Orecchiette and Sausage

This is a classic Italian winter dish. I really like to make it when it is cold outside, because the pasta is creamy and filling. Also, the sausage gives you a break from the endless the chicken rotation. I also like to use spicy sausage instead of mild, or blend in a proportion of both. Broccoli rabe is the classic vegetable used in Italy , but most people in America prefer regular broccoli. You can also substitute in kale which goes nicely with sausage. I’ve also seen a variation with cooked tomatoes that was especially delicious. There is a lot of variety to the dish, but what is below is closest to the classic version. This will feed around 5 to 6 people.

You will need:

  • 1 pound orecchiette
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, removed from casings (or spicy, if you prefer)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 reserve pasta water
  • broccoli florets or kale
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, or Parmesan

Step one:

Begin cooking the pasta. If you cannot find orecchiette, any kind of pasta will do. Cook it al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water

Step two:

Once you have the pasta started, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large sauté pan and add the sausage.

Cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until the sausage starts to brown, 5-6 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook a minute more.

Add the reserve pasta water, remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, broccoli, chicken broth, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is tender-crisp, 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the butter until melted and simmer for a few minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce.

Step three:

Add the cooked and drained pasta and toss well.

Fresh grated cheese really makes a difference here. It is really worth the extra step and effort. However,if you have to substitute it’s not the end of the world. If you can’t find Romano, it’s fine to substitute Parmigiano Reggiano.

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Homeade Risotto

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Risotto is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. For a long time I was scared to make it homemade because I heard it wasvery labor intensive. But I find if you prepare correctly, it’s really not that bad and very much worth it. The recipe below makes enough for 6 people. I served it with some crusty French bread because we love our carbs and it’s perfect for sopping up extra grains.

You can make this vegetarian or throw in a variety of protein.

You will need:

  • Arborio rice – 2 cups
  • 1/2 cup minced white onion
  • Olive oil, 2-3 tbs
  • Unsalted butter , 5-6 tbs
  • Garlic – 1-2 cloves, minced
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup Dry white wine or vermouth
  • 6 cups Chicken broth
  • Sea salt and pepper – to taste
  • Chicken breast, cut into small pieces
  • Shrimp
  • One link – Italian chicken sausage (regular Italian sausage or pancetta will do)
  • Frozen peas – handful
  • Fresh grated Parmesan-about a 1/4 cup
  • *fresh herbs, if available
  • Large pan (I prefer my cast iron skillet)
  • Saucepan for broth
  • Pan for cooking the protein

Mincing the onions

Steps:

  1. Important! Heat chicken broth in a saucepan and have a ladle ready. As you cook the risotto, you will need to spoon hot chicken broth into the rice. Keep it on low to maintain the heat
  2. heat 1-2 tsp of oil in a pan. Add the proteins of your choice and season with garlic, pepper and salt. Add the peas during the last few minutes of cooking. Drain and set aside.
  3. In a large pan, Melt 2-tbs of butter and 2 tbs of olive oil.
  4. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes until they are translucent.
  5. Add the rice and coat the grains with oil for about one minute or so until they are clear.
  6. Add the wine, stirring the grains around until the liquid disappears.
  7. For about 15 to 20 minutes, add one ladle full of broth at a time stirring the grains around until the liquid evaporates. The rice will become starchy and creamy. Season with salt and pepper
  8. Use a taste test to determine the doneness. Most Italians prefer to have a tiny bit of bite.
  9. In the end, add the Parmesan and several tablespoons of butter to the Risotto without stirring it in. Put a lid on the pan and let it sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Then lift the lid and stir in the melted butter and cheese. Add in the proteins that you want at this time. You can also sprinkle in a little bit of fresh parsley or another herb of your choice for color. Enjoy!

Lasagna with fresh basil and parmesan

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I love lasagna, whether it is your typical Italian-American affair or something a little more experimental. This version is one of my favorites – the fresh ingredients give it a lighter, more delicate quality that you would not normally expect with lasagna. Of course, you can switch out the herbs and cheese for the dried or shredded variety, but the taste will be lost in translation.

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Fresh Parmesan makes all of the difference

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup chopped yellow or white onion (1 small)
  • 1 pound sweet Italian turkey sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • ½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • ½ pound lasagna noodles (oven ready)
  • 1 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced

Step one:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until translucent over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute.

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Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork until no longer pink.

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Step two:

Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tbs of the parsley, all of the basil, 1 ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.

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Step three:

In a large bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup parmesan, and the remaining parsley, ½ tsp of salt and ¼ tsp pepper.

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Step four: The Layering!

Spoon 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 x 13 pan and spread it over the bottom. Add ½ of the noodles, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta mixture and 1/3 of the sauce.

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First layer, before adding the ricotta
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After the ricotta

Next – add the rest of the noodles, mozzarella, ricotta and finally the sauce. Top with bout ¼ of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbling.

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Before I put it in the oven
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The end result:)

Notes:

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I like to press the garlic clove with the flat end of my knife, then cut and mince.

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 The herbs can be chopped with a knife or cut/ribboned with kitchen scissors.