lentils look like coins when they are done cooking. “It is the traditional food eaten on New Year’s for good luck,” says Italy-based chef and owner of Cooking Vacations Lauren Birmingham Piscitelli. In particular, says Lauren, lentils are considered very lucky, “Dried lentils are often wrapped in little wreath-like decorations and passed out to friends and families ensuring health, happiness and good fortune in the new year.”

Cotechino sausage really belongs to Northern Italy, where it differs slightly from region to region. For example, in the town of Villastrada, they include a small amount of vanilla in the cure. “But in Piacenza, where my mother is from, the typical cotechino sausage is encased in a bladder or intestine, dried and aged for 30 to 40 days before being boiled. It has Barbera wine, peppercorns, and a mix of lean pork and fatty pork rind,” says home cook Christian Galliani. He recalls big family celebrations that focused on this dish during New Year’s Eve. “At least 20 people would come for my grandmother’s cotechino e lenticchie. They would talk of how the dish would lead to good fortune all year!”

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Dinner Rush! Pumpkin Risotto with Pancetta & Arugula

For the longest time, risotto was one of those dishes I waited to order until I went out to eat at a great Italian restaurant. I always knew that I liked it — it was just never on my radar to make at home. Maybe it was the perception that it was difficult? Maybe its short cooking time seemed too good to be true, like I was leaving out some crucial step? Maybe I yearned for and was equally terrified by the amount of cheese and butter that goes into it?

I’m proud to say all of that is behind me now. And if I’m down with making a weeknight risotto dinner, then you should be too. Still unsure? Let’s address the aforementioned fears:

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Dinner Rush! Caprese Sliders

If you’ve tuned into Food Network at some point in the nearly 20 years it has been on the air, you’ve probably heard (more than) one of the chefs talk at length about the importance of using high-quality ingredients in your cooking. “Only select the freshest” they decree from their perfectly lit and styled flat screen stages. Curious thing is, they’re right.

I suggest a classic caprese salad for consideration — basil, mozzarella, tomatoes and olive oil. Four ingredients — maybe throw on a dash of salt — and it’s done. There’s not a lot of room for rock star ingredients to make up for the stragglers there, so take just a couple of minutes as you’re working your way through the grocery store to pick the best ingredients you possibly can. Reach for the ripe red tomatoes. Spend an extra dollar or two for a fresh, fruity olive oil. Don’t buy basil unless it smells like a Sunday Italian supper.

What those Food Network stars are getting at is what Dinner Rush! is all about: quick and easy dinner plans that come together as delicious dinner creations using a short list of very tasty ingredients. The more delicious your starting point, the more satisfying and effortless your slide finish into dinner time will be.

Caprese Sliders

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Meatless Monday: Spinach and Tortellini

Meatless Monday is a global movement, a way of life. It’s not a campaign to turn everyone in the world vegetarian or vegan; in fact, many involved are meat-lovers. Eating less meat has been proven to reduce the risk of disease, curb obesity and has important environmental impacts, too. Will you join us in giving up meat, just for one day a week?

You don’t need copious amounts of butter or oil to make vegetables tasty. You can sneak good-for-you ingredients into the dishes you love without adding a bunch of fat. Spinach is packed with vitamins and is a good source of calcium and fiber, but its not exactly my favorite food to eat totally raw. With garlicky pasta and a bit of cheese, however, it becomes a lot more enticing.

You can count on Cooking Channel’s recipe for Spinach and Tortellini for a simple, satisfying Meatless Monday dinner. Who doesn’t love pasta after all? With no fancy ingredients or complicated steps, the meal comes together in just about a half an hour. The sauteed garlic and tomatoes bring the familiar Italian aromatics we all crave, while mushrooms, peas and spinach add new flavor and texture to each bite. With so many healthy ingredients in one bowl, a sprinkle of pine nuts and Parmesan is the little extra indulgence you deserve.

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Dinner Rush! Italian Seared Halibut With Melted Leeks

Easy Italian Halibut

In my hometown in upstate New York, we’re going green in lots of ways — especially at the grocery store. I’m bringing in those eco-savvy reusable tote bags by the pallet right now because the produce section is exploding with delicious new spring harvests. Stumbling upon a particularly beautiful bunch of leeks the other day, my husband’s Simpsons-esque moment of Zen, of “mmm … melted leeks,” totally nailed it.

Melted leeks, I find, are one of those preparations that taste super indulgent without really being as such. Cooking down a mountain of leeks with some white wine, butter and herbs into a creamy side dish with just a bit of that beautiful spring onion flavor is like heaven in a skillet. Keeping things light, yet satisfying, I added some mushrooms to the mix and topped it all off with a piece of seared halibut spiked with a cap of classic Italian gremolata. (I got on a green kick, what can I say?)

Melted leeks are also a great transition side dish. As we upstaters can rock a T-shirt during the day but still need that down comforter at night for the next couple of weeks, such is dinnertime. I want a meal that is light and springy, yet satisfying enough for a night’s sleep with a bit of chill still stuck on it.  Thanks, melted leeks, for the delicious dinner and comfy night’s sleep.

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Dinner Rush! “Date Night” Spaghetti Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara

A short while ago my friend Joe called me with a seemingly simple request: he wanted to surprise his girlfriend by making dinner for her. Being that they’re two of my besties, that his culinary abilities are self-admittedly so-so and that she’s a phenomenal cook herself, the guy needed a simple meal with a big “wow” factor.

Enter carbonara! Sure, it takes a little bit of coordination to pull off, but it’s made with only a handful of ingredients that were likely already in their refrigerator and pantry. Plus, it’s one of her favorites. No pressure.

The secret to carbonara is timing and heat – the latter of which you need very little. To be successful, have all your ingredients ready at the same time that the pasta is ready. Once you drain it, toss everything together off the heat (emphasis on off the heat) and the hot pasta will provide just enough warmth to cook the eggs through and make a beautiful silky sauce. It’s when you try to mix everything together over the heat that you end up with scrambled egg spaghetti – a sure-fire date-night ruiner.

So how, you may be wondering, did Joe’s version turn out? He and Charissa are getting married this August. Nailed it.

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Comfort Feast: Low-Key Lasagna

If the idea of making a lasagna as soon as you get home from work sounds time-consuming, never fear, this lasagna comes together with minimal prep thanks to a few store-bought shortcuts and my all-time favorite time-saver, no-boil noodles.

One thing you won’t want to skip are fresh herbs. A heaping handful of parsley will impart a ton of flavor to the overall dish, so definitely opt for fresh instead of dried.

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Dinner Rush! Curry-Spiced Minestrone Soup

I married into a Dutch family (and no, it’s not entirely like spending every holiday meal at the table with Goldmember). Decades here since immigrating over have certainly tempered the “American” side of their personalities, though the delft and tulips are still quite strong in their customs. Especially when it comes to food.

One of the really amazing things about Dutch cooking is how fluidly it marries European cooking techniques with Asian flavors. Surely a walk down the memory lane of high school world history recalls that, at the height of the colonial era, the Dutch inhabited many Southeast Asian countries. The flavor profiles of areas now called Taiwan and Indonesia are quite popular with the Dutch today (in layman’s terms, they put peanut sauce and curry on everything).

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