savories

Baked Meatballs with Cheesy Parmesan Polenta

Ah yes, Sunday dinners. I think we can all agree that Sunday nights are the saddest part of the week, knowing what’s to come. To counteract that, Sunday dinners in my house have become the solution- a fancy meal and a glass of wine to lull you into a sense of coziness so that you briefly forget that the work week lies ahead. This week? Fricken meatballs and cheesy polenta because why the heck not. And, because there are better things you can be doing with your Sunday besides individually searing each meatball, these are baked all at once and then finished in a mouthwatering and deceivingly easy tomato sauce that people will think you spent your whole day standing over the pot. Adapted from this recipe by Ina Garten, it’s served with a heaping portion of cheesy polenta in lieu of spaghetti, and as a diehard pasta enthusiast, I can promise you won’t even miss it.

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This weekend I somehow fell down a cooking/ baking hole where every project I’ve been putting off recently all accidentally happened at once. In a span of two days, I made a batch of raspberry macarons (following another batch of toasted marshmallow ones from Tuesday), the FLAKIEST biscuits I have ever made, a lemon meringue pie (coming soon), and this dinner. I think I stood for 8 hours straight on Sunday but wow it was worth it. But honestly, enough about that, let’s get down to what really matters, cooking and eating THIS.

Makes: 10 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: about 1.5 hours

Meatball and Sauce Ingredients

2 cans (32 oz. each) crushed tomatoes
2 onions, peeled and cut in half
½ cup (1 stick) salted butter
2 lbs ground beef (or 1lb ground beef, ½ lb ground veal, ½ lb ground pork)
1¾ cups Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
½ cup ground pecorino romano cheese
½ cup ground parmesan cheese
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbs fresh chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
¾ cup dry red wine
¾ cup water
Olive Oil, for brushing
Salt and Pepper, to season

Meatball and Sauce Steps

1. In a large, deep pot, add the crushed tomatoes, butter (sliced into tablespoons), and the halved onions. And honestly, that’s it for the sauce. Turn the heat to medium low, and stir occasionally, cooking for 45 minutes, or until the onions are soft.

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2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400ºF and line your baking trays with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, breadcrumbs, cheeses, garlic, parsley, beaten eggs, red wine, and water. With your hands (or a spoon/ spatula) mix everything together until all ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout.

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3. Scoop roughly 1½ tablespoon amounts and roll them into neat balls with your hands, and line them up on your trays. Brush each meatball with olive oil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

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4. At this point, remove the onions from the tomato sauce, and add the roasted meatballs and allow them to cook in the sauce for 10 minutes more. Serve a heaping portion on top of a luscious bowl of polenta (recipe below). YUM!

Cheesy Parmesan Polenta Ingredients

8 cups chicken stock
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cup stone ground cornmeal
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
2 cups fresh grated parmesan cheese (this sounds high maintenance but the fresh grated kind makes a difference I promise, it melts way easier and more smooth)
1 cup creme fraiche
½ stick (4 tablespoons) salted butter

Cheesy Parmesan Polenta Steps

1. In a medium sized pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil with the garlic. Reduce the heat to low and slowly whisk in the cornmeal to eliminate lumps.

2. Add the salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the polenta is thick. Don’t forget to scrape the sides of the pot!!

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3. After 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the parmesan, creme fraiche, and butter. Serve with meatballs and prepare for a food coma like you’ve never seen before.

xoxoxoxoxD

 

savories

Fettuccine Alfredo with Homemade Pasta

Oh man, it’s been a week. I know it’s only Wednesday, but I am TIRED. For some reason despite being so tired, I made it my top priority to try out the brand new pasta maker I got a few weeks ago and I am so glad I did. I don’t really know what I was expecting, but pasta is actually really easy to make from scratch. It contains only 2 ingredients, flour and egg, and while, yes, it makes a mess and gets flour everywhere, you can literally just use your hands and a rolling pin (although it’s definitely easier with a pasta machine). The recipe that I started with came from my trusty Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, although some parts I had to improvise to get the results that I got.

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Now, because your time will be occupied making the pasta for this meal, I figure you might as well make things easier for yourself on the other side, and make a quick sauce that can slow cook while you mess around with the dough. In this case, it’s Alfredo. Taught to me by my mother, this sauce was probably my number one requested meal as a child, and some things never change. Containing butter, cream, and cheese, this is definitely not a healthy dinner, but when you need some comfort, this is the perfect dish. Let’s hope the rest of this week breezes by, but until then, I’ll be over here eating fresh pasta out of the saucepan. Without further ado, let’s get cooking!

*Disclaimer: I am not Italian (although I wish I was), this was my first venture into pasta making so I am simply writing about what works for me, I hope my methods don’t horrify any seasoned Italian chefs. If you’ve been doing this forever, let me know what your strategies are, I’d love to hear them!!

Serves: 3-4 dinner portions
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: about 1 hour (I know it doesn’t add up I’m just working in some wiggle room)

Pasta Ingredients

2-2½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs

Pasta Steps
adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

1. On a large, clean surface (I used a marble board, but you can use the countertop or a silicone mat as well), measure out your flour into a small pile, making a large well in the center. Crack eggs into the well and whisk them gently with a fork until the yolks are broken and slightly mixed.

From humble beginnings

2. Begin to knead with your hands until a dough starts to form, adding flour as necessary until you can press your thumb into the dough and nothing sticks. I ended up adding a lot more flour than the original recipe stated, but it changes based on the size of your eggs and whatnot, so everyone is different.

3. At this point, clear your surface and knead your pasta dough until it becomes smooth and stretchy, at least a full 8 minutes. Once this is done, cut the ball of dough into 4 equal sections to make it easier to work with.

4. Put your pasta roller on the widest setting. Flatten your first ball of dough and run it through the machine once. Fold in thirds the long way, and then run back through the machine, narrow side first.

5. Move pasta roller up from setting 1 to setting 3. Repeat step four on this thinner setting. Move the pasta roller up to setting 5 and repeat one last time. Repeat steps 4 and 5 for the other sections of dough, until you have 4 long, thin sheets.

All the pasta

6. At this point, if you have a fettuccine cutter for your machine, add it. Otherwise, you’ll have to cut strips free-handed, but I just don’t have the coordination for that. Run each sheet of dough through the cutter, flouring and separating the strands once they’re cut so that they don’t stick together. Lay flat on a kitchen towel, making sure that the strands aren’t too tangled. Repeat with the other sheets. While the pasta is drying for a minute, let’s start the sauce!

Alfredo Ingredients

3 tbs salted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
Dash of nutmeg (I really mean a DASH, a little goes a long way)
¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Alfredo Steps

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and add in heavy cream, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Heat for a minute or two on medium until the cream has been warmed through.

2. Stir in the parmesan cheese and allow the sauce to cook for around 5 minutes until it thickens and the cheese melts.

Pasta Pasta Pasta

3. At this point, cook your pasta in a pot of salted boiling water until al dente. The cook time ranges for fresh pasta, but mine reached al dente at around 7 minutes.

4. When the pasta is finished, transfer it to the saucepan and mix until all the pasta is generously coated in sauce.

5. Serve with a generous dusting of more parmesan cheese.

Have a great week! xoxoxoD

savories

Penne alla Vodka

Whose idea was it to add vodka to tomato sauce? I guess if you’re thinking rationally, they were already adding wine to tomato sauces, so vodka probably isn’t a far throw? But wow I’m so glad someone did though, because there’s something about it that’s just so good. And while up until now I let my favorite restaurants do the work for me, this week’s snow day seemed like the perfect day to test some out myself. I basically followed this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and added little touches here and there, who needs restaurants when you can do things yourself, am I right??

Once again these weeks seem to be years long, while simultaneously flying by, is that a thing? I feel like I could fit three weeks into one Monday through Friday, but at the same time we’re almost to April already? Time is so odd. Although I will say I am overjoyed at the idea of no more snow for now. Bring on the spring air (and the spring produce, hello rhubarb!!!), I think we all could use a break from the cold. Until then however, serve yourself up a bowl of this classic pasta, with a bit of a spicy kick to clear away the last winter stuffy nose and to give some pep to your step. 

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The view from my Florence apartment; I can’t believe I ever came home!!

I’ve been in a very Italian mood lately, having studied abroad in Florence two years ago, I never really felt like I fully came back, and as silly as it is to say, there’s some part of me that’s definitely still there, and I’ll get hit with a random wave of homesickness for a place that I only lived for four months, but had such an impact on my life. I’m now slowly but surely practicing my Italian and somehow find myself in possession of both a Bialetti Moka Express espresso pot (which I now love more than anything), and a brand new pasta maker that I’m sure you’ll all be seeing a lot of in the near future. Basically what I’m saying is I’m preparing for the day that I can pick up and move back to Italy and never look back, okay? Now that we’re all on the same page here, let’s get to some cooking!

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Makes: 6-8 dinner portions
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45-60 minutes

Ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 shallots, minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes (or more if you’re feeling brave)
1 cup vodka
1 cup chicken broth
1 can (32oz.) crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano tomatoes)
2 16oz. boxes Penne Rigate pasta
½ cup heavy cream
Fresh basil (to garnish), *I didn’t have any on hand so I threw in ½ tsp of dried basil, but found that it didn’t really add much to the dish so I’m not including it here*
Kosher salt + black pepper

Steps

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan or skillet over medium heat until the butter is melted and the oil has a slight shimmer to it. Add the garlic, shallots, and red pepper flakes and sautè until the shallots are soft and the garlic is fragrant but not browned, about 5 minutes.

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2. Add the vodka (keep your head away because I foolishly leaned over and got hit in the face with some vodka steam and I will NEVER make that mistake again!), and allow it to reduce by half before proceeding, another 5 minutes or so.

3. Pour in the chicken stock and tomatoes and give the whole thing a good stir. Now, the recipe I was following doesn’t cook this mixture for much longer, but I like a thicker sauce so I let mine bubble at this stage for about 20 minutes, to allow for some liquid to evaporate and leave a heartier tomato sauce. If you prefer a thinner sauce or you’re in a rush, bring your mixture to a boil at this point and then reduce to bubbling while your pasta cooks instead.

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4. At this point, bring a pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and cook your pasta according to the package directions. Be sure to save some pasta water at the end before draining, as it can help your sauce some together and stick to the pasta if you need it.

5. Stir in the heavy cream and cook just until the sauce is entirely heated through. Season with salt and pepper to your liking here, and toss in the pasta, mixing to ensure everything is incorporated.

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6. Serve a generous portion of pasta with a sprinkling of chiffonade basil and a dusting of parmesan cheese. As with most of my dinner recipes, this is best served with a glass of wine and some good Italian bread. Buon Appetito!

xoxoxoxoD

savories

Fried Polenta Cakes with Spicy Tomato-Kale Sauce and an Olive Oil Fried Egg

WOW this name is a mouthful. But trust me, every aspect of this recipe needed to be there, they work together to create one of the most comforting, magical, and deceivingly easy dinners.

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This past week I had a taste of what it would be like to live alone (my family was traveling but I still had work because adult life is nonsense), and wow I just don’t think I’m cut out for it. When left to my own devices, I grocery shop so irrationally it’s just embarrassing. For starters, I dropped $22 on saffron because I’d never tried it before (it was amazing and I made Risotto al Milanese and I regret NOTHING but that’s not the point), bought 3 different bottles of wine and a bottle of cognac for separate recipes and used half a cup of each, AND bought a selection of mixed berries to impulsively bake a pie (recipe for that coming soon!!).

It was only three days someone please help me get my life together. Anyway, let’s break this meal down shall we? These polenta rounds are pan-fried until crispy, then topped with a spicy tomato sauce (almost too spicy because I got carried away but I learned my lesson don’t worry), aaaaand as if it couldn’t get any better, a runny but crispy olive oil fried egg is plopped on top to make you feel like you’re eating fancy brunch while eating dinner on your couch. Topped with a downy sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan cheese, please try to hold back your tears of joy as you eat this.

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Let’s go!!

Makes: 4 dinner servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: about an hour

Ingredients:

1 lb. polenta (I used already made and chilled polenta in tube-form, but you can make your own!)
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic
½ to ¾ tsp red pepper flakes (depending on how spicy you want it)
½ tsp anchovy paste
1 can crushed tomatoes
A splash of red wine (since I was already drinking it, but optional)
Handful of curly kale, rib removed and roughly chopped
4 eggs, for frying
Salt and pepper, to taste
Parmesan cheese, grated

Steps:

1. In a saucepan, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium and add the diced onions. Cook until the onions become soft and transparent. Stir in the minced garlic and red pepper flakes, cooking for just another minute, until garlic becomes fragrant but not brown and bitter. Add the anchovy paste and mix to combine.

2. Pour in your can of crushed tomatoes and stir, making sure all the contents are incorporated, and splash in the red wine if you want it! Turn the heat down slightly and let the sauce simmer for 15 minutes. Toss in the kale and cook, covered, until it has wilted and softened, another 15 minutes.

3. While the sauce is cooking, heat a tablespoon of olive oil on medium in a separate frying pan. Slice your polenta into circles about an inch thick, and fry on both sides (about 10 minutes per side), until they are golden brown and crispy. Once the polenta is done, in the same pan, add a tablespoon more olive oil per egg and allow it to get very hot (about a minute). Add your egg for frying (you can fit two at a time if necessary), and fry until the whites are opaque and the yolk is your desired consistency, about 2 minutes. Swirl the pan around as you cook to make sure nothing sticks, and baste your egg with the hot oil as necessary. Season with salt and pepper.

4. To serve, pile 3 to 4 polenta cakes on your plate, smother with a generous portion of sauce, and top with a fried egg. Add a generous grating of parmesan cheese and enjoy!!

xoxoxoD

savories

Death by Baked Gnocchi (and Garlic Bread)

I don’t know if this is just a thing in my family, but for as long as I can remember, Friday night has been pizza night. It makes sense, the last day of the work week deserves a comfort food treat, but here’s the thing: sometimes you just gotta switch it up. Tradition is great, but a little change never hurt anyone, ESPECIALLY when that change involves a slow-simmered tomato sauce, pillowy gnocchis (okay I know gnocchi is already plural but shhhhh), and bubbly melty cheese.

This week has felt like seven in one, anyone else feel like that? I’ve truly never been more excited for a long weekend, and plan on doing nothing except maybe baking something with the blood oranges that I just had to have last week. Any suggestions? I’m leaning towards some kind of meringue pie maybe? Anywho, this beautiful dish was my reward to myself for making it through the week in one piece, and WOW was it worth it. It starts with the classic and decadent Marcella Hazan butter and onion tomato sauce. If you’ve never made this sauce, I almost envy you for being able to try it for the first time, because you will NEVER look back. It’s simple, a little sweet, and soo smooth. It’s also pretty foolproof, with a grand total of 3 ingredients, the hardest thing you’ll have to do is open the can of crushed tomatoes.

I chose to use store bought gnocchi for this meal, for the reliability and to save time, but if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can make your own! Then it’s really all about assembly, and since each component is cooked on its own, the sole purpose of the baking is to make the cheese all bubbly and golden. Once that’s all done, serve it up with some garlic bread and prepare to lie on the floor in a food coma for approximately 4 hours.

Let’s get cooking!!

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A beautiful mess of cheesy goodness!!

Makes: 6-8 servings
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: 15 minutes
Total: about 1 hour 15 minutes

Gnocchi Ingredients:

2 packages potato gnocchi
1 can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano but don’t stress if you can’t find them)
1 large yellow onion
4 tbs salted butter
2 balls of fresh mozzerella

Steps:

1. Add crushed tomatoes to a medium saucepan. Peel the onion and cut in half (that’s literally it), and drop the halves in with the tomatoes. Cut the butter into single tablespoons and mix everything together briefly. Simmer this mixture on low for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the softened onions before proceeding. Congratulations, you will never buy a jar of pasta sauce again!

2. While your sauce is simmering, bring a pot of water to a boil. When you have about 5-10 minutes left on the sauce, season the water generously with salt and cook your gnocchi. They’re cooked when they float to the top of the water and remain there. Using a large slotted spoon or spider strainer, scoop the gnocchi out of the water and add them straight into the pot with the tomato sauce. At this point, preheat your oven to 350ºF.

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The waiting for the cooking is the worst part don’t you think?

3. Cut one ball of mozzarella into cubes and stir into the gnocchi and sauce so that it begins to melt, and transfer the whole delicious mixture into an 8x8in square baking dish. Cut several slices from the second ball of mozzarella and place on top. Bake for 10-15 minutes, and broil for the last few to make the cheese on top golden and perfect. Be careful not to look away with the broiler on, it goes from nothing to burnt REALLY fast.

4. Serve immediately with one (or 6) pieces of garlic bread (recipe follows below) and a glass of red wine because you deserve it.

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Garlic Bread Ingredients:

1 loaf of ciabatta or italian bread
1 stick salted butter, softened
4 gloves garlic, minced
3 tsp dried basil

Steps:

1. Preheat your oven to 350ºF. In a small bowl, mix together the softened butter, garlic, and basil.

2. Slice the loaf of bread in half and generously spread the garlic mixture on both halves. Put the halves back together and wrap in tinfoil. Bake for 15 minutes, then unwrap and separate the halves, and bake for another 5 minutes. Slice the halves and serve warm!!

Enjoy!! xoxoxo

 

savories

The Best Minestrone Ever.

This is probably one of my most important recipes, adapted from a Food52 article titled “How To Make Vegetarian Minestrone Soup without a Recipe”, which can be read here. I realize that it seems odd to create a recipe based off an article telling you you don’t need a recipe, but hear me out. While studying abroad in Florence during my junior year of college, my roommate and I ran out of money within the first 5 minutes (Italian leather and cornettos with crema, I literally couldn’t STOP myself), and realized that we were going to have to be able to cook more of our own meals if we were going to make it out of the country without being completely broke. Not wanting to venture too far away from the Italian flavors we were coming to know and love, I came across this article and got to work.

The basic beauty of this soup is that you can basically just use whatever you have around the house, which makes it incredibly versatile. However, after one try, the following combination became such a staple to our friend group that, 2 years later, I still make it the exact same way at every reunion. A classic minestrone includes all the good stuff- veggies, pasta, lots of cheese (the best part really), and takes on a slightly different flavor with each adjustment. Soup can sometimes seem daunting, but it’s SO satisfying to watch it come together, and this is a great recipe for a beginner to start with, or for a more experienced cook to mess around with. A word of advice? If the whole quantity of soup is not being eaten in one sitting, you may want to cook the pasta in a separate pot and add it into the soup before serving, or else be prepared to add more chicken broth/ water the next time you heat it, as the pasta absorbs most of the broth overnight, making it much thicker and less of a soup consistency. P.S. If you do make changes/ adjustments, I would LOVE to hear how they turn out. Enjoy!! xoxoD

Ingredients:

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium-sized yellow onions; diced
5 (or 6) carrots; peeled and diced
4 stalks celery; diced
4 cloves garlic; minced
3 red bell peppers; diced
3 leek stalks; thoroughly cleaned and sliced into thin half-moons
4-5 yukon gold potatoes; peeled and diced into chunks
2 cans crushed tomatoes
8 cups chicken broth (vegetable broth if you’re going vegetarian)
2 cans white beans; drained and rinsed
1 box dried pasta (Any short pasta will work, I like rigatoni or large shells)
A few handfuls fresh spinach leaves; washed
Salt & Pepper to taste
Wedge of parmesan cheese; freshly grated (for serving)

Steps:

1. Add olive oil to a heavy-bottomed soup pot and heat on medium. Add onions, carrots, celery, leeks, and peppers, and cook until they soften and the onions are translucent, about 8-10 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook for another minute, until the garlic is fragrant but not brown. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Next, add potatoes and stir briefly to incorporate with the rest of the veggies. Pour in both cans of crushed tomatoes, the chicken broth, and cover the pot with a lid. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer (low heat), cooking until the potatoes are tender when tested with a fork, 20-30 minutes.

3. Add the drained, rinsed beans, and heat through, about 5 minutes. If using uncooked pasta, toss in towards the end, until the pasta is al dente. Toss in spinach leaves and mix until they begin to wilt (the measurement is general because it’s totally up to you, and spinach shrinks up so a few handfuls always ends up being less than you’d think).

4. Serve with a generous grating of parmesan cheese, and a large piece of crusty bread. Then lie on the floor for a while and wonder if you’ll ever not be full again!

This recipe is dedicated to my Firenze family who I hope still want me around now that I have revealed this secret recipe.