As my friend Linda Kay says... "everything is better with bacon!"

This week at the supermarket I got a great buy on huge, beautiful mushrooms! But you had to buy 1 and a half kilos which is roughly 3lbs!
Tuesday night I made sausage and mushrooms... and today? !
When I looked in the fridge to see what other ingredients I had, I found fresh tagliolini, light cream cheese and bacon. As my friend Linda Kay says... "everything is better with bacon!" so here are the recipes I came up with! Stuffed mushrooms - an appetizer and Pasta with mushrooms, onions and bacon.

 Ingredients for 2 servings
5 very large mushrooms or about 12 small ones.
3 slices of bacon
1 small onion
small bunch of parsely
1/2 of a three ounce pkg of cream cheese
4 oz of fresh tagliolini (narrow ribbon noodles)
salt and pepper to taste

First, put a large pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
Next,  wash the mushrooms and clean by slicing off the bottoms of the stems. Then, remove the stems from 2 of the mushrooms, set caps aside for stuffed mushrroms.
Quarter the remaining mushrooms and then slice, including the stems removed from the first 2 mushrooms.

Now, fry 3 slices of bacon until just crisp, remove from pan. Pour off excess bacon fat. Chop the onion. Set aside about 1 heaping tablespoon of the chopped onion for the stuffed mushrooms.

 Put the sliced mushrooms and chopped onion in the pan you cooked the bacon in. Add a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and start to sauté over medium heat.

While the mushrooms and onions are cooking, make the filling for the mushroom caps.

Don't forget to stir the mushrooms and onions every so often!

Finely chop the parsley. Set aside about 2/3 of it for the pasta sauce.
Crumble 1 slice of the fried bacon. Put the cream cheese, onion, parsley and bacon in a small bowl. Mix well with a fork to make the filling. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Fill the mushroom caps with the cream cheese mix. Put them on a cookie sheet and bake at 450° in a preheated oven for about 5 minutes.

While, the mushrooms are baking, finish the sauce. By now the onions and mushrooms should be nicely browned.

 Add about 1/2 cup of white wine, the rest of the crumbled bacon and the chopped parsley. Taste and add salt if necessary. Season with freshly ground pepper. 

Idea! Mushrooms cooked like this are the perfect accompaniment to grilled breast of chicken! 

By now the stuffed mushrooms are nicely browned so take them out of the oven and serve.  

When you are ready to serve the pasta, put the tagliolini in to cook. Fresh pasta only takes about 2 minutes. 

When the tagliolini are cooked the way you like them, drain and add to the mushrooms and bacon sauce. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Serve the past with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

and.. as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian....



"Not Just for Sunday" Lasagna or... Cheater's lasagne!

So which came first? Spaghetti or Lasagne???Tough question, seeing as the even great culinary authorities can’t agree on where spaghetti originated – China or Europe!! 

However we do know that the Etruscans (VII century BC) made lasagne with spelt (a grain similar to wheat).  The Greeks and Romans made lasagne (pasta cut into large squares) filled with legumes and cheese.
In the 14th century, a recipe for lasagne layered with cheese only was published in a cookbook written by F. Zambrini. The legumes had totally disappeared.

No one really knows how the recipe for the Classic Lasagne alla Bolognese was born. In fact, Pellegrino Artusi doesn’t make mention of this recipe in his book “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene” (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of eating well), published in 1891 and considered to be the Treatise of Italian regional cooking. 

The dish mysteriously began to appear in the restaurants of Bologna at the beginning of the 20th century and, in 1935, Lasagne alla Bolognese was made famous by Paolo Monelli, who included it on the menu of “Il Ghiottone errante”, his restaurant .
The original recipe for lasagne is so important that the Accademia Italiana della Cucina deposited it with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce on July 4, 2003.

However, anyone who has toured and eaten in Italy knows that depending on where you are in Italy, the recipe for Lasagne changes!
In Emilia Romagna, there is no ricotta in the recipe. In fact the original recipe uses the classic Bolognese Ragù, made with several types of meat, and a rich béchamel sauce made with butter, plenty of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggianocheese and fresh whole milk.
In the Marche the dish is called “Millefoglie” or “Vincisgrassi”: some say the dish was named for Windisch Graetz, an Austrian General who was in Ancona with his troops in 1799, during the Napoleonic wars. They say his personal cook had invented a recipe, so delicious that it soon spread throughout the region. However, others say that the General merely tasted Vincisgrassi, a recipe which had already appeared in a 1784 cookbook  “Il Cuoco Maceratese” written by Antonio Nebbia, and was already widely used in the Macerata region of the Marche. 
In Campania, the recipe for lasagne includes a rich filling made with ricotta, eggs and grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese. And the squares of egg pasta are layered with a rich tomato sauce, the ricotta filling and other ingredients that vary depending on what the cook has on hand: sliced hard boiled eggs, sliced salami, tiny meatballs, chunks of cooked sausage – to name a few.
I have eaten Pugliese style lasagne, with artichokes layered along with the cheeses and sauce and if you travel in Sicily or Veneto or Umbria, you will find some version of the lasagne recipe.
However, everyone does seem to agree on one thing: baked lasagna is the perfect end to the Carnival season and is traditionally served on Martedì Grasso (Fat Tuesday, Mardigras) in almost all of Italy, a sort of last gastronomic fling before Lent.

My recipe is an everyday, low fat version of Lasagne. You might call it cheater’s lasagne because I use store bought pasta, a simple meat sauce and low fat ingredients. But I assure you, the results are delicious! The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it in less than one hour, but your guests will think you spent hours slaving over a hot stove, unless you tell them otherwise!

On to Donna’s “Not just for Sunday” Lasagne!

Ingredients for 4 large servings:
12 ounces of fresh egg pasta in sheets for lasagne from the super market specialty foods section
For the sauce:
1 large can (or 2 small cans) of Italian plum tomatoes, pureed, or tomato puree or tomato sauce
½ lb lean ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh basil
Salt and pepper to taste

For the filling:
½ lb ricotta (not creamed ricotta)
¼ lb low fat mozzarella, grated
1 egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
Freshly ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375°F

Start the sauce:
In a large fry pan, sauté the chopped onion and minced garlic in a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. If your family doesn’t like to find little pieces of onion or garlic in their food, use the onion and the garlic whole and remove when the sauce is done. 
When the onion is translucent, add the ground beef and lightly brown. While the meat is browning, make the filling.

Make the filling:
In a medium size bowl, mix the ricotta, grated mozzarella, grated Parmesan, egg, chopped parsley, freshly ground nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. Mix well with a spoon.
By now the meat is browned, so add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and basil to the pan and bring to a boil. When it boils, lower heat to medium low and cook for about 15 minutes. We want a rather thin sauce because we are NOT going to boil our pasta first.

I can't let you smell the sauce, but I can let you see and hear it simmering away!
Now you are ready to start making the lasagne. Use a large square, ovenproof dish, about  9 or 10 inches square.

Start by putting several tablespoons of the sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, next a layer of pasta (in my case 2 sheets of pasta, but use your judgement based on how large or small your pasta sheets are). Spread the pasta with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the ricotta filling, next more sauce (don’t be skimpy with the sauce, we are going to use it all). Now a layer of pasta, then ricotta, then sauce. End with a layer of pasta, covered with sauce. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese if you like. Bake for about 25 minutes in a pre-heated oven.

When the top is crunchy and browned, remove from oven and allow it to set for about 5 or 10 minutes (depending on how long you can resist the aroma!). 

Cut into squares and serve!

And... as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian...



Feedback on Penne alla Vodka!

My cousin Steve and his wife Linda (who requested the Penne alla Vodka recipe) decided to try the recipe out!! (in the background of one of the pictures you can see their laptop on with the blog and recipe displayed! I feel like a real cook!! )
Here are the pictures and comments to prove it!!
Steve and Linda, so glad you enjoyed the recipe!!!


Spaghetti with tomato sauce and "braciole"

"Braciole" are literally thin slices of meat for pan frying. But in the Italian-American jargon they take on a whole new meaning... frequently referred to as "brajols" (with a soft "j" sound), they are a staple in the Sunday dinner tomato sauce on most Italian-American tables! In Italy these are better known as "involtini" and may or may not be cooked in tomato sauce.
Today I am making my sauce with "braciole", but without the other typical meat ingredients - meatballs and sausage.

Ingredients for 2 servings:
For the braciole or involtini
4 slices of lean beef, pork or veal (I am using pork slices taken from the rib roast)
Grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

For the sauce:
1 small can of plum tomatoes in juice or puree
1 small onion
1 garlic clove
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

 Trim any excess fat from the meat slices, gently pound them with a meat mallet and season them as follows, with salt, pepper, finely chopped garlic, chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese:

spread the slice of meat with a scant 1/2 tsp. of the chopped garlic, about a teaspoon of chopped parsley, about a teaspoon of grated cheese, lightly salt and pepper.
Then tightly roll up the slice of meat and secure with a toothpick.

Pour a couple of tablesppons of extra virgin olive oil into a medium fry pan, heat the oil over medium heat and then add the "involtini", a small onion and a clove of garlic
 Brown the "involtini", the onion and the garlic over medium heat.
 When the meat is browned, puree the tomatoes in an electric blender and add to the fry pan with the fresh basil, salt and pepper to tast.
 Cook the sauce over medium/low heat, stirring occasionally, and allow the sauce to thicken
 When the sauce comes to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the meat is tender. This should take about 30 minutes.
 Bring a large pot of water to boil, measure out the spaghetti (I used about 2/3 lb)
 and when the water comes to a boil, put the spaghetti in to boil. Cook until the spaghetti is al dente.
Drain the spaghetti and, serve with the sauce, the "involtini" and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

As Julia Child would have said.. had she spoken Italian...

                                               BUON APPETITO!!!


Spaghetti Mille Sapori

This is a recipe I put together after eating "spaghetti mille sapori" at a little eatery in the Rocca Malatestiana in Fossombrone (PU).
At the time we were living in the country, right outside of Urbino. One of the first times my mom and dad came to visit we went to eat at this "trattoria" that someone had told me about. It was right in the Rocca, the kitchen and bar area were downstairs and upstairs there were a couple of rooms used as dining rooms, as well as a terrace. If I recall we ate on the terrace. There was no menu to speak of and there was a flat price of 10,000 lira (we are talking late 1980s early 1990s). The lady who ran the place and was the cook brought us a frying pan full of sizzling  "spaghetti mille sapori", a tray of sliced homemade cured meats - prosciutto, salami, lonzino - and delicious pecorino cheese, a dish of pickled vegetables in olive oil and a basket full of cresce sfogliate (a sort of flaky flat bread, baked on a cast iron griddle). We all loved the spaghetti and so I put together this recipe which is my version of  "Spaghetti Mille Sapori". Ah, I almost forgot! Mille Sapori means a thousand flavours!

Ingredients for 2 servings:

Spaghetti, about 7oz
Fresh herbs: sage, parsley, basil (use your judgement on the amounts)
Dried herbs: oregano, about 1 tsp
1/2 small onion
1 clove garlic
hot pepper (I used two little hot peppers)
1/3 cup chopped plum tomatoes in their juice
1/3 cup cream or cream substitute
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put a large pot of water on to boil.
Chop the onion and garlic
Sauté onion and garlic in about 2T olive oil in a large non stick fry pan
While the garlic and onion are cooking, finely chop the fresh herbs.
Add the chopped herbs, the oregano and the hot pepper to the onion and garlic and cook for a minute or two to release the flavours

Add the chopped tomatoes, add salt and pepper to taste and cook for about 5 min
By now the water is boiling, so put in the spaghetti to cook

While the spaghetti is cooking, remove the onions, garlic and herbs from the heat and add the cream or cream substitute.
Stir until well-blended. You should have a creamy salsa rosa  (pink sauce).

When the pasta is cooked "al dente", remove it from the water with a large fork or spaghetti fork directly to the fry pan with the sauce. If you choose to drain it in a colander, keep a couple of tablespoons of the cooking water to add to the sauce. Toss the spaghetti so that it is coated with the sauce. 

Serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese and... as Julia Child would have said had she spoken Italian...