Cheesy Garlic Breadsticks

cheesy-garlic-breadsticksThere is something about freshly baked bread that makes every meal better. It makes a light salad more substantial, and every soup, stew and gravy needs a fresh piece of bread for sweeping off the plate. Add garlic + cheese and we’ve covered all my favorite groups. Who doesn’t love cheesy breadsticks?

 

 

cheesy-garlic-breadsticks-2

 

Ingredients (makes 8 breadsticks):
8 oz. pizza dough (see recipe)
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
¼ tsp. Italian seasoning
Pinch crushed red pepper (optional)
2 oz. shredded mozzarella cheese

cheesy-garlic-breadsticks-3Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll pizza dough into an approx. 8×8 inch square. Melt butter in a microwave safe bowl for 15 second increments until fully melted. Stir in garlic, Italian seasoning and crushed red pepper. Brush melted butter mixture on dough and top with shredded cheese. Bake on a pizza stone or cookie sheet for 12 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly. Brush with any remaining butter, sprinkle with sea salt and cut into 8 breadsticks. Enjoy!

30 Minute Tomato Sauce

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 3After spending a week in New York visiting family, you would think I’ve had my fill of Italian food. And while I certainly did indulge in all of the delicious pasta and pizza, I can never really get enough. Since I made a big batch of Homemade Ricotta Cheese, I had more than enough after making a Hot Soppressata Pizza for other meals during the week.  It doesn’t get much better than tomato sauce with a big dollop of cool, creamy Homemade Ricotta!  Since the pizza recipe doesn’t call for any tomato sauce, I needed to make a batch of 30 Minute Tomato Sauce in a pinch.

 

Typically, I make a big batch of tomato sauce that simmers away for hours, and freeze several containers for use over the next couple of months. That is still my favorite way. But when dinner needs to be on the table in 30 minutes, this is my go to recipe.

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 2I use canned whole tomatoes rather than crushed or pureed for a couple of reasons. The primary reason is that I think the best tomatoes (freshest and best looking) are left intact for canning. I don’t know if this is really true, but it seems that way to me. The second reason is that the texture of the sauce can be changed based on what I’m making. Sometimes I want my sauce a little chunkier and using whole tomatoes lets me control the amount of the squish! That’s a technical cooking term by the way.

Ingredients:
2 28 oz. cans of whole plum tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 small shallots, minced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh basil (optional)

30 Minute Tomato Sauce 1Pour whole tomatoes with their liquids into a large bowl. Using your hands, squish tomatoes to desired consistency. If you like a really smooth tomato sauce, they can be pureed in a food processor.
Preheat a medium saucepan on medium-low heat and sauté minced shallots and garlic in olive oil until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning, sugar, crushed red pepper, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. If sauce is a little watery, increase heat to medium and simmer for 5-10 minutes more. Enjoy!

Homemade Ricotta Cheese

Homemade Ricotta Cheese 2Ricotta cheese is a staple in a lot of Italian cooking. I use it in lasagna, stuff shells, on pizzas, or even desserts. I always knew that making ricotta from scratch was pretty easy – there are only 4 ingredients, all of which were on hand and it took less than 30 minutes from start to finish. I had a hankering for Ricotta Cheese with Peaches and Spicy Chili Honey, where the cheese is the star of the show, and wanted a high quality, fresh cheese. The selection at the grocery store in Austin is a bit, well, lacking for Ricotta, so now was the time to make my own. The results were fantastic, and luckily there was quite a bit left for more dishes throughout the week.

Even though it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever made, it felt pretty fancy to make my own cheese.

Ingredients:
½ gallon whole milk (8 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp. kosher salt
3 tbsp. fresh lemon juice (juice from approximately 1 lemon)

Homemade Ricotta Cheese 3Line a colander with 2 layers of dampened cheesecloth and place over a large bowl.
On medium heat, combine milk, heavy cream and salt, stirring occasionally until starting to boil. Reduce heat to low and add lemon juice. Mixture will start to curdle in about 2 minutes. Continue to simmer for approximately 2 minutes more. Pour mixture into lined colander and let sit about 20 minutes so the excess liquids (whey) drain from the cheese. Empty bowl occasionally to ensure proper draining. Store unused ricotta in the refrigerator for about a week (like it would last that long!) Enjoy!

Pistachio and Basil Pesto

Pistachio and Basil PestoWhew! The last few weeks have been hectic. Packing, moving, unpacking… but we are all settled in to our new home and ready to enjoy the summer. Basil is my all-time favorite summertime herb, so much so, that one basil plant just isn’t enough in my house. Of course when I make pesto, I think pasta, but it’s also great on pizza, in soups, and – my newest favorite – on sandwiches. Doesn’t a grilled cheese with mozzarella and prosciutto, topped with bright and aromatic pesto sound indulgent?  This pesto sauce also takes less than 5 minutes to make; all the ingredients are thrown in a food processor and blended until smooth.  Easy and delicious!

Pesto is traditionally made with toasted pine nuts, but the grocery store sells pistachios in the bulk section, where I can buy just what I need for a single recipe. Pistachios are also less expensive than pine nuts, so it’s a win-win to me.

Pistachio and Basil Pesto 2Ingredients (serves 4):
¼ cup unsalted pistachios, toasted (see below)
3-4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, quartered
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper

To toast the pistachios, preheat a small skillet on medium heat. Add pistachios and stir until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and place toasted pistachios, basil leaves, parmesan cheese, garlic, crushed red pepper and olive oil to a food processor.  Pulse until ingredients are smooth, scraping the sides with a spatula as necessary. Season with salt and pepper and toss with your favorite pasta for an easy weeknight meal.

Enjoy!

Pepperoni and Italian Sausage Pinwheels

Pepperoni and Italian Sausage PinwheelsIf you’ve ever walked into a pizza place in New York, you’ve seen the counter lined with pizza you can order by the slice, calzones and pinwheels.  My first stop when visiting New York is always my favorite pizza place, but I still need to get my fix between visits. These pinwheels are hearty, grab-able, appetizers for game day or just having some friends over. My all-time favorite is the classic pepperoni pinwheel, but you can put just about anything in them. Got a meat lover? Make this pepperoni and sausage variety. Feeling vegetarian? Broccoli and roasted garlic makes a divine pinwheel. Just don’t forget the cheese! Take some store bought pizza dough (or make your own) and roll away. One pound of dough makes 2 rolls, and each roll makes about 10 pinwheel slices, so this recipe is great for a group. If you’re making appetizers for just a few friends, cut the recipe in half, and make the leftover dough into garlic knots to have with dinner, or a thin crust pizza for tomorrow.

Pepperoni and Italian Sausage Pinwheels 2Ingredients (makes approximately 20 pinwheels):
1 lb. pizza dough
¼ lb. sliced pepperoni
¼ lb. crumbled Italian sausage, browned in skillet
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
¼ tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tbsp. melted butter
Marinara sauce for dipping

 

Pepperoni and Italian Sausage Pinwheels 3Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut pizza dough in half and roll each half into an approximately 9×9 square on a floured surface. Top each square with half of the pepperoni, crumbled sausage, mozzarella and Italian seasonings. Carefully roll into a log, pressing ends together so the cheese doesn’t melt out when baking. Cook for approximately 25 minutes until deep golden brown on outside and dough is cooked throughout.

 

Pepperoni and Italian Sausage Pinwheels 4 Let cool for 5 minutes, brush with melted butter, slice each roll into 10 pinwheels and enjoy!

Chicken Scampi

Chicken Scampi 1Good food is very important to Austinites. There are trendy new restaurants opening nearly every week, and sometimes it seems like people work in Austin solely to frequent their favorite places. There are hardly any chain restaurants here, but we all have those certain dishes that take you back to being a teenager, and we will always love them.

I love the chicken scampi from the Olive Garden. There. I said it.

Most of the time, I like to make dinner at home. I like to control the quality of ingredients and it’s always less expensive to cook for a family than it is to eat out. Plus, I like to save our nights out to try some of the fabulous local eateries that Austin is so famous for. So, without further ado, here is my Chicken Scampi. The peppers, onions, garlic and white wine give this sauce a great flavor, and it would be easy to substitute chicken for shrimp or fish if you wanted to change it up. When cooking with wine, it’s best to use a wine that is drinkable, but won’t break the bank! If you wouldn’t want to drink it, why would you want that flavor in your food? At $6.99/bottle, Costco puts out some very commendable wines under their Kirkland brand that fit the bill perfectly. Their Pinot Grigio is dry, crisp, and since this recipe only calls for a cup, there is plenty left over for sipping. Drink up!

Ingredients (serves 4):

Chicken Scampi 2For the chicken tenders:
1 lb. chicken tenders
½ cup flour
½ cup milk
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
¼ tsp Italian seasoning

For the scampi sauce:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
1 yellow bell pepper, sliced thin
½ red onion, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, sliced thin
1 cup dry white wine
1 tbsp. butter
1 cup heavy cream
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp Italian seasoning
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
10 oz. angel hair pasta, prepared al dente according to package

In a medium bowl, mix flour, ½ tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper and ¼ tsp. Italian seasoning. Dip chicken tenders in milk, then in flour mixture. Set aside.

Chicken Scampi 3Using a large skillet (I love my Le Creuset 5 Quart Covered Braiser) heat olive oil over medium heat and brown chicken tenders, 3 minutes a side. Remove chicken from pan, add peppers, onions and garlic and sauté for 4-5 minutes until beginning to soften, but not mushy. Remove from pan. Add white wine and let deglaze for 2 minutes. Add butter, crushed red pepper and remaining salt, pepper and Italian seasoning and stir until butter is melted. Turn to low, add heavy cream, stirring until heated. Fold in pepper mixture and cooked pasta until evenly coated. Top with chicken tenders and garnish with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.

Enjoy!

Wine Pairings
Rosa dell Olmo Barbera d’Asti 2014

Italian Sausage and Gnocchi Soup

Italian Sausage and Gnocchi SoupThis comforting soup is so easy to make, thanks to the prepackaged gnocchi that cook directly in the soup. Gnocchi, small potato dumplings that cook in just a few minutes, can be found vacuum-packed in the pasta aisle (I got mine at Trader Joe’s). An added bonus – the starches from the gnocchi release into the soup while cooking, which thicken the hearty broth and guarantee to warm you up on a chilly evening. Add some spicy turkey sausage, diced tomatoes, cannellini beans, shallots and zucchini, and you’ve got a healthy, flavorful, balanced meal that is ready in about 30 minutes.

Ingredients (serves 4):
1 lb. Italian turkey sausage links (hot or mild)
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can diced tomatoes (including liquids)
3 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. Italian seasoning
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 lb. potato gnocchi
2 medium zucchini, cut into small cubes
15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)

Italian Sausage and Gnocchi Soup 2Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook sausage links in shallow baking pan until cooked throughout, about 15 minutes. In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, heat oil on medium-low heat, until shallots and garlic sizzle when added. Sauté shallots and garlic until fragrant, about 2 minutes, add diced tomatoes with liquid, chicken broth, sugar, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper, and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium and add gnocchi and zucchini. Bring back up to a light boil, and cook 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently, until both are cooked. While gnocchi and zucchini are simmering, slice sausage links into discs. Add cannellini beans and sausage and stir until heated, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately and top with grated cheese.

Enjoy!

Wine Pairing:
Poggio al Casone Toscana 2010

(Make ahead tip: If you are planning to make this in advance, prepare gnocchi as directed on package, store separately from soup, and add gnocchi to soup as it’s reheating.  This will prevent the gnocchi from absorbing too much of the soup liquid while storing and becoming mushy.)

Juniper

Juniper PappardelleJuniper is a new restaurant that opened on the east side a little over a month ago, specializing in small plates with a Northern Italian flair. This special occasion spot is perfect for a small group, so you can share more of their delicious offerings.

One of the early favorites were the Puffy Potatoes, like a cheesy adult tater tot with fresh herbs, served alongside a spicy whipped Dijon. The Cannellini bean salad was unique and bright with the addition of fresh grapefruit to sweet potato and red onion.

They have an interesting selection of fresh made pasta. The Shaped Pasta was similar in size and shape to orecchiette, cooked very al dente and topped with broccoli and crispy pig ears. It was nothing like any other dish I’ve tried before, but quite tasty! The star of the pasta show was the Pappardelle, fresh pasta topped with an oxtail ragù and grated horseradish. The distinct flavor of the spicy horseradish paired really well with the tomato in the ragù.

Juniper Milk and HoneyThe Pork Belly was just perfect. It was smoky, perfectly rendered and slightly sweet from the fennel and onions. It’s not to be missed! You must also save room for the Milk and Honey dessert, a sweet ricotta panna cotta, topped with a tangy yogurt gelato, garnished with oats and honey.

The portions are on the smaller side, so plan on ordering two to three per person. If you want to order less and add on as you go, they were able to accommodate that pretty quickly also. Be sure to ask questions about each dish; the knowledgeable wait staff were able to paint each dish perfectly, but you might end up trying them all!