Easy Clambake on the Grill

grilled clambake

Here’s a fun and easy way to entertain this summer, get adventurous and make this easy clambake on the grill. Think backyard parties, get-togethers  and holidays like the fourth of July which is right around the corner. There’s no fuss or mess, the method is simple and it allows you more time to enjoy your guests.

I made something similar in the past, a Seafood Boil, and I won’t kid you it was a huge undertaking trying to find the perfect pot so that everything could fit inside all together, but now I realize we could have easily done the same thing in one big foil pan ( covered) out on the grill with a much easier clean up!
clambake

Basically all you have to do is get everything prepped, these are the ingredients I used but really as long as it’s something that cooks up quickly add in your favorites.

The method is easy, just stack all your delicious ingredients into the vessel of your choice, like I said you could use a big foil pan just as long as you can cover it tightly with a heavy duty foil to create steam.clambake

This time I decided to do individual packets since there was just two of us, but with the amount of ingredients I had I ended up making three anyway, which was fine with us.

You’ll need a good spice mix, something like Old Bay or you can make your own.  I happen to like one from Whole Foods it’s a classic rub and I find it in the fish department.

You’ll also need some kind of a liquid to create steam so everything can cook up nicely, either plain old water, wine, broth or in my case a bottle of beer.

Then just let the grill do all the work, while you sit down and have a cold drink!grilled clambake

When the foil bowl was torn open the smells were amazing, not to mention the taste, we loved it, and I think you will too.

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Easy Clambake on the Grill
 
Recipe adapted from a magazine I was flipping through and forgot the name
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. raw shrimp, large, cleaned, deveined with tails on
  • 2 ears of corn cut into quarters, uncooked
  • 1 dozen little neck clams ( there will always be some that won't open) you can sub in some mussels if you prefer
  • 4 red or white potatoes cut into about 1½ inches uncooked or you can microwave them for 1 minute to give them a head start
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 cup or so of cherry tomatoes sliced in half
  • 12 oz. of smoked sausage, something precooked like andouille with a little kick, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 bottle of beer, your choice
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • spice mix of your choice , at least 2 tablespoons per packet or more if using a big pan, you be the judge on that, I really didn't measure kept adding more
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • lemons, parsley or chives for garnish
Instructions
  1. To make a foil packet line a mixing bowl with 2 sheets of heavy duty foil, making sure you'll have enough to bring up the sides and seal it good.
  2. Start layering your packets, dividing up your ingredients starting with the potatoes, onions, tomatoes, garlic,corn, shrimp and sausage, sprinkling some of the spice mix over each layer.
  3. Top the packet with the clams, a dollop of butter and ½ cup of beer.
  4. Close the packets up, sealing them tightly so no steam escapes.
  5. Place packets directly on the grill which should be on high heat.
  6. Cook 20-25 minutes, clams should be open and shrimp cooked.

 

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Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Whipped Ricotta

zucchini ribbon salad

In a few short weeks zucchini will be in abundance everywhere in my neck of the woods and probably yours as well, so I want ed you to be prepared to make this lovely Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Whipped Ricotta, so keep this recipe near by.

I’ve always loved the look of shaved ruffled ribbons of zucchini they look so elegant when placed on a platter, this salad is so pretty to serve to your family and friends, I guarantee everyone will be impressed.

It’s simple to prepare, you can make it on a whim and when all the different elements are put together the taste is truely incredible!
zucchini ribbons

The contrast of colors between the green zucchini ribbons and the thinly sliced pink radishes makes it visually appealing and adds to the crunch factor. No need for any fancy gadgets to make this either, just a simple vegetable peeler will do the trick.whipped ricotta

 

But what really takes this dish over the top is the whipped ricotta, ricotta when blended in a food processor takes on a luxurious texture, it’s creamy and dreamy and then if it couldn’t get any better it gets infused with lemon zest, fresh herbs and parmesan cheese, it’s a magical combination.zucchini ribbon salad

Feel free to add some ribbons of yellow squash as well for even more color contrast, I often do that.
zucchini ribbon salad

 

The dressing is a simple lemon and olive oil dressing which compliments everything so well and it’s also topped off and finished with crunchy, toasted walnuts.

This salad screams summer, it’s fresh and light, bright and citrusy, filled with fresh herbs and crunch and it’s one of my absolute favorites on a hot summer day.

Start hording all the zucchini you can get so you can make this Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Whipped Ricotta.

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Zucchini Ribbon Salad with Whipped Ricotta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 large zucchini or 2 plus 1 yellow squash, shaved into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 4 radishes shaved thin with a mandoline or finely cut with a knife
  • 2 large lemons, 1 for zest and the other for juice to use in the dressing, save a couple slices for garnish
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese, try to purchase a dryer version verses a wet one you might find in liquid at a deli, the dryer the better
  • 3 heaping tablespoons of freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil and parsley, finely chopped
  • toasted chopped walnuts
  • good olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • FOR THE LEMON AND OLIVE OIL DRESSING;
  • 1 part lemon juice to 3 parts olive oil, add some salt and pepper and whisk together
Instructions
  1. Place ricotta into a food processor bowl and process until it's light and creamy about thirty seconds or so, then fold in the parmesan cheese, lemon zest and roughly two tablespoons each of finely chopped parsley and basil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Spread your ricotta mixture onto your favorite platter, drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Make sure your ribbons are shaved as well as the radishes and are ready to go, toss them into a bowl adding some more chopped herbs then gently spoon some of the lemon and olive oil dressing all over tossing ever so lightly, being careful not to over soak the zucchini mixture, a little dressing goes a long way.
  4. Arrange the zucchini nicely on top of the whipped ricotta, leaving an edge so the ricotta shows.
  5. Sprinkle the toasted walnuts all over and arrange a few slices of lemon for garnish around the platter.
  6. Enjoy!

 

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Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Burrata

zucchini noodle pasta Zucchini noodle “pasta” may be light on the carbs but certainly not light on taste, add in some garlicky roasted tomatoes, fresh basil and dreamy burrata cheese and it’s a flavor explosion!

zucchini pasta ingredients Fresh zucchini ribbons shaped like wide pappardelle pasta get tossed into hot roasted tomatoes with all that precious juice, no need to cook or soften the zucchini beforehand because it wilts down to the perfect al’dente bite from the warm tomatoes.

It’s a fun summer meal, easy to make plus it’s fresh and light.

zucchini noodle pasta Can we just talk about Burrata cheese for a minute, if you’re not familiar with it, it’s an Italian cheese, a beautiful knotted ball of fresh mozzarella on the outside with a surprise on the inside when you tear it open. Inside you’ll find it stuffed with milky, creamy mozzarella curds, it’s so dreamy and everything you use it for will surely elevate your dish.

Tomatoes, burrata and pasta of any kind are a match made in heaven.

zucchini noodle pasta

Gently rip it open and let all that creaminess mingle with the fresh basil and ribbons of zucchini, you might be making it all summer long.

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Zucchini Noodle Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes and Burrata
 
I usually roast a whole quarter sheet pan of tomatoes, two or three pints, if you have extra that's fine.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 3 or 4 medium zucchini
  • 3 pints of cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves garlic, shaved thin
  • 3 - 2 oz. balls of burrata cheese or 6 oz.
  • a large handful of fresh basil, chopped
  • ⅓ cup or so of EVOO
  • grated parmesan
  • salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Line a quarter sheet pan with foil, add the oil, tomatoes, shaved garlic, half of the basil, salt and pepper.
  3. Roast tomatoes until they burst open and juices mingle with the oil and garlic.
  4. While tomatoes are roasting, trim the top and bottom off of the zucchini and with a vegetable peeler make your ribbons, when you get to the seeds turn the zucchini, keep turning and peeling until you go all around the zucchini leaving the seeded center in tact. ( save it for an omelette).
  5. Place your raw zucchini ribbons right into your serving bowl and when the tomatoes are finished roasting pour them right over, juice and all and gently toss.
  6. Take your burrata and tear it open all over the top so all the flavors can mingle together.
  7. Garnish with the remaining chopped basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese.
  8. Eat immediately

 

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Summer Party Fruit Ideas

melon mozzarella skewers Fruit is always welcome at any occasion especially in the summer when it’s nice and ripe and in abundance. Summertime is the time for parties and picnics, get-togethers, cookouts and fun in the sun.

These simple fruit ideas would be welcome at any party or gathering, not only are they a healthy option, they’re refreshing, crowd pleasing and eye-appealing.

These cantaloupe with fresh mozzarella skewers can be made with or without prosciutto, although I do love the contrast of the sweet with the salty.

melon mozzarella skewers All you have to do is find yourself a nice ripe cantaloupe and scoop it into melon balls, purchase some mini bocconcini which are fresh mozzarella balls and thinly sliced prosciutto, if you so desire.

melon mozzarella skewers Skewer them together adding a whole basil leaf between, then sprinkle with fresh mint.

I like to lightly drizzle a dressing of one part white balsamic vinegar to three parts olive oil with a touch of honey for sweetness whisked together.

melon mozzarella skewers Just place them on a pretty platter and watch them disappear, you can’t imagine how good they are!

watermelon pizza Another fun idea with fruit is to make a watermelon “pizza”.  Cut a large piece of watermelon, which will be the base of your “pizza”. Place it on a pizza wheel for fun and decorate it with different fruits and berries, again I did the sweet and salty combo by adding some crumbled feta cheese.

Top it off with fresh mint and sliced strawberries then cut it into triangles with an actual pizza cutter.

watermelon pizza A fun side dish to anything you might be grilling.

cubed watermelon Another thing I like to do is to cut a watermelon into cubes, all you have to do is Google it if you’re not quite sure how to cut it into perfect little squares, but once you get the knack it’s really very easy.

watermelon salad Then you can make this delicious salad of arugula and blackberries tossed with feta and watermelon cubes, the flavor combination is so amazing and it looks gorgeous on a platter with all the pretty colors.

A light drizzle of the dressing above works really well with this lovely salad.

watermelon skewer Here’s another version of the watermelon salad turned into individual skewers, perhaps served as a special starter to your meal.

Skewer one cube of watermelon with one cube of feta then top it off with a fresh blackberry and a nice drizzle of balsamic glaze, I promise you will WOW your guests and the best thing is, there’s no cooking required!

watermelon skewer

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Sesame Crusted Salmon Nicoise Salad

sesame crusted nicoise salad The weather is warming up and this is one of my favorite meals to make for lunch or dinner, a sesame crusted salmon Nicoise salad. It’s chock full of everything good with a little twist on the classic.

sesame crusted salmon Instead of using tuna as in the classic French version I replaced it with sesame crusted salmon. The crunchy sesame seeds pair perfectly with the rich, buttery flavor of the salmon, a nice contrast in taste and texture.

I like to mix together the black sesame seeds with the toasted ones, it gives such a nice crunch factor.

sesame crusted salmon salad

When composing a salad like this you’ll have to prep a few things ahead of time, blanch your asparagus, hard boil some eggs and roast up some tiny potatoes, everything else is a piece of cake and a matter of arranging it all onto a nice big platter.

The more colors the better, I like using rainbow colored cherry tomatoes, peppers and fingerling potatoes and the pretty pink color of the salmon will just set the whole dish off.

This meal is simple for weeknights and elegant enough for entertaining, its fun to eat and fun to make, you need this salad in your life!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Sesame Crusted Salmon Nicoise Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 or 2, 6 oz. portions of salmon
  • 1 heaping tablespoon each of black sesame seeds and toasted sesame seeds per portion, if using 2 portions you'll need 2 tablespoons each.
  • 1 bunch asparagus, cooked then tossed in a little lemon olive oil
  • 2 hard boiled eggs
  • red onion
  • nicoise or kalamata olives, pitted
  • colored fingerling potatoes or small red
  • sliced Persian cucumbers (they're small)
  • colored baby peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • rainbow colored cherry tomatoes
  • sweet cherry peppers
  • a few Calabrian chili peppers for heat
  • arugula to line the platter
  • USE AS MUCH OR AS LITTLE AS YOU WANT WITH ABOVE INGREDIENTS
Instructions
  1. To prepare the salmon, preheat oven to 450F then line a small sheet pan with foil, drizzled with olive oil on the bottom.
  2. Mix the two different sesame seeds together and place into a flat dish.
  3. Salt and pepper your salmon portions and then press the tops only of the salmon into the seeds, they will stick very easily onto the salmon.
  4. Place salmon seed side up onto the prepared pan, then drizzle olive oil on each portion.
  5. Bake salmon for twelve minutes, then take it out of the oven and let it rest.
  6. Prepare the asparagus by blanching for two to three minutes in boiling water, remove with tongs then place into an ice bath to stop the cooking.
  7. Gently toss the asparagus in a store bought lemon olive oil, or a homemade version.
  8. Prepare the potatoes by roasting in a 400F oven tossed in olive oil with salt and pepper until tender and golden brown.
  9. Have your hard boiled eggs cooked and ready to go.
  10. Layer arugula on the bottom of a platter, place the salmon in the center, breaking it apart slightly.
  11. Arrange all the other ingredients in groups all around the platter making sure you salt the tomatoes and give them a little drizzle of olive oil as well.
  12. ENJOY!

 

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Spring Pasta Salad

spring pasta salad

Here’s a pasta salad that features all the flavors of spring including fresh asparagus, baby zucchini, arugula, artichoke hearts, colorful cherry tomatoes, peas and fresh herbs. It’s light, healthy and just perfect for spring!

You can enjoy this spring pasta salad as a main dish by maybe adding some grilled shrimp to it or as a side dish for any party you might be having. Mother’s Day is right around the corner and this would be a nice option for a salad.
farfalloni pasta What really inspired me for this salad was this pasta shape that I found called farfalloni, it reminded me of fluttering butterfies, so cute with the rounded edges. I actually found this at my local HomeGoods store in their gourmet food section.

Years ago I did another spring inspired pasta salad with this pasta shape that I found there as well.

farfalloni pasta The key to a good pasta salad is to make sure your pasta isn’t overcooked, you don’t want it to be soft and mushy, it has to have a nice bite to it so it can hold up to all the veggies that you’re adding. My advice is to start testing it two minutes before the suggested cooking time, you’ll be the best judge by giving it a taste test.

spring pasta salad I’m going to be giving you approximate amounts because when making a pasta salad I always add more or less of something according to my likes and according to how it looks on my platter.

spring pasta salad

You’re zucchini ribbons will soften and bend once the dressing is applied so you can easily intertwine them throughout the pasta salad for an pretty and elegant look.

Spring is here, enjoy!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Spring Pasta Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 oz. of cooked farfalloni pasta, (or farfalle pasta better known as bow ties or butterflies) being careful not to overcook it, once cooked cool it off with cold water then place onto a rimmed cookie sheet so that you can dab any excess water that might fall into the pasta "wings" with a paper towel
  • ½ jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained
  • ¼ bag of defrosted peas
  • 2 cups of sliced multi colored cherry tomatoes prepped for ten minutes in a good drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped basil so that the tomato juices and olive oil mingle together
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ( I prefer a more medium tip not the pencil thin ones) sliced in thirds and pre roasted or blanched for just a few minutes, cooked al'dente with still a bite to it
  • zucchini ribbons done with a vegetable peeler, turning it while peeling it being careful not to reach the seeds. ( use small zucchini)
  • 1 or 2 handfuls of arugula, depending on your liking
  • fresh basil and parsley
  • DRESSING:
  • 1 part white balsamic vinegar to 3 parts olive oil with a touch of dijon mustard to thicken it up, just whisk everything together adding salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Take a big bowl and place all your ingredients into it, spooning the dressing in little by little and adding salt and pepper to taste and being nice and gentle tossing it.
  2. Then place it all onto a pretty platter adding more zucchini ribbons, peas, artichoke hearts or whatever else to make it look balanced with the veggies.
  3. Spoon more dressing if needed.

 

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Creamy Lemon Chicken Thighs with Peas

chicken thighs If your looking for a dish that’s full of flavor, easy to prepare and only uses one pan, this creamy lemon chicken thighs recipe is the one for you. It’s the perfect weeknight meal that tastes like you spent hours cooking it.

Crispy, deep golden chicken thighs sitting in a sauce of creamy, zesty lemon that’s topped off with sweet peas.

Oh, and did I mention what a luscious combination cream and lemon is?

chicken thighs

The ingredient list may be short but the flavors are big and you’ll get this on your table in no time!

This just might be your new go to dish, enjoy!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Creamy Lemon Chicken Thighs with Peas
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 bone in, skin on chicken thighs, preferably organic
  • 2 tablespoons butter, salted
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon
  • ¾ cup chicken broth
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • frozen peas, a cup or so depending on your liking
  • fresh parley and lemon slices for garnish
Instructions
  1. Season chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides.
  2. In a skillet with medium heat melt the butter then add in the chicken thighs skin side down searing them to a deep golden brown, don't flip them until they reach that color.
  3. When deep color is reached flip them over and cook for 2 more minutes on the other side, then remove and set aside.
  4. If too much grease is left drain the pan and add a little bit more butter.
  5. Add the 2 cloves of garlic and cook until light golden then add in the broth, zest, lemon juice and then finally the cream.
  6. Reduce to a simmer then add the chicken thighs back in along with the frozen peas, simmering until chicken is fully cooked and cream has thickened up.
  7. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon slices.

 

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Lemon Pasta with Arugula

lemon pasta Now that winter is behind us it’s time for something light, bright and citrusy and this lemon pasta is just the thing. It’s slightly creamy, lemon zesty with flavors of garlic, parmesan and arugula tossed in.

This recipe is insanely simple yet it doesn’t skimp on any flavor, it’s a fresh, healthy pasta dish that you can get ready in no time at all.

lemon pasta This lemon pasta represents everything that spring is about, zesty and bright! The peppery arugula lends a nice balance to the dish, but if arugula is not your thing feel free to replace it with fresh spinach or even torn basil leaves, either one will marry well with all the other flavors.

This can be a stand alone lunch or dinner with a salad on the side to complete your meal, or you might want to serve it as a side dish because it tastes incredible alongside grilled fish, shrimp or chicken, perfect for your summer entertaining and a favorite of mine.

lemon pasta

Recipes don’t have to be complicated to make delicious and healthy food for your family, It’s amazing what you can create with just a few quality ingredients, simple is best.

Happy Spring!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Lemon Pasta with Arugula
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ lb. of spaghetti
  • ½ cup, fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons, lemon zest
  • ½ cup, heavy cream
  • 1 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 handful of baby arugula
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • olive oil
  • fresh ground pepper
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cooke al'dente.
  2. Drizzle the bottom of a skillet with olive oil, add the butter and when it melts throw in the garlic, don't let it burn or get dark.
  3. Add the heavy cream letting it simmer a bit.
  4. Add the juice and half of the zest, simmer until it reduces a bit.
  5. Scoop the pasta right into the skillet, reserving some pasta water.
  6. Toss in the Parmesan and the arugula, tossing and coating, adding some of the pasta water to loosen the sauce.
  7. Place into a serving dish, adding grated black pepper, the rest of the zest and additional shards of parmesan for garnish.
  8. Enjoy!

 

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Easter Ricotta Pie

easter ricotta pieRicotta pie is an Italian Easter dessert and it’s tradition in my house. Certain holiday foods hold a connection to me and ricotta pie is right up there along with a lamb cake at Easter time. It’s a ritual and it wouldn’t be Easter without it.

I usually make multiple pies because I like to give some away to special people in my life so I make sure right around this time that I’m stocked up on plenty of ricotta and the other ingredients that go into the ricotta pie.

easter ricotta pie There are many different versions of this sweet ricotta pie and every household has their own very favorite. Mine has a creamy blend of ricotta, orange zest, candied orange peel, mini chocolate chips and hints of swirled cinnamon, it’s a dreamy combination of flavors.

easter ricotta pies I usually make this in a ten inch deep dish pie plate but I’ve been known to make it in a springform pan and even a round glass cake pan or you can double the recipe and put it into 13 x 9.

easter ricotta pie Back in 2010 I did a post on my Sweet Ricotta Pie, it’s the same recipe, but I thought it was time for a little updating on my pictures and giving you an easy way to print out the recipe, back then I didn’t have the recipe feature on my blog.

As far as the crust goes feel free to use your own favorite pie dough recipe, I myself have experimented with many different ones over the years, but if making pastry is not your thing you can use a good quality store bought one which I’ve done many times myself.

easter ricotta pie

The end result will be the same, creamy, dense, slightly sweet and filled with flavors that I will remember all my life!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Easter Ricotta Pie
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 uncooked pie crust, either homemade or a good quality store bought one
  • 1½ lbs. of ricotta *** IMPORTANT NOTE: Make sure you drain your ricotta good! You don’t want it to be wet, make sure you get all the excess moisture out or else it will affect the cooking time and texture. You could drain it overnight in the fridge or a couple of hours before you put it together or just look for a drier ricotta, not one that is soaking in water.
  • ¾ c. sugar
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon, plus some extra for sprinkling on top
  • zest of one orange
  • ½ cup of mini, semi sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup diced candied orange peel, either store bought or homemade
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the ricotta with the sugar until very smooth.
  3. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. Beat in the vanilla and cinnamon.
  5. Stir in the candied fruit, orange zest and chocolate chips.
  6. Pour the filling into the unbaked pie shell.
  7. Place onto rimmed baking sheet for ease of pulling it out of the oven.
  8. Sprinkle the top with cinnamon and swirl it with the tip of a knife.
  9. Bake the pie for 45 minutes, or until ricotta is set and toothpick comes out clean.
  10. Let cool down and refrigerate.

 

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Sweet Long Peppers Stuffed with Cauliflower Rice

sweet long peppers Sweet long peppers, oh how I love thee! These elegant looking peppers are super sweet and never ever bitter. They were once called Ancient Sweets but now you’ll find them called, Sweet Twister.

They’re very versatile, you can cut them into rings and use them in salads, stir fries, pizza and frittata’s, they’re great roasted and grilled and of course my favorite way is stuffed.

sweet long peppers These beauties are so vibrant in color, who can resist? Plus they have very few ribs and seeds that are very easy to pick out and an almost hollow interior which gives them the perfect pocket for stuffing.

sweet long peppers Over the years I have stuffed them many ways and usually a meat or sausage was involved, but this time I wanted to use the ever popular cauliflower rice and make a meatless version adding some cheese and herbs into the mix. Imagine a platter full  as a delicious side dish or it can stand alone as vegetarian lunch with a salad on the side, I think you’ll be smitten!

sweet long peppers

I always buy frozen cauliflower rice, it’s less messy for me and I can grab a bag on a whim right out of my freezer. I served my cauliflower rice stuffed peppers alongside a roasted chicken and it was a hit! I hope you give it a try.

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Sweet Long Peppers Stuffed with Cauliflower Rice
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 12 oz. bag of riced cauliflower
  • 6 good size sweet long peppers ( Sweet Twister's)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 1 large handful of fresh parsley, chopped
  • 6 to 8 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
  • 1¼ cup of grape tomatoes, each one cut into 4 pieces
  • 1 heaping ¼ cup of grated romano cheese
  • 1 heaping cup of shredded mozzarella or fontina cheese, or any cheese that melts really good
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400F
  2. Place foil on a rimmed sheet pan and drizzle the bottom with a little olive oil.
  3. In a saute pan drizzled with olive oil, add the onion and garlic until soft then pour in the frozen cauliflower stirring until it has defrosted and cooked a little.
  4. Add in all the other ingredients, garlic, parsley,basil, both cheese and tomatoes, plus salt and pepper to taste, mixing until all combined.
  5. Let it cool down a bit, in the meantime prep your peppers.
  6. Try to leave the stems on it gives a nice presentation.
  7. Figure out which side of the pepper will lay flat and sturdy in the pan.
  8. Cut a slit on top being careful not to go completely through the top or pointed bottom.
  9. Pull out the seeds and ribs with your fingers, it will be easy.
  10. Drizzle the inside with a little olive oil and some black pepper.
  11. Fill each pepper with the cauliflower rice mixture all the way to the top.
  12. Place them onto the rimmed sheet pan with a quick little drizzle of olive oil.
  13. Bake for about 20 minutes or so, the cheese should be melted and the peppers starting to wrinkle and become soft.
  14. Garnish with chopped basil and parsley.

 

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Loaded Farro Salad

loaded farro salad Here’s a loaded salad that’s filled with roasted veggies and delicious chewy farro, this is not a wimpy salad by any means! This loaded farro salad is filled with veggie goodness featuring, asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, peas, red, yellow and orange peppers, artichoke hearts, green onions, basil and parsley then tossed in a bright lemon and olive oil dressing.

loaded farro salad Delicious at room temperature so it’s party perfect. You can serve this as a meatless meal, as a light lunch, a healthy main course or a side dish for grilled fish, shrimp or any meat of your choice.

Did you know that farro can be pre-cooked ahead of time then kept frozen? Sometimes I cook a whole bag, let it cool down and place portions into freezer bags so they’re ready to go when I want to make this.

The frozen farro will keep for up to six months in the freezer, but I assure you it won’t last that long, there are so many different ways to prepare it, here’s a summer version I like to make as well.

loaded farro salad

Keep in mind you can add or subtract any veggie you like, anything goes, this will not disappoint!

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4.0 from 1 reviews
Loaded Farro Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1½ cups of farro
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 teaspoon, salt
  • 1 bunch of thin asparagus, cut diagonally
  • 1 to 2 zucchini and yellow squash, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 each of red, yellow and orange peppers cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas
  • 1 cup of frozen and defrosted artichoke hearts
  • 3 green onions sliced
  • a handful each of fresh basil and parsley chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 small garlic cloves grated on a microplane
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Combine the water and the farro into a medium saucepan, add the salt then bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce heat to medium low then cover and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.
  3. Drain well then transfer to a big bowl to cool down.
  4. In the meantime heat your oven to 425 degrees then roast all you veggies on a large sheet pan, (except the peas, just let them defrost and the green onions, just have them ready to go) that have been drizzled all over with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper.
  5. Cook them until there is still a little bite, do not over cook and let them get mushy. You'll have to keep checking and tossing them., maybe total 10 minutes, but ovens vary.
  6. Let all the veggies cool off when out of the oven before combining them with the cooled farro.
  7. Toss and fold everything together including the defrosted peas.
  8. Whisk the juice of 1 lemon together with the grated garlic and enough olive oil to your tasting.
  9. Add the chopped parsley, basil and sliced green onions.
  10. Pour the dressing on, toss gently and season with salt and pepper.

 

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Chicken Rolls with Asparagus, Red Pepper and Brie

chicken rolls Turn ordinary chicken breasts into an easy and elegant dinner by making chicken rolls that are stuffed with asparagus, roasted red pepper and brie cheese. This dish could easily be used for entertaining because you can prep and prepare the chicken the night before and then just bake it off the day of your party.

chicken rollsAll you have to do is cook your asparagus just for a minute or so to take the rawness off then plunge into cold water and pat dry. Then roast up some thick sliced red pepper strips to layer on top along with your favorite cheese.

I used brie here but mozzarella would work nicely, as well as provolone, fontina, goat cheese or anything else that melts nicely.

I had three, six to eight ounce breasts which I sliced open like a book keeping them together, not separating them apart. Pound nice and flat, as even as you can all around then season with salt and pepper.

Brown one side of the breasts in a skillet to get a little color on the side that will be showing when they get rolled up, light brown on one side only for around two minutes tops!

Then transfer to a baking sheet, browned side down and start layering. I used four asparagus for my chicken rolls but I had fairly thin asparagus.

Roll up and secure it with twine, do not use toothpicks they will fall apart.

Drizzle the top with olive oil, and your favorite dried herbs, I used thyme and granulated garlic.

Bake at 375 til cooked through. It’s best to check the internal temp with a meat thermometer just to make sure.

chicken rolls

This chicken is far from bland, it’s juicy, chock full of flavor and it looks pretty too, a win, win, enjoy!

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Prosciutto Wrapped Cod with Green Beans and Tomato

prosciutto wrapped cod Today I’m giving you a meal that can be put together in no time at all, perfect for mid week or when your days are rushed. It’s prosciutto wrapped cod and it’s cooked on a bed of tender green beans and roasted tomatoes. It’s a one pan wonder and no formal recipe is required.

It’s super easy to make and very healthy, a win win for you and your family!

prosciutto wrapped cod Look for a nice piece of fresh wild caught cod one that has some thickness to it and easy to cut into good size portions.

In a little bowl add some olive oil, one clove of garlic grated on a microplane and lemon zest. Salt and pepper the fish then brush each portion with the olive oil mixture.

Next you’re going to wrap a piece or two of prosciutto all around each fish portion leaving the ends unwrapped.

prosciutto wrapped cod

Take a baking dish and add blanched green beans on the bottom along with a handful of cherry tomatoes, lemon zest, salt, pepper then drench them with olive oil and place the wrapped cod on top.

Bake at 400 degrees for about ten to twelve minutes or until fish is white and firm.

Enjoy!

Signature

Orzo Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Roasted Tomatoes

orzo pasta I love the versatility of orzo pasta, it resembles large grains of rice and can be served alone as a main course, in soups, salads, pilaf style and tossed into casseroles. It’s also easy to serve up and eat, so therefore it’s a good pasta choice to have for a party.

This recipe has a few major components, the important ones being, roasted tomatoes, my beloved artichoke hearts, and creamy parmesan cheese and when combined with the orzo pasta and a couple of other things deliciousness occurs!

orzo pasta I really don’t know why I don’t cook up orzo pasta more often, I forget how good it is until I make this salad during the summer, which is another great use for it and a perfect dish for entertaining.

orzo pasta ingredients It’s not tomato season here in Chicagoland but this time of year I buy Campari tomatoes, bigger than a cherry tomato with a nice tomatoey flavor and even more so when you roast them like I did.

I was able to find fresh baby artichokes that cooked up nice and tender, which made me very happy.

You could also use frozen and defrosted artichoke hearts squeezed and drained of all liquid as well, but I would never recommend canned, sorry I just don’t like them!

orzo pasta

This is a great side dish, I served it with prosciutto wrapped shrimp and it was delicious together but actually this could stand on it’s own or act as a side to just about anything.

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Orzo Pasta with Artichoke Hearts and Roasted Tomatoes
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 8 oz. orzo pasta
  • 8 Campari tomatoes, sliced and pre-roasted or double the amount of cherry tomatoes, pre-roasted
  • 7 artichoke hearts, preferably fresh and steamed or cooked til tender or frozen and defrosted squeezed of all liquid
  • 1 cup of freshly grated parmigiano or romano cheese
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ of a medium onion
  • handful of chopped parsley, basil or both
  • reserved pasta water
  • olive oil
Instructions
  1. Pre-roast sliced tomatoes at 400 degrees on parchment drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little oregano until moisture is mostly gone and the sides look wrinkled.
  2. Cook orzo al ' dente and before draining reserve a cup of the pasta water.
  3. While pasta is boiling take a large saute pan with sides, drizzle the bottom with olive oil.
  4. Saute the onion and garlic then add the artichoke hearts, breaking some apart so the leaves can mix well into the pasta.
  5. Add half of the pasta water and cheese into the veggie mix, mixing well with a whisking motion to create a sauce.
  6. Toss in the cooked orzo pasta and If you need more pasta water add it.
  7. Pull pan off the heat and fold in the roasted tomatoes.
  8. Toss on chopped herbs, parsley, basil or both.
  9. Adjust to your liking adding a drizzle more of olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper or pasta water.
  10. Recipe can easily be doubled!

 

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Rainbow Carrots with Balsamic and Thyme on Baked Ricotta

rainbow carrots on baked ricotta I don’t know why carrots are so underrated I think we take them for granted, they’re the base for soups and stews, juices and even baked goods like cakes and muffins. You can boil them or eat them raw plus they have plenty of health benefits.

Taking center stage in this recipe are those beautiful rainbow colored carrots, the colors are so vibrant with their trio of purple, white and orange and I love the look of the longer, thinner bunches.

balsamic and thyme carrots

I like to roast them with olive oil and generous amounts of thyme, the flavors all meld together as they caramelize in the oven.

To finish them off a splash of rich balsamic glaze takes them to another level.

balsamic and thyme carrots on ricotta You could stop right there and honestly you would be totally satisfied, but we’re going one step further and placing them on top of a gratin filled with savory, garlicky, cheesy baked ricotta

rainbow carrots on baked ricotta

Oh my, the humble carrot never looked and tasted so good!

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5.0 from 2 reviews
Rainbow Carrots with Balsamic and Thyme on Baked Ricotta
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 bunch of rainbow carrots, around eight, go for the thinner longer bunches
  • thyme, fresh or dried
  • 1½ cups ricotta (drained of liquid)
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of grated romano cheese (or parmesan)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced, smashed or grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil
  • balsamic glaze (store bought)
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. In a rimmed baking sheet add carrots, toss and drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper and a generous amount of thyme, fresh or dried.
  3. Roast til tender with still a little bite, not mushy.
  4. Remove and drizzle with balsamic glaze while still warm, set aside.
  5. Lower oven temp to 375 degrees.
  6. Olive oil a low profile baking dish something that will showcase the length of the carrots, I used a gratin dish.
  7. In a small bowl add the ricotta, garlic, egg, grated cheese, salt and pepper, mixing well by hand incorporating everything.
  8. Spread ricotta mixture onto your oiled gratin dish then bake for around 20 minutes until you see a light golden brown all around.
  9. Place cooked carrots on top adding a little more olive oil and balsamic glaze before serving.

 

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Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce, True Comfort Food

bolognese sauce It’s January, mid winter and the weather still calls for some comfort food, and I say a nice pot of bolognese sauce simmering on the stove is comfort food at it’s finest!

Bolognese sauce is a meat based sauce that originated from Bologna, Italy. A classic bolognese usually consists of a mixture of meats, some pancetta, a soffrito of aromatic veggies, tomato, wine and milk or cream, it also requires many hours of simmering.

Over the years I found you can put together a darn good bolognese pretty quick and easy and in a little less than an hour.

mirepoix One thing for sure, and is a must when making your bolognese is that you want to include these veggies, a soffrito of finely chopped carrots, celery and onions and sometimes I include finely chopped mushrooms, I eliminate the pancetta all together.

If you want to speed things up instead of chopping the veggies by hand just pull out your food processor and pulse them until they turn into a small dice.

bolognese sauce For this quicker version I use only one meat and it’s usually a grass fed beef and when combined with everything else it creates a thick rich sauce with many layers of flavor, I can’t tell the difference if it was simmered for one or three hours, it’s that good!

pasta bolognese

Just about any pasta shape complements this meaty sauce, so just pick your favorite!

spaghetti squash bolognese

If you’re trying to watch your carb intake after all the holiday goodies, no problem, because it’s equally delicious on top of spaghetti squash, I actually love it that way.

You might want to double or triple the recipe because it freezes really well and it’s nice to have some tucked away in your freezer when comfort food is calling your name!

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5.0 from 4 reviews
Quick and Easy Bolognese Sauce
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 lb. ground beef, preferably grass fed or sirloin
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • ¾ cup mushrooms, finely diced (optional)
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes, (optional)
  • ½ cup white wine
  • ½ cup of whole milk
  • 1 28 oz. can of ground tomatoes
  • a few fresh basil leaves for added flavor
  • 2 tablespoons each of butter and olive oil
Instructions
  1. Dice up your vegetables into a fine dice either by hand or pulsed in your food processor.
  2. In a heated heavy bottomed pan add the butter and olive oil.
  3. Add all the veggies and garlic and cook until soft.
  4. Toss in the ground meat and cook until browned.
  5. Deglaze with the wine and let it evaporate.
  6. Pour in the milk and let it cook for a minute.
  7. Add the tomatoes plus salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Cook uncovered on a slow simmer stirring often.
  9. Should be done after 45 minutes or so.
  10. Serve with your favorite pasta or spaghetti squash.

 

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Cauliflower Rice Pilaf

cauliflower rice pilaf Who ever came up with the idea of ricing cauliflower was brilliant! It’s so versatile and healthy and if you’re trying to stay away from carbs it’s a nice substitute. Can I be honest, I like this recipe for cauliflower rice pilaf better than the real deal which you won’t even miss, plus you’ll feel really good about eating it.

riced cauliflower Let’s talk about cauliflower rice. In the past when it first became popular I made my own with a large head of fresh cauliflower that I riced in my own food processor, but it was a production, I made a mess and usually had cauliflower all over. Now it seems that you can find it riced and ready to go almost everywhere either fresh or frozen and that makes me very happy.

Can I just tell you in all honesty, I prefer the frozen over the fresh. I love the convenience of having it stashed away in my freezer to use whenever I feel like it, it won’t spoil and the taste and texture is the same. My favorite brand is the one shown above it’s delicious, and I love the consistency in the size of the “rice”.

cauliflower rice pilaf This cauliflower rice pilaf is a wonderful side dish to have along with fish, chicken or meats. It’s even great for lunch all week just on it’s own and you don’t even need to heat it up, I’ve eaten it straight out of the fridge like a salad. A bowl of this pilaf is very satisfying.

cauliflower rice pilaf

You can combine any veggies you like, but for me I found this combo to be excellent. Along with the cauliflower rice it has mushrooms, butternut squash, curly kale, red and yellow pepper, red onion, garlic, green onions, cranberries and some salty pecans.

I tried to give you approximate amounts so you could get some idea but I always go over, in my opinion the more veggies the better, so don’t be skimpy, enjoy, it’s all good!

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5.0 from 3 reviews
Cauliflower Rice Pilaf
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 12 oz. of fresh or frozen cauliflower rice ( I prefer frozen for convenience)
  • 1 small pack of cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 small red pepper and yellow pepper, small dice
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and diced small (you'll have extra)
  • 4 thin green onions or 2 larger, cut in small slices
  • 1 packed cup of curly kale, cut into thin strips
  • ¼ cup of red onion, diced small
  • a handful of dried cranberries
  • a handful of salted pecans ( you could use unsalted but I prefer the salted)
  • 1 large clove, garlic grated on a micro-plane or diced very finely
  • a handful of chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. In two separate pans roast the sliced mushrooms and the small diced butternut squash, both drizzled with a little olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted at 425 until moisture leaves the mushrooms and the squash gets lightly golden. Set aside and let them cool.
  2. In a large saute pan add the garlic clove, red onion,the kale and both peppers and saute in olive oil for just a couple of seconds to soften slightly, basically until the garlic turns golden, then scoop out and set aside so it can cool down.
  3. Add the cauliflower rice into the large saute pan with more olive oil, season with salt and pepper and cook it until it's tender, do not overcook it! If it's frozen it just takes a few minutes. Let it cool down.
  4. Into a bowl add the cooked cauliflower rice, garlic, red onion, peppers and kale, mix well.
  5. Dump in the cooked mushrooms and also the butternut squash (you probably won't use it all).
  6. Toss into the bowl your green onions, parsley, cranberries and pecans, incorporating everything, mixing well adding more or less according to your liking.
  7. Taste for salt and pepper and drizzling more olive oil if necessary.

 

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Baked Crab Cakes with Meyer Lemon Aioli

baked crab cakes Have you ever gotten really excited about a recipe before? Well I sure have with these luscious baked crab cakes.

Before I go on I must confess this is the first time I attempted to make homemade crab cakes. I normally order them in restaurants but I’ve been disappointed so many times because they’re usually fried and somewhat greasy or you barely taste any crab at all because of the breading and fillers packed inside.

baked crab cakes Have no fear, these are the real deal! Jumbo lump crab cakes that are delicate and light with no breading or frying just baked to perfection in a very hot oven.

These are perfect for a special occasion like New Years Eve this weekend, a romantic dinner for two, a special birthday or anniversary dinner, a light and healthy main course or even served as appetizers. The best part is they’re so scrumptious and so easy to make!

jumbo lump crab for crab cakes You’ll need real jumbo lump crab meat so ask your fish monger where it’s located in the store. Many places sell it, It’s even available at Trader Joes but I happened to buy this at my Costco which always has it during the holidays. I added a little chopped red onion, red pepper, celery, parsley, basil and some spice for the other ingredients.

making crab cakes You must get a ring mold or a biscuit cutter like I used, or make your own with a can, it makes all the difference in looks and texture.

baked crab cakes What really makes these crab cakes so magical is the technique in which they’re cooked. I watched a You Tube of a chef in Napa and I just loved how he cooked them using high heat in the oven for just eight minutes.

The ingredients were a mix of a few different recipes I found on the web. I served them with a meyer lemon aioli that paired perfectly with all the flavors but a nice remoulade would work just as well.

baked crab cakes Don’t be afraid to make your own crab cakes, once you try these you’ll be hooked forever.

baked crab cake I can’t wait to make them again!

baked crab cakes

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Baked Crab Cakes with Meyer Lemon Aioli
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Makes 4 generous crab cakes
  • ½ lb. of cooked jumbo lump crab
  • ¼ cup each, or even less ( you be the judge) of finely chopped celery, red onion, red pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil
  • ¼ teaspoon of Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup of panko breadcrumbs
  • zest of a ½ lemon
  • 3 tablespoons of real mayo for the filling,plus extra for aioli
  • Old Bay seasoning to taste, or creole if you want it spicier
  • FOR THE AIOLI
  • 1 cup of good quality mayo
  • meyer lemon juice or regular lemon juice, fresh. Mix well til you get a nice consistency, add some salt and pepper.
Instructions
  1. Pre- heat oven to 500 degrees
  2. Spray a small baking sheet or pie tin with olive oil spray, no parchment or foil.
  3. Take a mixing bowl then add the mayo, zest and old bay, mix well.
  4. Fold in the celery, red pepper, red onion, parsley and basil and panko.
  5. Gently fold in the lump crab meat and combine everything. At this point you can taste for seasoning as you like it, adding salt and pepper to taste or more spice.
  6. Place bowl into the freezer for 10 minutes or fridge for 20 minutes, no longer! This allows the panko to set up and hold everything together.
  7. Take a ring mold, the one I used was around 3" and fill it almost to the top, packing it down as your filling it.
  8. Gently push it out onto your greased baking sheet.
  9. Place them into the hot 500 degree oven for 8 minutes and do not touch or flip them over.
  10. Take them out after 8 minutes and let them sit on the baking sheet for a minute before removing.
  11. Swipe your platter or serving dish with some of the aioli then carefully take a fish spatula and lift the crab cake gently off the pan and actually flip it over with your hand so the deeper golden side that was on the bottom is now facing up.
  12. Garnish with more aioli, some parsley and a sprinkle of Old Bay seasoning.

 

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Ice Cream Stuffed Panettone

ice cream stuffed panettone Here’s a fun way to transform a traditional panettone into a spectacular dessert with no baking required. Panettone is an Italian Christmas cake that has a sweet buttery dough filled candied fruits and nuts, just the smell alone when you open the box will drive you wild!

Today we’re going a little over the top and using the pannetone for an Italian version of an ice cream cake. Basically you’re going to hollow out your favorite panettone and then stuff it with some ice cream or gelato.

ice cream stuffed panettone I decided to do a mix of vanilla and chocolate this time, plus I added some frozen dark sweet cherries, because why not?

hollowed out panettone Leave the paper rim on for stability then either slice off the bottom or the top part right under the dome. Take a serrated knife and cut into the panettone leaving a border around the edges and bottom, scooping out the interior.

At this point you can brush the sides and bottom with some liqueur, but to me the panettone has so much flavor itself that it’s not necessary, but it certainly is an option.

ice cream stuffed panettone Make sure your ice cream is softened but not runny then just fill up the cavity to the top. I did the vanilla layer first, added some frozen cherries then ended with the chocolate layer.

ice cream stuffed panettone When the panettone is filled to the rim with the ice cream re-attach the lid or bottom back on then wrap the whole thing in  plastic wrap and stick it into the freezer. I find that overnight works best because you want the ice cream to really firm up so you can have nice clean wedges when cutting into it,  so what’s really nice is that this can be made one or even two days ahead.

ice cream stuffed panettone You can decorate the top anyway you want, I just melted some chocolate and made a quick frosting and added mini chocolate chips but you can be really creative and make it your own.

ice cream stuffed panettone

This is a pretty holiday dessert, nice and easy that will certainly wow your guests!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Ice Cream Stuffed Panettone
 
You can use any size or shape panettone just use the same principle that I did filling it to the brim with ice cream.
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large panettone
  • 2 pints of gelato, one vanilla and one chocolate, softened (feel free to use any flavor of ice cream or gelato)
  • a handful of frozen dark cherries (optional) You can also add nuts or any frozen fruit you like
  • liqueur to brush the interior sides ( like amaretto) also optional, definitely not needed.
Instructions
  1. Take a sharp serrated knife and turn the panettone upside down and slice an inch off the bottom or if you prefer, make the slice on top right under the dome.You can leave the paper on for stability.
  2. Then cut around the inside of the bread to hollow it out leaving ½ inch base and sides ( save the bread pieces to munch on).
  3. Take your softened ice cream and fill the cavity to the top packing it down firmly, then re-attach the lid or bottom securely.
  4. Wrap the whole panettone in foil or plastic wrap and stick it into the freezer. Best if overnight or even 2 days before so that ice cream is nice and hard.
  5. Remove from the freezer, unwrap it, removing the paper that's attached to the panettone also, then place on a serving platter and decorate the top..
  6. Slice into wedges and serve, you can serve with whipped cream, maybe a chocolate sauce, or just as is.

 

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Homemade Cucidati a Sicilian Fig Cookie Tradition

cucidati fig cookies When I think of holiday baking the first cookie that comes to my mind is cucidati, a Sicilian fig cookie filled with a mixture of nuts, dates, figs, raisins, spices and a few different flavorings and all that goodness is wrapped in a tender buttery dough that’s baked, frosted and sprinkled.

In my family this is a cookie that has memories attached to it, just the smells alone evoke fond thoughts of a mother long gone who lovingly made these for her family throughout their childhood for special occasions and holidays.

It’s about wanting to keep up that tradition and then handing it down to generation after generation.

cucidati Italian fig cookies So for that reason when I make them I go big and it’s a family affair. We start early in the morning and it becomes a whole day of baking. I think the most we made in a one day was 600.

Every one brings their own containers to take their cookies home, many will be gifted out to other family members and friends who look forward to our baking lollapalooza.

I like finding different tins to put them in and I always layer the cookies between wax paper.

fig paste

We have it down to a science now and everyone has their own jobs to do that they’re comfortable with, from making the filling, rolling the cookies, watching the oven, frosting them and adding the sprinkles. I always prep the dough the night before so that job is out of the way, I make at least ten batches.

cucidati Italian fig cookies I line my dining room table with sheets of wax paper and by the time we’re finished every inch gets covered and then some!

cucidati Italian fig cookies The one rule we have is that no one takes any home until the frosting has completely hardened, otherwise they’ll just get ruined when you’re packing them up.

cucidati Italian fig cookies

We even made some with white on white for a more classic look, wouldn’t these would look nice set out at an Italian wedding?

cucidati Italian fig cookiescucidati Italian fig cookies The smell of them baking lasted for days in my house!

cucidati Italian fig cookies

Because of the overwhelming requests for this recipe, I’ve posted it below along with all my tips.

Happy Baking! 

CUCIDATI

The Dough
TIP: (My handed down family recipe used Crisco because that was very common then, but today all I use is butter in the dough and we like it so much better!)
 4 cups all-purpose flour
 2/3 cup sugar
 1 teaspoon baking powder
 1 teaspoon salt
 8 ounces cold unsalted butter or 2 sticks, cut into pieces
 4 large eggs
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. 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 shape and wrap in plastic and put into fridge overnight or use after it chills well.

TIP:(It’s great to work with when it’s chilled, if you leave it on the counter which I’ve done in the past the butter warms up and rolling it is a nightmare of stickiness, so take out one batch at a time. You might have to whack it with the rolling pin to break it down a bit but believe me it works and rolls much better. Making the dough ahead is especially good when making large amounts like I do, plus it will free up your food processor for the filling.
The Filling
 One 12-ounce package dried Calimyrna or Mission figs, snip off the hard end of stem
 ½ cup of dates, remove pits
 1/2 cup un-blanched almonds, toasted and coarsely chopped
 1/3 cup apricot preserves or orange marmalade
 ½ cup plump golden raisins
 1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced ( you can find this on line if you can’t find it in the baking isle, or just used grated orange peel and more marmalade, but I love this addition)
 1/3 cup of honey if you want it sweeter
 1/4 cup dark rum or whiskey
 1 teaspoon cinnamon
 TIP: ( My advice is to taste as you go along maybe adding more or less of the ingredients, my favorite is using whisky)
Instructions for filling
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; if you want to do this the day before go right ahead, it gives the flavors a chance to meld together.
To assemble the cookies
Cut your log of dough into 12 pieces and try to roll it out into a 3” by 12” rectangle. Then take the fig filling and scoop it out or make a fig log right down the middle onto the rectangle of the dough and roll it up placing it seam side down.
Cut cookies into 1 1/2 inch pieces, you can cut them into a square or on an angle, then place the cookies on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake at 350 for 15 minutes, till bottoms are nicely golden.
The Frosting
One whole bag of confectioners’ sugar mixed with milk to get the right consistency, sort of thick, not watery.
Non-perils for sprinkling

This recipe makes 4-5 dozen.
Make icing but don’t ice them until the cookies are completely cool from the oven,(important!) Spread a little icing onto each cookie, I like to use a pastry brush instead of dipping which gives me more control and it controls some of the sweetness because the filling is sweet also, then sprinkle the nonpareils on the top of the wet frosting but over a bowl otherwise you’ll see them all over your floor.

Pack them into tins only when frosting is completely hardened between wax paper layers, I repeat, let them dry completely!!

These can be made ahead of time to freeze but please do not frost then until you’re ready to serve. I don’t freeze mine I store then in the tins like I said between wax paper and keep the tins in a cool place, like my garage.
Happy Holiday Baking!

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Italian Christmas Tree Cake with Lemon Curd and Limoncello

Italian Christmas tree cake I know it’s definitely Christmas time when I start to see all the colorful boxes of panettone and pandoro sold in almost every store I walk into. Both breads are decadent and sweet and most Italians love to eat them for dessert and breakfast, as well as giving them out as gifts during the holidays.

The difference between the two is that panettone is studded with nuts and dried fruits and pandoro is plain, no fruit or nuts but rich in butter and egg like a fluffy brioche, golden in color and baked in a pretty star- shaped pan.

pandoro You can make pandoro into a Christmas tree shape by cutting the star-shaped loaf horizontally and then rotating the layers.

It’s fun to make, very festive and it doesn’t take long to put it together, it can be a fun project to do with your kids and the best part is, there’s no baking involved!

christmas tree cake Here I made an adult version by brushing the layers with limoncello. In the past I’ve used Amaretto, which is equally amazing, but feel free to eliminate the liqueur all together if you want, it’s not necessary.

Then there’s the mascarpone and whipped cream mix, together they create a nice stable consistency which will hold your cake together and give you that look of “snow”. I also folded in some good quality, store-bought lemon curd into the whipped cream mixture, I’ll just let you imagine how good it is, no words needed.

For a kids version think Nutella swiped onto the layers along with the whipped cream and mascarpone mixture.

Honestly the flavor possibilities are endless as well as the decorating part. You can put fresh berries on the star points to make it look like ornaments and if you don’t want fresh fruit you can use candied cherries, sprinkles, crushed candy canes, shaved chocolate, edible stars. The baking isle of your store will give you a ton of inspiration.

You can make a nice presentation for your holiday table by decorating your serving platter with some fake greenery and pine cones like I did, or just wander into a craft store to get your own awesome ideas.

christmas tree cake

The fun part is decorating the very top, I found an acrylic star ornament that I can reuse, I just cut off the string and popped it into the cake. Here again the possibilities are endless, you could even use one of your own decorated cookies, that would be a really nice touch.

christmas tree cakechristmas tree cake

I hope you give this a try and if you do I would love to see all your creations!

Follow me on Instagram where you can see what else I’m cooking up daily during the holidays.

5.0 from 4 reviews
Italian Christmas Tree Cake with Lemon Curd and Limoncello
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large Pandoro
  • ½ cup of Limoncello or other liqueur (optional)
  • 1 small jar of good quality store-bought lemon curd 10 oz. ( You won't use it all)
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese, room temp
  • 2 heaping tablespoons, powdered sugar
  • edible stars, white pearl sprinkles or anything else you want to decorate with
  • A topper for your tree cake, I used a star ornament
  • platter decorations
Instructions
  1. Turn the Pandoro on it's side and carefully cut six slices horizontally.
  2. In a large mixing bowl add the mascarpone cheese and powdered sugar, cream well beating with a mixer.
  3. Next add the heavy cream into the mascarpone mixture, beating well into stiff peaks, not soft and loose.
  4. Fold in lemon curd, start with a heaping tablespoon and keep adding more to taste and stiffness of the cream mixture, remember you don't want it runny.
  5. Place the largest slice onto your serving platter.
  6. Brush first layer with limoncello, if not using liqueur just brush the layer with a thin swipe of lemon curd.
  7. Spread cream mixture all over the top.
  8. Top with the next largest slice making sure to angle it so the points of the star do not align.
  9. Repeat with the limoncello and cream mixture on each layer and finally the top.
  10. At this point you can refrigerate it over night and decorate it closer to the time you will be serving it. I've done it hours before. Try not to serve it ice cold from the fridge, let it sit out a little.
  11. To cut remover layer by layer and cut into serving size, when you get towards the bottom you can cut into wedges.
  12. Remember, the skies the limit on flavor and decorating, make it your own!

 

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Ravioli, A Yearly Holiday Tradition

homemade ravioli This is the time of year I love making ravioli just before Thanksgiving, it’s tradition in my house. I remember as a kid white sheets on top of tables all over our house that were filled with ravioli made together by my mother and aunt. I have their recipe and I hold it near and dear to my heart.

They always made two different kinds of ravioli, meat and cheese and that’s what I make to this very day, and I have to say that their recipe never ever fails me.

Although I like to use different fillings and be adventurous now and then, when I’m with my family and cousins on my side it’s tradition that we use their special recipe which stirs up great memories for all of us.

I’ve learned a lot of tips and tricks over the years, many I have shared on this blog, like how to make ravioli for a crowd  (and not lose your mind!) It’s not as hard as you think especially if you have a few family members helping you make them ahead of time, plus it’s lots of fun and you’ll be creating wonderful memories together.

ravioli dough I’m all about being organized and having everything prepped. I like to make the dough the night before, for 400 ravioli that’s around ten batches of dough, if I’m making 200, five batches of dough. Sometimes I’ll get up early and make all the dough in the morning but I’m not much of an early bird I work better at night.

The dough must always be covered and resting at room temperature so if they were stored in the fridge overnight you have to take them out and let them warm up, the dough will be more pliable and easier to work with.

I always make my dough in the food processor, it’s so fast and works like a charm every time. Making the dough in a well is not for me, especially for large amounts, I was taught that way but I’m all about the food processor method now.

ravioli making tools They also rolled out their ravioli by hand with a rolling pin and crimped each and everyone with a fork, I did that too back in the day but times have changed.

As the years went by I graduated to a pretty red pasta machine and I also use ravioli forms, the forms allow the ravioli to come out uniform in size, and I rarely have any that breakage when boiling.

When I first started making ravioli they would be crazy looking, some were long rectangles, short rectangles, big squares, short squares, thick dough, thin dough, not enough filling, air pockets all over, and many would break open when boiling, thank goodness I found the right tools!

ravioli doughravioli attachment But now fast forward to 2016 I discovered something even better and I don’t think I’ll ever go back to my pretty red crank style pasta roller, I’ll have to pass it down as a family heirloom because I now have a new and powerful friend, my Kitchen Aid pasta attachment!

Well it’s not really new, I bought it a couple of years ago but never used it, I think I was afraid it wouldn’t give me the same results as my oldie but goodie crank style. The brand new and never used attachment was sitting in a box in my pantry for so long that I had to Google how to  properly place it on the machine and use it.

You don’t realize how fatiguing it is to crank out 400 ravioli, when making so many we would take turns, but it’s a breeze with the pasta attachment because the machine does all the work for you, the power of that motor makes the most uniform dough, always consistent and smooth as silk, plus there’s a bonus, you’ll have both of your hands free and you won’t feel tired at all.

It’s amazing and I highly recommend it if you like to make a lot of fresh pasta, and I’m not being compensated to say it!

prepping ravioli  This past weekend I made 200 ravioli by myself and I wasn’t the least bit tired, I could have made another 100, no problem, the pasta attachment changed my life!

I prepped the fillings the night before because it’s a little time consuming and I like to get that out of the way. I made cheese, meat and butternut squash filling. I also love using piping bags for a more clean and efficient way of filling the ravioli forms, works like a charm and it’s much, much neater than using a spoon.

The forms have to be well floured all over including the zig zags before placing the dough on top, dusting them with flour will help them to seal and fall out of the forms without getting stuck.

making ravioli At this point you can also brush some water lightly all around the edges then the top layer of dough goes on. I use a small rolling pin and roll over all the zig zag lines and the surface of the dough, that will also help in getting the filling down into the holes.

homemade ravioli When it’s time to release the ravioli I turn the whole form upside down and grab a corner with my two fingers tugging a bit until the ravioli just fall out onto your work surface.

making raviolihomemade ravioli Then I’ll use a pasta crimper shown above, and score it through the zig zag lines which helps them come apart easy, one score usually does it.

homemade ravioli I always freeze mine by taking a cookie sheet, lining it with parchment paper and placing the ravioli single layer, never on top of each other or touching. When the pan is filled up I’ll put another piece of parchment on top then stick the whole pan in the freezer.

Meat ravioli usually take around a half hour to freeze, when they’re all frozen I’ll place them into freezer bags and they won’t stick together at all, you’ll be able to take out as many as needed.

butternut squash raviolibutternut squash ravioli Butternut squash as well as the cheese filling will take a good hour to freeze because of the softer and wetter filling.

homemade raviolihomemade ravioli Be sure to mark your bags!

Keep in mind you don’t have to make as many as I did, I don’t want to scare you off from doing this but if you’re going to embark on this adventure you might as well go big!

They taste at optimum freshness and flavor for at least four months in the freezer, so you have plenty of time to make them before a big event.

homemade ravioli

Like I said I have some other good tips and tricks in my archives here and here. In those posts and the other link above I”ll give you a visual on how I did it for a crowd, how much sauce to make for 400, the shallow disposable pans I used and of course pictures of the cooked ravioli.

I hope you give this a try someday, there’s nothing like homemade ravioli and just think of the fun memories you’ll be making!

Recipe is upon request, just send me an email.

You can also follow Proud Italian Cook on Instagram to see what else I’m cooking up during the week and especially all through the holidays.

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Cranberry Amaretto Clafoutis

cranberry amaretto clafoutis The holidays are upon us and I have just the dessert to impress your guests, a Cranberry Amaretto Clafoutis.

A clafoutis has all the makings of a very elegant dessert yet it can be very rustic also. What’s a clafoutis? It’s a French dessert that’s custard and flan like, it can be filled with a variety of different fresh fruit and when baked the sweet batter gets nice and puffy all around the fruit tasting very light and pudding like.

cranberry amaretto clafoutis ingredients It may look decadent but it’s a fooler because it’s neither heavy or overly sweet and that’s what I love about it, and to top it off,  it’s super easy to make!

cranberry amaretto clafoutis Slivered almonds embed themselves into the sweet and puffy batter that’s flavored with sweet almond liqueur that pairs so well with the slightly tart cranberries, this is screaming put on the coffee guests are stopping by!

cranberry amaretto clafoutiscranberry amaretto clafoutis

Scoop some out and serve it alongside fresh whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or as is, either way you’re going to love it, holiday cooking has officially begun!

Follow me on Instagram to see what I’m cooking up daily and through the holidays.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Cranberry Amaretto Clafoutis
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups fresh whole cranberries
  • ½ cup all purpose flour
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1½ cups, whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons, melted butter and a little extra for buttering pan
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of amaretto or 1 teaspoon of almond extract, or 1 Tablespoon amaretto and ½ teaspoon of almond extract combined.
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds
  • confectioners sugar for dusting
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 375 F. then butter your baking dish or ovenproof skillet.
  2. In a bowl combine flour, eggs, melted butter, baking powder, salt, milk, vanilla, amaretto or almond extract and half a cup of the sugar. Beat on high speed with a hand mixer until well combined. Set aside and let it rest.
  3. Take remaining quarter cup of sugar and coat it all over the cranberries, toss it into the buttered skillet and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven.
  4. Give the batter one more whirl on high with the hand mixer after its been resting then pour it onto the cooked cranberries.
  5. Sprinkle with almonds then return to oven and bake another 35 minutes.
  6. It will be puffy when taken out of the oven but in a few minutes it will settle down then dust it with the powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream on the side.

 

Signature

Butternut Squash Pizza with Sage Walnut Pesto

butternut squash pizza with sage pesto As promised I would like to announce the winner of the beautiful Lagostina Hammered Copper Pastaiola, and the winner is… DIANE KANTOR! Congratulations Diane, I will be contacting you by email to get your address so the company can ship it directly to you.

Can I just tell you something? I adore this pizza! It highlights roasted butternut squash on a bed of garlicky ricotta with touches of sage and walnut pesto floating around, the simple flavors of fall on top of crispy and crunchy pizza dough.

When making this pizza you’ll want to seek out a squash that has a long neck because that’s what you’ll be using to make those nice round slices which I think it adds so much to the presentation, don’t you?

sage and walnut pesto I was immediately drawn to the looks of this pizza when I saw a photo posted on none other than Pinterest but I wanted to add my own little twist with the sage and walnut pesto, I thought it would be extra delicious with little dollops all over the warm pizza, and guess what? I was right.

sage and walnut pesto I have so much sage still growing in my garden and this was another way to enjoy it, and as all fresh pesto’s it takes no time to whip it up. I also like using the sage pesto with other things like fish, chicken, pasta, root vegetables, swirled into mashed potatoes and risotto, the possibilities are endless and a little goes a long way and it just screams fall to me!

butternut squash pizza with sage pesto If you make your own pizza dough, I applaud you, I’m not that fond of working with yeast so I always buy my pizza dough, but fortunately for me I have an excellent source with excellent quality dough, so it makes my life easier.

butternut squash pizza with sage pesto

Serve this with a nice green salad and you’ll have a fantastic fall dinner!

(Follow me on Instagram to see what else I’m cooking up during the week)

5.0 from 1 reviews
Butternut Squash Pizza with Sage Walnut Pesto
 
This recipe is adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen
Author:
Ingredients
  • SAGE AND WALNUT PESTO
  • 1 cup sage leaves
  • ¾ cup parsley
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ¾ cup toasted walnuts
  • ½ cup of grated Parmesan
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • and a squeeze of lemon for brightness
  • PIZZA
  • 1 dough ball, homemade or store bought, enough for 1 pizza
  • 1 butternut squash, look for a long neck so you can cut it into round slices, reserve the bulb part for something else.
  • ricotta
  • 1 smashed garlic clove
  • shredded dry mozzarella
  • parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. FOR THE PESTO
  2. Place everything into a food processor, except for the olive oil, I used my mini processor.
  3. Pulse it, chopping the nuts and combining everything then start drizzling the oil down the tube until it has a loose consistency characteristic of pesto. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. FOR THE PIZZA AND EARLIER IN THE DAY
  5. Cut the long neck off of a butternut squash, peel it with a vegetable peeler, then cut quarter inch round slices..
  6. Roast the slices in a hot 400 degree oven drizzled with olive oil, single layer until tender, set aside.
  7. I like to let my dough sit out for a couple of hours so it becomes nice and pliable.
  8. When ready to cook, heat oven to a hot 500 degrees, oil your pizza pan then sprinkle some corn meal or polenta on the bottom.
  9. Dust your fingers with a little flour then work your dough into the pan stretching it with your finger tips until it reaches the edges, then place it into the oven for 5 minutes, no longer! Then remove it.
  10. Dough might rise up but just punch it down.
  11. Quickly mix up some ricotta with the smashed garlic and a little salt and pepper, enough to swipe and cover the whole bottom of the dough with just a thin layer.
  12. Sprinkle a little mozzarella on top then add the butternut squash rounds filling the top.
  13. Add some grated parmesan on top of the squash, then brush olive oil onto the edges of the crust then do a quick drizzle on top.
  14. Place pizza into the oven until it reaches a deep golden brown on the crust edges and bottom.
  15. While still warm add dollops of the sage and walnut pesto.

 

 

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Shrimp, Pasta and Broccolini in Tomato Cream + A Pastaiola Giveaway

shrimp pasta and broccolini Happy National Pasta Day! Who doesn’t love pasta? It delicious, comforting, it comes in endless shapes and sizes and can be made countless ways with a variety of different sauces. It’s also crowd pleasing, a great party food, present at many family dinners and dinner for one. Many fond memories have been etched in our minds recalling favorite pasta dishes made by our dear loved ones hands.

So in honor of the day I made you a luxurious pasta dish that includes shrimp and broccolini in tomato cream sauce, and you won’t believe how quick you’ll get it to the table!

Lagostina Pastaiola  To further celebrate and to make you feel like an absolute pro in the kitchen, the generous team at Lagostina is giving away this gorgeous, and I mean gorgeous, Hammered Copper Pastaiola pot to one lucky reader of mine.

Lagostina Pastaiola

Here are some of the features

·          Lagostina Martellata Tri-Ply Copper 6 qt. Covered Pastaiola features durable tri-ply construction for lasting utility plus thermal efficiency courtesy of a heat radiating, encapsulated aluminum core

·         Brushed 18/10 stainless steel interior will not react with food

·         Polished, hammered copper exterior looks striking on a stovetop and enhances heat conductivity

·         Compatible with most stove types, except induction

·         Oven safe up to 500º F

·         Polished, snug-fitting stainless steel lid helps prevent heat and moisture from escaping

·         Sturdy, riveted cast stainless steel side handles for confident handling

·         Flared edges for dripless pouring

·         Comes complete with a stainless steel pasta insert

·         Copper, aluminum and stainless steel

·         Hand wash

·         6 qt. capacity

Valued at 249.99

marinara in pastaiola First thing I did with my pastaiola was make a big pot of marinara, I normally keep a stash in my freezer and I was running low. I’m happy to say I was able to fit two gigantic cans of tomatoes both over five pounds each into the pot with no problem, so you’re going to love how deep it is! It will be perfect for making future stocks and seafood boils because of it’s deep size.

marinara in pastaiolashrimp and broccolini

This pasta dish comes together quickly once you have all your ingredients ready so when you begin to make the sauce get your water boiling!

Add some garlic and olive oil to a pan then toss in shrimp, (I had eight large) and steamed broccolini, when the shrimp is cooked remove and set aside.

tomato cream sauce Deglaze the pan with three cups of marinara, preferably homemade or a good quality store bought brand then splash in about a quarter cup of  heavy cream, stir and combine then it’s time to bring back the shrimp and broccolini.

boiling pasta Did you know there are over 600 known shapes of pasta? I love seeking out different and unique shapes, for this dish I used Festoni, it’s like a pappardelle with ruffled edges.

drained pasta Looks done to me, nice and al’dente, now It’s time to drain it and toss it into the creamy tomato sauce making sure everything gets coated well. ( I used 8 oz. here)

shrimp pasta and broccolini Silky, slurpy and luxurious!

shrimp pasta and broccolini

Happy Pasta!

CONTEST IS OVER AND CLOSED

 

( Disclosure: I received one pastaiola for review, and as always opinions are my very own)

 

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Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine and Roasted Garlic

braised short ribs Braised short ribs is what I call cold weather comfort food at it’s best. Meaty short ribs that braise in a hearty red wine, a little broth, roasted garlic and thyme. The meat becomes so tender and fall off the bone delicious, and the best part is you only do a minimal amount of work to get them ready then the oven takes over for a while.

In the meantime your house is guaranteed to smell amazing!

roasted garlic

I mentioned roasting garlic for this recipe, it’s a MUST, you have to do it because when your meat is done braising you’re going to smash the sweet mellow cloves right into the liquid and then strain everything so you have a nice smooth sauce that’s packed with so much flavor you can’t even imagine!

To save time I recommend roasting the garlic a couple of days ahead and storing it away in your fridge, I always make a little extra to use in other things like mashed potatoes, sauteed greens or simply smeared on crusty bread.

braised short ribs

You can serve this on top roasted garlic mashed potatoes, some thick eggy noodles or pappadelle pasta, or my favorite… creamy polenta, (too die for!) In fact the other day I posted a picture of  just that, a juicy, tender short rib on top of creamy polenta with a layer of  roasted garlic sauteed kale on my Instagram, check it out here.

Now go grab a heavy pot and start braising!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine and Roasted Garlic
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 whole heads of garlic, cut in half
  • 6 large meaty short ribs
  • hearty red wine
  • beef or chicken broth
  • ¾ of a cup of tomato puree, finely diced tomatoes, marinara or a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste
  • cremini mushrooms, 12 oz. package, cut in half
  • 1 small pack of pearl onions, blanched and peeled
  • (optional, for a little spicy heat, a teaspoon of harissa or Calabrian chili paste, I used harrisa, but again not needed just optional)
  • fresh thyme
  • olive oil, salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley for garnish or chopped scallions
Instructions
  1. Roast the 4 heads of garlic the day before by cutting them in half, drizzling them with olive oil adding fresh thyme, salt and pepper. Wrap in heavy foil and roast 45 minutes to 1 hour at 400 degrees
  2. Season short ribs with salt and pepper all over.
  3. In a heavy bottomed pan like cast iron get it nice and hot then drizzle with olive oil and add in the ribs and start searing them.
  4. Let ribs get a deep golden brown all over, not moving them too often, letting the fat render out.
  5. Remove ribs and pour off all extra fat, leaving brown bits on the bottom.
  6. Add ribs back in and add your tomato ingredient and optional extra spice, let it cook a bit.
  7. Pour in the wine enough to cover almost half up the sides of the short ribs, let it bubble and cook down for a little while, it should reduce a little.
  8. Add in the broth, again enough to reach halfway up the sides of the short ribs.
  9. Add in one whole head of the roasted garlic, two halves.
  10. Throw in some fresh thyme.
  11. Cover with lid or heavy duty foil and place into a hot, preheated 300 degree oven, they will take around 2½ hours.
  12. Half way through add in the onions.
  13. In a skillet, saute your mushrooms on medium high heat, set aside.
  14. When short ribs are finished cooking, and have become tender and fall off the bone, remove them gently from the pan as well as the onions.
  15. Smash all the garlic that came out of the head with a fork into the gorgeous liquid, it will be chunky looking.
  16. Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, pushing and scraping the bits to get all the juice extracted, discard all pulp from garlic, you are left with a smooth sauce.
  17. Place smooth sauce back into the pan, add the short ribs and onions back in, at this point you can skim more of the fat off if you like, I did.
  18. Add the sauteed mushrooms and some fresh thyme.
  19. Garnish with fresh parsley and chopped scallions.
  20. Serve over creamy polenta, egg noodles, pappadelle pasta or roasted garlic mashed potatoes.
  21. Delicious with sauteed greens on the side.
  22. Enjoy!

 

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Autumn Sformato, a Savory Italian Custard

autumn sformato I like to describe sformato as a little Italian souffle or Italian custard that can be made savory or sweet and often served in individual portions. They’re usually made in a ramekin then unmolded for a nice presentation and served with a sauce of some sort.

Here I made my favorite one, a savory version filled with a puree of butternut squash, creamy parmesan cheese and a few other ingredients that give it it’s dreamy texture.

I posted this some years ago but adjusted the recipe a little and wanted to share it with you again since it’s the perfect starter, side dish or light veggie entree for a nice autumn meal.

cooked squash

Squash is everywhere now and all you need to do is roast some up and scoop out the pulp!
squash puree and parmesan I love the combination of butternut squash and Parmesan Regggiano they compliment each other so well and are the base for this savory sformato.

autumn sformato When cooked and cooled down the sformato will unmold on to a plate very easy.

autumn sformato A parmesan cream sauce, some crispy sage, toasted pumpkin seeds and a swipe of balsamic glaze takes this over the top, and I mean over the top!

autumn sformatoautumn sformato

Each spoonful is beyond words, you have to make this!

Come see what I’m cooking up during the week, you can follow me on Instagram here.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Autumn Sformato
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 large butternut squash, roasted with pulp scraped out, should equal around 2 cups for 4 ramekins.
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and more for sauce and garnish
  • 2 tablespoons, mascarpone
  • ½ cup of half and half
  • salt and pepper too taste
  • SAUCE
  • 2 cups of half and half or heavy cream reduced down
  • a handful of grated Parmigiano Reggiano to toss into the cream
  • balsamic glaze, pumpkin seeds, crispy sage and extra parm for garnish
Instructions
  1. preheat oven to 350. I recommend doing the squash the day before or early in the day.
  2. Cut your squash in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper then place cut side down on parchment and roast until a knife pierces all the way through easily. Times will vary depending on the size of squash.
  3. Scoop out the squash the puree it smooth in a food processor, your squash puree is now finished.
  4. Then into a bowl add the rest of the ingredients, 2 cups of squash puree, the egg, mascarpone, parm, half and half, salt and pepper.
  5. Pour mixture into a buttered ramekin.
  6. Place ramekins into a baking dish with water to come up halfway to the sides, place a sheet of tin foil on top.
  7. Bake at 375 for around 30 to 40 minutes or until custard is set and cooked without jiggling.
  8. Let it cool down and make the sauce.
  9. PARMESAN CREAM SAUCE
  10. Reduce half and half or heavy cream in a small saucepan, cook on low heat until it thickens then turn off heat and add the cheese.
  11. Unmold your sformato onto an individual plate, spoon some of the sauce on top.
  12. Sprinkle pumpkin seeds around and a swipe of balsamic glaze.
  13. Crisp up some sage leaves in brown butter for garnish.

 

Signature

Fall Veggie and Ricotta Galette

fall veggie galette I love the rustic and free form look of a galette, it doesn’t have to be perfectly round or symmetrical, it’s stress free to make, and it always comes out looking pretty.

fall veggie galette There’s a colorful and flavorful mix of fall veggies inside this galette, it has a combo of cauliflower, butternut squash, onion and kale, this just may become one of your favorite fall dinners!

The roasted veggies get folded into a ricotta and parmesan mixture then baked together in perfect harmony.

fall veggie galette But can we talk about the crust now? It’s homemade, don’t use store bought please! If you have a food processor this will only take you five minutes to make, the crust is what makes this whole galette so amazing.

The hidden secret is polenta in the crust, you can also use a fine ground cornmeal as well and because of this polenta addition, it becomes a very sturdy, crunchy yet still very flaky crust, plus it holds and seals in the filling perfectly.

fall veggie galette

Feel free to play around with this recipe using different veggies of your choice, but don’t play around with the dough, trust me!

Follow me on Instagram, I’m always cooking up something different during the week.

5.0 from 2 reviews
Fall Veggie and Ricotta Galette
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • DOUGH (ADAPTED FROM EATING WELL)
  • 1 cup of all purpose flour, I use unbleached
  • ½ cup of polenta or fine yellow cornmeal
  • ½ teaspoon, salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • ¼ to ⅓ cup of ice water
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • FILLING
  • 1 cup or so each of pre-roasted cauliflower and butternut squash, or other veggies of your choice
  • ¼ red onion, diced
  • a handful of curly kale
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • a pinch of thyme
  • RICOTTA MIXTURE
  • 1 cup of ricotta, drained of moisture
  • 2 eggs beaten, one for the filling and another for brushing dough
  • ½ cup of grated parmesan or romano cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Prepare your dough in a food processor by pulsing the flour, polenta salt and pepper together. Add the butter and process until combined. then while it's running add the ice water down the tube a little at a time until the dough starts to come together into a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for half an hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F
  3. For the filling, drizzle olive oil into a skillet add the onion and garlic and cook til it starts to soften an lightly brown, meanwhile toss in the chopped kale and saute til it starts to limp. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool down.
  4. In a bowl add ricotta, egg, grated cheese, thyme and salt and pepper to taste, mix til incorporated, then fold in the roasted veggies and the onion, garlic and kale saute.
  5. Remove the dough from the fridge, let it sit for 10 minutes at room temp then on a sheet of parchment roll it out to about 14 inches in diameter, don't worry if it's not perfect, just take your time. Place it onto a rimmed baking sheet.
  6. Spread the ricotta and veggie mixture onto the dough leaving a 2 inch border all around. Fold the edges up and pleat where needed to seal in good.
  7. Brush the crust with the remaining beaten egg, you won't use all of it.
  8. Sprinkle crust with grated cheese and ground pepper.
  9. Drizzle the top with olive oil.
  10. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until crust is deep golden brown and ricotta is set.

 

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Tomato Bread

tomato bread It may be the last days of summer but there are plenty of tomatoes still available and they still taste amazing. I see cherry tomatoes everywhere and they are just perfect for my tomato bread.

Even in the dead of winter you could still make this tomato bread because quite honestly somehow they taste pretty decent, either that or I’m just desperate.

tomato bread This bread is so fun to make, it’s SUPER easy and tastes off the charts and the bonus is the pretty presentation, so what’s not to like?

Take a skinny baguette, cut it in half lengthwise and make a trench right down the middle by pulling out some of the bread then you’ll be able to easily place your tomatoes in there securely.

I like using a skinny baguette but I was thinking you could use a wider one, why not? just make more trenches. You could even cut a large ciabatta loaf and dot the tomatoes all around in little trenches, use your imagination.

tomato bread Prepare a foil lined baking sheet, drizzle the bottom with olive oil, set your tomatoes stem side down then drizzle each piece of bread all over with olive oil including the tomatoes.

Take some shredded mozzarella and place it randomly all over the sliced baguette, less is more, then grind some black pepper all around.

Place them into a heated 375 degree oven for about 12 minutes or so, the bread will crisp, the mozzarella will be golden brown and the tomatoes will wrinkle and burst, and the best part is the juice will drip into the crusty bread, oh my!

tomato bread Garnish it with finely chopped basil of course because that’s a must, then I guarantee that after your first bite you will shout out the words OMG!

tomato bread

Here’s a “toast” literally, to the end of summer!

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Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana

spaghetti amatriciana This past weekend the Italian town of Amatrice would have held it’s 50th annual food festival celebrating it’s famous pasta dish, spaghetti all’ amatriciana. Food lovers from around the world are serving up this pasta dish to raise funds and bring awareness for all the victims of the devastating earthquake in Italy.

amatriciana sauce ingredientsThere are many different variations to this simple rustic dish but traditionally you will always find these four ingredients, tomatoes, ( preferably San Marzano) guanciale, pecorino cheese, peperoncino for some heat and a hearty pasta shape that can hold up to the sauce.

spaghetti amatriciana There are quite a few ways we can donate and help in the recovery, my friend Domenica Marchetti took the time and posted an extensive list on her website, Domenica Cooks. Here’s the link. As we all know, every little bit can help!

spaghetti amatriciana

Why not gather your friends and family together, make a donation and feed them this symbolic dish of spaghetti all’ amatriciana, it’s hearty, comforting and so delicious!

5.0 from 2 reviews
Spaghetti all' Amatriciana
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 4 oz. guanciale, ( pork jowl) cut into small strips. (if you can't find guanciale you can sub with pancetta)
  • 2 cups of crushed San marzano tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 peperoncino
  • grated Pecorino cheese
  • 8 oz. of bucatini type pasta, I used DeCecco #12
Instructions
  1. Get a large pot of salted water to boiling.
  2. In the meantime make your sauce.
  3. In a rimmed heavy bottom skillet add the guanciale and cook till it renders it's fat and becomes golden, be careful not to crisp it like bacon, it should be soft and golden.
  4. Remove excess fat then drizzle in some olive oil and add your crushed tomatoes and peperoncino.
  5. Put heat on medium high and let all flavors blend and cook down together.
  6. When pasta is done cooking take tongs and lift it directly from the pot of boiling water into the skillet with the sauce, you want a little water to cling.
  7. Toss the pasta several times in the sauce with the tongs.
  8. Turn off the heat and throw in a handful of pecorino, letting the cheese melt into the sauce, becoming nice and creamy.
  9. Plate it into your individual serving bowls and add more cheese on top.
  10. Enjoy!

 

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Savory Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake

zucchini ricotta cheesecake This savory zucchini cheesecake is perfect for this time of year when summer is winding down and zucchini is in abundance. This dish can be served for lunch, brunch or even a vegetarian option for dinner.

It’s made with three different kinds of cheese which you can vary according to your liking, plus it’s baked without a crust which gives it such a light and creamy result.

zucchini ricotta cheesecake

Along with the cheese you’ll taste a hint of garlic as well as the fresh taste of lemon throughout the filling, all of which compliments the zucchini so very well.

zucchini ricotta cheesecake ingredients I’ve made zucchini pies and tarts in the past usually dicing the vegetables, but for a little something different I sliced the zucchini lengthwise, I love how it looks when it’s finished baking!

zucchini ricotta cheesecake It’s very easy, just stick your slices in any which way you please.

zucchini ricotta cheesecake

You can’t go go wrong, it always comes out nice and pretty.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Savory Zucchini Ricotta Cheesecake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 9 inch pan, either a tart pan, pie plate or even a springform pan, it doesn't matter as long as you brush it well with olive oil so nothing sticks
  • 3 zucchini, sliced lengthwise with a knife, not too thin or it will disapear in the ricotta, thick enough so it still can bend a bit, leaving the skin on so you can see the green sticking up from the ricotta, don't bury it.
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup, Pecorino Romano
  • ½ cup of grated mozzarella plus a little more for sprinkling on top
  • 1 garlic clove minced finely
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • 1 teaspoon each of chopped parsley and basil
  • olive oil for brushing and drizzling
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Oil your pan well on the bottom and sides so nothing will stick.
  3. In a bowl add all ingredients and mix well until all is combined.
  4. Place mixture into your prepared pan.
  5. Take your zucchini slices and arrange them into the ricotta, you might have some leftover slices depending on how big your zucchini is.
  6. Place pan onto a rimmed baking sheet for easy in and out of the oven.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes then take it out and sprinkle more shredded mozzarella on top, it will give it a nice golden brown color.
  8. Place bake into the oven and bake for 15 to 30 more minutes, ovens and moisture in the ricotta will vary, just continue baking until golden on top and the ricotta is set, check it with the tip of a knife in the center to see if it comes out clean.
  9. Let it cool down to room temperature before cutting into it.
  10. Drizzle a little olive oil on top before serving.

 

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Garlic Grilled Tomatoes

garlic grilled tomatoes It’s late August when tomatoes are in abundance, and here’s yet another favorite way I like to serve them. It’s an old recipe adapted from BBQ King, Steven Raichlen’s, Garlic Grilled Tomatoes.

I think in his original recipe he stuck a sage leaf on top of each tomato half, which is wonderful as well but with that being said I must admit I prefer this other version better which uses fresh thyme and a little bit of parmesan. I just love the flavor combination and it’s a little more versatile to sit beside most anything you might be grilling, sage to me is a more heavier flavored herb.

This is the perfect side dish for any occasion, it truly is. The tomatoes become nice and juicy, you can taste the smokiness of the grill, they become slightly caramelized and the garlic and thyme flavors take it over the top!

garlic grilled tomatoes They’re so simple to make and when you stick them on the grill you can make a whole bunch at the same time. Keep these in your memory bank for your next party, possibly Labor Day weekend, you can make a huge platter full in no time.

garlic grilled tomatoes I suggest not eating them hot off the grill, they taste much better at room temperature when all the flavors have settled in.

garlic grilled tomatoes

I promise you’ll love them, especially now when tomatoes actually taste so fresh and ripe.

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Garlic Grilled Tomatoes
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • Roma tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • garlic, crushed
  • thyme
  • olive oil
  • parmesan cheese
  • No exact amounts because it depends on how many tomatoes you use, just figure about 1 teaspoon of the garlic, herb and cheese mixture on top.
Instructions
  1. Cut your tomatoes in half crosswise, season with salt and pepper and brush the cut side with olive oil.
  2. In a small frying pan add crushed garlic, olive oil and fresh thyme, cook til golden, take off the heat and add in grated parmesan cheese.
  3. Place your tomato halves cut side down on and oiled grill until you get grill marks,it won't take long. Turn them over gently with tongs or a small spatula then spoon the garlic cheese mixture on top and continue cooking.
  4. Place on a platter, drizzle with olive oil and eat at room temperature.

 

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It’s My 9th Birthday Today!

9th birthday

Nine years just flew by and I’m still having fun, thanks so much for all your support!

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Summer Farro Salad

summer farro salad Farro is a quick cooking grain that has a nutty and slightly chewy texture, it holds up really well in salads and pairs perfectly with grilled meats, poultry and fish. It’s hearty enough to eat alone and the leftovers are great for lunch the next day, so it’s a win win as far as I’m concerned!

summer farro salad I’ve made a springtime farro salad and posted it on my blog in the past and a few other salads using farro, but this is my version of a summertime farro salad. I’ve included in the ingredients the best that summer has to offer right now while the flavors are really at their peak, sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, aromatic basil and fresh zucchini squash.

I also added in some pearl sized mozzarella balls because I just love how they visually look in this salad, but if you can’t find them you can certainly chunk up a larger ball, the taste will still be the same.

summer farro salad This salad is so delicious you’ll want to make it for your next cookout, bring it to a picnic or just make it for your own mid week lunches.

summer farro salad On a hot summer day I can eat this alone for dinner and be totally satisfied!

summer farro salad

Go get some farro and make this before summer ends!

Proud Italian Cook is on Instagram, come and see what I cook up during the week.

5.0 from 1 reviews
Summer Farro Salad
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of uncooked farro
  • 1 8oz. container of fresh mozzarella pearl size, or chunked up from a larger ball, drained and patted dry
  • 1 small yellow squash and 1 small zucchini made into ribbons with a vegetable peeler
  • 1 large ear of corn, cooked and kernels shucked
  • 1 container of rainbow colored cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • kalamata olives, a good handful
  • fresh basil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • olive oil
  • 1 lemon
  • DRESSING:
  • Whisk together ½ cup extra virgin olive oil and the juice of one lemon, salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Place the farro and three cups of water with a pinch of salt into a sauce pan, bring it to a boil then cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. water should be absorbed and farro tender but still chewy.
  2. Drain farro, then spread it out onto a rimmed baking sheet so it can cool down without continuing to cook.
  3. In a bowl add the sliced tomatoes, one grated garlic clove, some chopped basil and enough olive oil to coat. Let it sit for a little bit so juices can start flowing.
  4. Grab a bigger bowl and add all the ingredients, along with the tomatoes and gently toss together. Spoon some of the lemon and olive oil dressing all over and toss carefully, to taste.
  5. Spread salad mixture onto a nice platter adding as much chopped basil as you like, plus salt and pepper to taste.

 

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Plum Almond Cake

plum almond cake Every summer around this time of year I look forward to those tiny dark Italian plums that start to appear at the farm stands and markets, as soon as I see them I scoop them up to make a cake or a torte. Last year I made the Purple Plum Torte from the N.Y. Times Cookbook.

plum almond cake

This year I couldn’t wait to make the Plum Almond Cake from Williams Sonoma’s Rustic Italian by Domenica Marchetti, and I’m so glad I did, its my new favorite!

plum almond cake I could go on and on about how fabulous this recipe is but you’re just going to have to make it for yourself. I loved the texture of the crumb, there’s almond meal added in and it makes the texture and taste so amazing.

plum almond cake

There’s also almond flavoring throughout, but what seals the deal for me is the crunchy almond topping, so much flavor in each bite!

plum almond cake

The plums get all jammy as they bake and a pretty ruby red color appears, such a wonderful dessert, I hope you make it!

If you can’t find the small Italian plums I’m sure any variety would be just as good, in fact I think any stone fruit would work just fine.

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Here’s a link to the original recipe, below is my adapted version.

4.8 from 5 reviews
Plum Almond Cake
 
Adapted from Williams -Sonoma's Rustic Italian by Domenica Marchetti
Author:
Ingredients
  • ½ cup avocado oil
  • 1 cup, unbleached flour
  • ½ cup almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons, baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon, salt
  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup, half and half
  • juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • ¾ cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon, pure almond extract
  • 9 Italian plums, halved and pitted
  • ¼ cup of sliced almonds
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp
Instructions
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 inch springform pan then dust with flour and tap out the excess.
  2. In a large bowl whisk the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and salt.
  3. In another bowl combine the oil, egg, half and half, zest and juice, sugar and almond extract, blend together.
  4. Add the wet to the dry whisking until combined.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pan, arrange plums on top of batter, cut side up.
  6. Mix together the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, almonds and butter, then dot the topping all over the cake.
  7. Bake for around 45 minutes, I put my pan on a rimmed baking sheet for easy in and out of the oven.
  8. I ended up baking mine a little more because the color wasn't deep enough and ovens do vary, just make sure the center comes out clean.
  9. Let it cool for at least 20 minutes before you remove the ring and cut into it.

 

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Stuffed Peppers Italian Style with Sausage and Mozzarella

melrose peppers Normally when you see a recipe for stuffed peppers you’ll see the bell shaped variety being used but I look forward to this time of year because a very special pepper starts to show up in Italian markets around Chicagoland, they’re called Melrose Peppers. I’ve done posts on them in the past like this one.

They came to be called Melrose peppers because as the story goes, many years ago a family from Calabria, Italy eventually settled into a suburb of Chicago called Melrose Pk. They brought with them the seeds of this very special, delicious thinned skinned pepper.They quickly became popular among gardeners in the Italian community and then soon after that they started appearing in all the fruit and vegetable stands, and the rest is history.

stuffing peppers Even though I’m featuring and stuffing my favorite Melrose peppers for this recipe, you can honestly use any type of elongated pepper such as a cubanelle or the sweet and long red pepper variety.

All you’re going to do is cut off the top then take a knife and make a slit down one side but not all the way, you still want the pepper to remain in tact, then just scoop out the seeds.

Then buy the best Italian sausage available, mine always has fennel and red pepper flakes for a little heat. If you can buy it in bulk go ahead, if not just remove it from the casing. Place it into a bowl then add a good amount of shredded mozzarella and mix well, that’s your stuffing!

stuffed peppers Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, then drizzle all over with olive oil and place your peppers onto it after you stuff them with the mixture.

stuffed peppers Then it’s a quick drizzle all over the top, add salt and pepper and place them into a 400 degree oven for about half an hour, depending on what type of pepper you’re using.

stuffed peppers You’re aiming for soft and tender and of course the sausage being fully cooked as well as seeing the cheese has melt.

stuffed peppersstuffed peppers When you’re ready to serve spoon some warm marinara over the top and onto the serving plate.

stuffed peppers The flavor combination is divine, this is stuffed peppers at it’s finest!

stuffed peppers

Add some crusty bread with a nice green salad and dinner is served!

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