Easy Weeknight One-Pot Sausage, Peppers and Pasta

I remember those Autumn weeknights where there was a crisp chill in the air and we would look forward to a warm hearty dinner after a long day at work or school. I would get dinner going as the kids would be doing homework at the dining room table. Later we would gather around the same table, enjoy a delicious meal and catch up on everyone’s day.

Those days haven’t changed too much, parents are are still working, kids are still doing home work and after school activities. Life is busier than ever before. I hope this recipe will give you some help on those busy days at dinnertime.

One-Pot Sausage, Peppers and Pasta

Ingredients

1 lb. your favorite short pasta

1 tablespoon olive oil

6-8 sweet Italian sausages or a combination of sweet and hot is delicious!

1 red bell pepper, large, diced

1 green bell pepper, large, diced

1 yellow bell pepper, large, diced

1 small to medium onion, sliced (yellow or white)

3 cloves garlic, sliced

28 oz. can of diced tomato

1 teaspoon Italian Seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon black ground pepper

Instructions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, add a generous amount of salt, cook until not quite al dente. (You want the pasta a bit underdone as it will finish cooking when the dish is put together)

2. Strain pasta and set aside. Toss it with a small amount of olive oil to prevent sticking

3. In the same pot or large skillet if your prefer, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil and fry the sausages, working batches as needed, until well browned on all sides.

4. Remove sausages, slice into pieces (about 5 pieces per link), and set aside.

5. Sauté all of the bell peppers, onion, and garlic for about 2 minutes.

6. Add the canned tomatoes, all the spices, and the sausage slices to the pot.

7. Simmer about 10 minutes.

8. Add the pasta back to the pot and stir gently until all the ingredients are coated in the sauce. Continue to simmer until pasta is al dente.

9. Serve with grated parmesan.

10. Mangia Bene!

Baked Parmesan Tilapia in the Instant Pot Vortex Oven with Basil Penne on the side.

I had been away a bit longer than I had planned. Since the beginning of Summer, my weekend time where I usually enjoy writing about my cooking adventures has been filled with vacation time, house projects, and several milestone birthday parties that needed planning, all great times but it means time away from my computer. So I am trying to pull back the reins to get back on track which can be difficult when you are an easily distracted person like myself.

One of the most exciting things I purchased while on vacation was an Instant Pot Vortex Oven. It is just what I needed now that we are empty nesters and don’t necessarily need to use our larger oven for smaller weeknight meals. Years back I had one of those Showtime Rotisseries which I loved using, but unfortunately during a kitchen renovation when we put it in storage the oven was damaged and became unusable. I enjoyed having a rotisserie for roasting chickens and roasts. While the IP Vortex is a bit smaller than the Showtime Rotisserie it will still do the job perfectly. So I have been having fun making dishes this hot Summer while avoiding heating up the house which is a plus.

Here is a photo of my first time cooking in the IP Vortex making chicken wings in the rotisserie basket and I also made home cut fries that turned out great.

One hot night this past week, I made an easy Baked Parmesan Tilapia in the IP Vortex oven. You can easily adapt this recipe to be made in any oven.

Baked Parmesan Tilapia

INGREDIENTS:

  • Two large pieces of Tilapia fish fillets
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning for rubbing on to the fish
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • coarse ground black pepper to taste

On a plate or small cutting board sprinkle the Old Bay seasoning on both sides of the fish. Mix the mayonnaise, parmesan cheese and garlic powder in a small bowl. With the fish still on the plate apply the mayonnaise mixture to the top of the fish. Transfer the fish to the baking tray. I set the oven to bake then baked these two lovely pieces of fish at 380 degrees for 12 minutes. They came out golden brown, moist and delicious. I served the fish with a few lemon slices and a side dish of penne pasta tossed with pesto made with fresh basil from our garden.

Basil Pesto Sauce

3 cups fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts walnuts, almonds, pignoli (pine) nuts or pecans
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a food processor, blend together basil leaves, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing. Stir in salt and pepper. Toss over warm pasta. (Note: You may want to reserve a cup of the pasta water to thin the pesto sauce should you feel it is a bit too thick)

Enjoy, and thank you for visiting my blog, I hope you will share it with family and friends.

Rainy Day Comfort Food – Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Mac and Cheese Casserole

Even though the calendar says it’s Spring there still may be a bit of a chill in the air and right now we have hit several weeks of on again off again rain.  So it’s still a bit early for starting to make those lighter warm-weather dishes and my old stand-by comfort foods still have a chance to be made once again. So why not make a dish of my homemade baked macaroni & cheese. I know there are many preferences on how people enjoy their mac & cheese, anywhere from the “blue-box” to a thick creamy sauce stirred with pasta and sometimes baked or served as is. I have made and enjoyed them with my family so you won’t get any arguments from me.

While I was growing up my mother made a baked macaroni and cheese casserole that we loved and I pretty much make it the same way. Over the years I made a slight revision to my mother’s recipe to make it just a bit richer by adding two eggs to the milk so it has a more custard-like consistency. I also on occasion add other cheeses to the shredded cheddar like Mozzarella or Fontina when I have it on hand to vary the taste and creaminess.

classic make and cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

You will need: A deep casserole dish or pan

1 lb Elbow macaroni (sometimes I use shells or Cavatappi)

Block of a good quality Sharp or Mild cheddar cheese (about 4 cups shredded) I have on occasion mixed other cheeses to the cheddar like adding Mozzarella or Fontina when I had some left over.

1 Quart (4 cups) Whole Milk

2 Eggs,  beaten

1 Stick of Butter

Ground Black Pepper (as desired)

Directions:

Boil pasta according to the package in salted water, al dente works perfectly.

Drain.

Butter a deep casserole dish

Add the two beaten eggs to the quart of milk and mix well

Place a layer of macaroni (about 1/3), enough to cover the bottom, of the casserole dish. Dot with some butter.

Add a layer of the shredded cheese covering the macaroni.

Repeat these layers until you are out of pasta – the top layer is cheese. Don’t push down on the macaroni or it will make it too dense.

Slowly pour milk/egg mixture over the casserole until the milk almost reaches the top of the casserole dish.

Dot top layer of cheese with butter and ground pepper

Bake uncovered for about 50-60 minutes in a 350-degree oven depending on how crisp you like the top, just make sure the milk mixture has turned to a custard-like consistency when a knife is inserted into the casserole.

You’ll know it is finished cooking when the milk is no longer liquid and is custard-like.

Serves 6 – Cook time and servings are approximate.

A secret to switching up this recipe: If you want to push this recipe over the top my daughter sometimes adds BBQ pulled pork in between the layers when building the casserole. It’s fantastic!

 

Countdown to Christmas – Italian Wedding Soup

10 Days until Christmas

The final Christmas countdown is here. Hope you have all gotten a good jump on your holiday shopping. It’s a gray rainy day here in the Northeast, I have just a few more things to put together for the holidays so on days like this I want a meal that will warm me up but is fast and easy. I just love a good bowl of soup that won’t take all day to cook when I’m busy.
Here are two ways to make this soup, one is quick and easy the other requires just a bit more prep work but either are simple and delicious.

Simple Italian Wedding Soup
This is the standard version of the recipe
Meatballs
1/2 lbs lean ground beef*
1 egg, slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon EACH dried basil leaves and onion powder
Soup
2 32 oz cartons of chicken broth
2 cups thinly sliced fresh escarole or spinach*
1/2 cup (about 3 oz.) Orzo or Acini de pepe (small size soup pasta), uncooked
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
Grated Parmesan cheese (Optional)

In medium bowl, combine meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese and seasonings;
shape into 3/4-inch balls. In large saucepan, heat broth to boiling;
stir in meatballs, escarole or spinach, orzo and carrot. Return to a boil;
reduce heat to medium. Cook at a slow boil 10 minutes or until orzo
is tender and meatballs are heated through, stirring frequently.
Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with a nice crusty bread for dipping in the soup.
4 to 6 servings

*The quick and easy version is to use * 1 lb (about 30 meatballs in a package) of frozen Italian meatballs in place of making meatballs and substitute 1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach for fresh escarole or spinach.

A nip in the air…Pasta Fagioli

It’s holiday season and the cool temps are here in full force in the Northeast. Over the last six months I jumped on the band wagon and fell in love with the Instant Pot. I started to convert some of my favorite recipes so they could be made in the Instant Pot. One of my favorites is Pasta Fagioli and it turned out fantastic and a lot less time then cooking it on the stove. So If you are looking for a hearty meal soup this is it. You can have this meal on the table within an hour from start to finish.

Pasta Fagioli in the IP

Pasta Fagioli with Sausage

for the Instant Pot

Made in a 6 Qt. Duo Instant Pot

Ingredients

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet, hot or a mix of both. Take out of the casing and break up into bits
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 15-oz. cans Great Northern Beans (do not drain)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
4 cups of chicken broth
1 ½ teaspoons of Italian Seasoning
1 1/2 cups Ditalini pasta (or other small shape like shells)
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Directions

In the IP press Sauté wait until it reads Hot the add oil and heat.
Add sausage meat and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
Stir in onion, carrots and celery and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Add chicken broth, beans (with their liquid), diced tomatoes, and Italian Seasoning.
Mix and scrape the bottom to loosen any bits so they don’t stick.
Stir in Ditalini pasta.
Press cancel, then set IP to High Pressure and timer for 4 minutes
Do a Quick Release when done.
Stir, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve in bowls garnished with Parmesan Cheese (optional)                                               Serve with some nice crusty Italian bread.

A Basic Tomato Sauce

On a Sunday many home cooks like to make a traditional Italian tomato sauce or gravy as some may call it. It takes lots of preparation and several hours of cooking. But what happens when there are those Sundays when the family gets busy and there isn’t the hours to prep a large pot of sauce? This may be a simple work around recipe for those days. It’s still home made and very delicious and takes about an hour.

A couple of  years ago member in an the online cooking group I belong to shared a basic tomato sauce recipe they had discovered. This recipe is adapted from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

I like to add basil to this sauce either fresh or dried.

 

20160520_170501   20160520_174425

 

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes; Cook Time: 45 minutes-1 hour

INGREDIENTS
• Two 28 ounce cans San Marzano peeled plum tomatoes
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
• 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 pound dried pasta
• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

DIRECTIONS
1. Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan. Add in the butter, onion and salt. Cook, uncovered over medium heat so that the sauce maintains a slow but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir with a wooden spoon every now and then, mashing up large pieces of tomato with the back of the spoon. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove the onion before using the sauce. You can definitely eat it if you like.

Serve the sauce over pasta or use for the base for pizza or with anything you want a basic tomato sauce. Sauce keeps in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. Enjoy!

Still a chill in the air – Baked Ziti

Hopefully Spring will be around the corner. Mother’s nature is taking her sweet old time about it though. I figured I might as well get in one of my last cold weather meals this past week. I haven’t made Baked Ziti in quite a while. Baked Ziti isn’t a difficult dish to make and for a long time I just didn’t think the way I was making it was anything special. So some years back I had belonged to a recipe newsgroup (I’m dating myself here for those who remember those days of CompuServe and GEnie) Someone had shared a recipes that came from a New York City Italian restaurant. So I gave it a try and was really happy with it and have been using this recipes ever since.

IMG_1186

Restaurant Style Baked Ziti

Ingredients:

1 pound ziti
16 ounces ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 cups marinara, (or meat sauce) homemade or jarred
16 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook ziti in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 10 to 12 minutes.
Drain well.
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Mix to blend well.
Toss cooked ziti with 2 cups sauce.
(At this point I also add sliced cooked sausage and/or meatballs
cut into pieces)

Place half the pasta in an deep 9″ x 13″baking dish or foil lasagna pan.
Top with the ricotta mixture and half the mozzarella cubes.
Top with remaining ziti, remaining 1 cup sauce, mozzarella cubes , and Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Bake until casserole is heated through and cheese is
bubbly and lightly browned on top, approx. 35 to 40 minutes.