Dinner Menu: Baked Gnocchi in Fire Roasted Tomato-Basil Sauce

This is an elegant dinner that looks like it took you all day to prepare.  From start to finish I cooked the asparagus and gnocchi in 1/2 hour.  The strawberry bread takes an hour to cook, but it’s a breeze to put together.  So if you feel the need for something special, but still easy, this one could be for you.

On the board tonight:

  1. Baked Ricotta Gnocchi
  2. Broiled Asparagus
  3. Loaf of good crusty bread
  4. Strawberry Bread

Christmas Eve is spent eating good food at friends’ Mark and Larissa’s house. Mark’s mom is from Italy and Larissa’s mom is from Japan, and luckily for me, the subject always turns to food from both countries. This year we talked about ravioli, gnocchi and fish in salt domes. I have to confess I’m not a fan of gnocchi. Should be good, right? – potato goodness, covered in sauce. What’s not to love? It just isn’t a favorite of mine. Maybe because I’ve never had it fresh I am missing out. But after we discussed how to make it fresh, well, I don’t think I’d be making it anytime soon. Then I saw a recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi and it sounded good and best of all, easy.  So I’d thought I’d try it. This is what I came up with and it quickly became a favorite of my guests.

Baked Ricotta Gnocchi in Fire Roasted Tomato and Basil Sauce

Sauce:

  • 28 oz fire roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tbsp fresh chopped)

Add ingredients in saucepan, bring to a low boil, reduce to low and let simmer while preparing gnocchi.

Topping:

  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 1 oz grated parmesan or Romano cheese

Gnocchi:

  • 15 oz Ricotta (whole or low-fat)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 oz fresh parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 cup unbleached flour

large stock pot, mixing bowl, mixer, glass baking dish- lightly oiled

While preparing gnocchi, bring water to boil in large sauce pan or stock pot. In a mixing bowl, mix together Ricotta and eggs. Add parmesan, salt, pepper and flour, stir in by hand until combined, do not over mix.  Bring water up to a low boil, you’ll want a low boil to keep the dough from falling apart as it hits the water.  Form dough into cookie dough sized balls (I use a cookie scoop, you can use two tablespoons) and drop into boiling water. Do not crowd, cook in several batches as needed (I managed 12-13 per batch of 1″ balls). Cook for 7 minutes, remove with slotted spoon, draining well,  to baking dish. When all the gnocchi are cooked, cover with sauce, and top with cheeses. Bake for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven, until cheese is bubbling.

This week I actually made this a day ahead, keeping the gnocchi, sauce and topping separate, so I could bribe the guys at work to attend a lunch meeting.  I put it together and baked just before serving and it turned out very well.  I baked it for 20 minutes until it was heated through.

Broiled Asparagus

  • 1 lb Asparagus
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper to taste

baking sheet

Cut woody stems off of asparagus and toss lightly with olive oil. Spread onto baking sheet in one layer. Broil until lightly brown and tender, turning as each side browns, about 8-12 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Strawberry Bread

  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup butter
  • 12 oz frozen strawberries, thawed & chopped*
  • ½ cup chopped pecans

loaf pan, greased

Combine dry ingredients. Add eggs, oil, strawberries and pecans. Stir just until all ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan 5 minutes then run knife around edges & remove to cool on wire rack.

*I pureed mine, works fine, needs additional 5 minutes cooking time

Shopping List:

  • 28 oz fire roasted crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • Fresh basil
  • 4 oz shredded mozzarella
  • 3 oz grated parmesan or Romano
  • 15 oz Ricotta (Whole or low-fat)
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 lb asparagus
  • 1 loaf nice crusty bread
  • 12 oz frozen strawberries
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 oz chopped pecans

Also: garlic, dried oregano (or fresh), salt, pepper, flour, baking soda, salt, pepper, olive oil, cinnamon, sugar

Originally Posted January 2010

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Slow-Cooker Recipes for Busy Days

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JeffreyW’s Slowcooker Italian Pork

This has been a busy holiday week, so this is a quick and dirty recipe exchange. But first, I want to take a moment and thank all of you for the outpouring of love on the loss of my cat. They’re tiny, they’re furry and they really work their way into your heart. I cannot believe how much your comments and emails helped. You rock.

Now back to our scheduled recipe exchange:

This time of year I’m always looking for recipes I can have in the slow-cooker and everyone can serve themselves. My favorite is the featured recipe this week, Portuguese Beef and Pasta, which I usually only make when the extended family gets together.

Slow-cookers are one of the most versatile appliances in the kitchen, you can make a nice pot roast dinner, or recipes as simple as soups and stews. The best part is coming home from work or a day of holiday events and know dinner is ready to go and the house smells wonderful.

For recipes, let’s start with JeffreyW’s Italian Pork, pictured above and the recipe here.

Then something different, and a childhood favorite meal, Brunswick Stew, recipe here. (Posting this makes me smile, because the last time I posted the recipe, commenters informed me that REAL Brunswick Stew is made with squirrel. You’re welcome to substitute as needed).

And finally, a Chunky Vegetable Soup,  recipe found here.

What’s on your menu this weekend? Any fun holiday plans? I have a couple of things I’d like to do – Zoo Lights or Blossom Lights (at the botanical gardens) and the Christmas parade.  What are some of your favorite meals around the holidays? Do you have go-to recipes when the family descends?

I really like tonight’s featured recipe because it is very simple, but so very tasty. If I make it when the family gathers, I always double it. The recipe below serves 4.  This is a great recipe to make and let everyone help themselves when they are hungry. I toss the pasta with olive oil and put it in the refrigerator and leave the beef simmering in the slow-cooker on low for the entire day. They mix the two when they are hungry. I must say, the longer the beef cooks, the better it gets. It’s always a hit with everyone.

Portuguese Beef & Pasta

  • 1 lb round steak, cut into thin strips, remove excess fat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (reserve ¼ for beans)
  • 1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2-14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz dry macaroni**

Slow-Cooker and saucepan

Add beef, salt, pepper, onion, green pepper, garlic, paste, diced tomatoes, water, bay leaf & red pepper to Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low) until beef tears easily with a fork. In saucepan, cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain well (you don’t want any water in your beef mixture) and mix beef and pasta in serving bowl.

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Dinner Menu: Quick and Easy Chicken Parmesan

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Photo by JeffreyW

Heading out of town, but wanted to leave you with one of my favorite recipes.  I’m off to Boston…hoping for good weather and good food. Good company is a given.  When I get back I think I want to tackle some fun Halloween ideas.

This is a fairly simple Chicken Parmesan and the Mushroom Confetti is a light and tasty side. Enjoy.

On the board tonight:

  1. Chicken Parmesan
  2. Garlic Bread*
  3. Italian Mushroom Confetti
  4. Sherbet or (my favorite) Gelato

Chicken Parmesan

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 bonelss chicken breasts, cut into fillets or 1 lb chicken breast fillets
  • 2 cups Italian Bread Crumbs
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste**
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 4 oz sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 1 green pepper, sliced into rings
  • 4 oz grated parmesan cheese

large skillet and 9×13 baking dish, lightly oiled

Wash and lightly dry breasts, then coat in bread crumbs. Heat oil in skillet, reduce heat to medium and brown chicken on both sides, remove, set aside. Add onion, sauce, paste & spices and bring to a low boil, reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes. Place a ladle of sauce in the bottom of the baking dish, place chicken on top and then spread remaining sauce over the top of the chicken. Add cheese slices on each fillet. Sprinkle evenly with parmesan, top with green pepper rings. Bake at 375, 20 -25 minutes until cheese is melted and golden brown.

**Extra tomato paste can be frozen in ice cube trays and stored in a plastic zip bag. 1 cube = 1 tbsp of paste

Italian Mushroom Confetti

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large Portobello mushroom caps (or 6 to 8 button mushrooms)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 green pepper
  • ½ onion
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 large tomato or 14 oz diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ cup vegetable or chicken broth
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp basil

skillet

Cut mushrooms, peppers, zucchini & tomato into uniform pieces. Heat oil in skillet, add vegetables, including corn, sauté 2 minutes, add stock & spices. Stir over medium heat until vegetables are tender.

*Quick and easy garlic bread: slice loaf lengthwise, melt butter, add garlic and brush on cut side of each half of bread.  Top with a little parmesan and broil until golden.  Slice and serve.

Shopping List:

  • 4 boneless chicken breasts or 1 lb chicken breast fillets
  • 2 cups Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 onion
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 4 oz sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 1 green pepper
  • 4 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 Portobello mushrooms,
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 sm. Zucchini,
  • 1 large tomato or 14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 oz vegetable, chicken broth or equivalent
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 loaf French or Italian bread
  • 1 pint Gelato or Sherbet

Also: basil, oregano, garlic, rosemary, olive oil, butter

Originally published October 2009

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Thursday Recipe Exchange: Quick Pasta Meals

Shrimp and Pasta by JeffreyW

I started this blog as a complement to my business of 10 years – I provided weeknight menus and recipes for busy families. It was a lot of fun. I’ve moved on to other things and the blog has evolved from just my simple recipes and flavor palate to guest bloggers, co-bloggers and lots of guest recipes. It’s been a pleasant surprise.

But as the holidays approach and life gets busier, I wanted to come back to those simple recipes and highlight them several times a week. These are quick, fresh recipes that take about 30 minutes. And I swear to you, if you’re not confident in the kitchen, these are foolproof. A way, I hope, to help alleviate some of the stress around this time of year. So tonight’s recipes are in that vein.

First up: the photo above is from JeffreyW, it’s a nice, quick Shrimp and Pasta dish that he liked well enough to make again. (recipe here).  Next up is my quick Skillet Lasagna, recipe below.

What are some of your go-to recipes for those nights when there is no time to cook but everyone needs to eat? Do you have family favorites that everyone wants at least once a week? When I was a kid, I would beg my mom to make her rice crispy baked chicken.

Tonight’s featured recipe is one of my favorites because it has a nice blend of flavors for a quick, skillet dish. I use dry spices because they are always in my pantry – make sure to crush them well to bring out the flavor in a dish that doesn’t have the advantage of a long simmer. Use good quality mozzarella and ricotta to take it up a notch. Skip the ground beef for a vegetarian meal (I’d add some nice mushrooms instead) or spice it up with 1/2 Italian sausage and 1/2 ground beef.  In other words, don’t be afraid to change it up to fit your needs. For a side, try green beans or zucchini and you’ve got a nice, quick dinner.

Skillet Lasagna

  • 8 oz  bowtie pasta
  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • ½ green pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp basil, crushed
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 4 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves, chopped
  • 4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 oz grated parmesan

skillet, saucepan

In saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, cooking to al dente (slightly chewy), drain well. Do Not Rinse (it inhibits the sauce from being absorbed by the pasta). Meanwhile, in skillet brown beef, onion & pepper. Add spices, garlic, carrot and sauté for 1 minute. Add sauce, paste, stirring well into meat mixture. Let simmer 10 minutes. Add pasta, stirring gently to mix. Mix together ricotta and spinach, spoon evenly onto mixture (do not stir in, you want to create little cheese balls), top with mozzarella, cover and let simmer on low until mozzarella is completely melted. Serve with parmesan.  Serves 6 generously.

Thursday Recipe Exchange: Portuguese Beef and Pasta

Years ago, when I was first learning to ski, I was very frustrated by the amount of time I spent on my ass and not skiing.  Someone told me that if I wasn’t spending  a lot of time picking myself up, I wasn’t really skiing. I needed to push my limits to get better. In other words, it was all good.  I find that information works for a lot of things in life.  Cooking is no exception.

This week, I spent a lot of time on my figurative ass, playing with the new crock-pot making various recipes.  There were epic failures.  The first thing I tried was a slow cooker meatloaf.  It called for a basic meatloaf recipe – I have a favorite – and then cook all day on low.  The results were not stellar.  More like steamed meatloaf.  An unappetizing color and texture.  Not the nice deep brown of a good baked loaf.  I was able to salvage it by cutting it into thin slices and frying it up for sandwiches.

I'll stick to these scalloped potatoes from now on.

The next failure was the scalloped potatoes.  This called for a slightly modified recipe, a bit more moisture than in the baked method.  The flavor was fine, the texture was horrible.  Kind of like if you reheated some that you baked.  Rubbery and chewy.  I’m not sure how you could modify the recipe to get a creamier texture.  I’d love to hear any ideas in the comments.

The rest of the week was spent making traditional slow cooker foods – soups and a lovely pot roast.   It wasn’t a total loss.  I did learn that for a fool-proof slow cooker recipe it’s best to have a recipe that can cook, unattended, all day without risk of ruin.  Both the potatoes and the meatloaf really could not have cooked any longer than they did.  They would have turned out even worse.

So that was adventures in cooking this week.  What foods do you use your slow cooker for successfully? Anything usual that we’ve never thought of?  Hit the comments.  Next week I think our theme will be Mardi Gras, and I’m hoping you’ll come prepared to share some favorite drinks as well as Cajun food recipes.  Someone should bring the King’s cake recipe, too.

Here’s one of my favorite fool-proof slow cooker recipes:

Portuguese Beef & Pasta

This works best if you cook the pasta separately and either add it to the beef the last 15 minutes or serve the beef over the pasta.  This is one of those slow cooker recipes that the longer it cooks, the better it gets, usually 10 hours minimum for best flavor.

  • 1 lb round steak, cut into thin strips, remove excess fat
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 2-14 oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 bay leaf (remove before serving)
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • 8 oz dry macaroni**

Slow-Cooker and saucepan

Add beef, salt, pepper, onion, green pepper, garlic, paste, diced tomatoes, water, bay leaf & red pepper to Slow-Cooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually 8-10 hours on low) until beef tears easily with a fork. In saucepan, cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain well (you don’t want any water in your beef mixture) and mix beef and pasta and serve.

**Ditilani works really, or any tiny pasta, like tiny elbow macaroni or tiny bow-ties.

Sauteed grape tomatoes on pasta

This is so easy and fast, and so good!  It goes fast, like a stir fry, so get everything together before you start.

I quartered the grape tomatoes I used because they were pretty large, like mini Romas in shape and texture.  They were perfect for this dish.  Gather some fresh basil leaves, and some fresh thyme or marjoram. Mince a bunch of garlic-I didn’t count but I bet I used 8 cloves.  I like garlic!  Chop the basil and strip the thyme leaves from the stems.  Grate some Parmesan, or Romano, or Asiago or whichever cheese you favor, I also diced some fresh mozzarella.

Start your pasta water, as it heats up start a large pan over medium high heat, add some olive oil.  When it’s hot, add the tomatoes, let them cook down for several minutes, add a bunch of basil and the thyme, add the minced garlic, stir occasionally.  I added a tablespoon of tomato paste at this point.  By now the pasta should be al dente, drain it, reserving a bit of the water, and add the pasta to the pan.  Toss everything together to coat the pasta, adding some of the pasta water if needed, and serve right away, adding fresh basil, and the mozzarella if you are using it, and the grated cheese.  Serve with some nice garlic bread.

Delicious!

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Sweet ‘n Sour Chicken

I thought I’d try a sweet and sour recipe for the chicken breasts I thawed this morning.  A quick search led me to this one. I pretty much followed the sauce recipe, swapping Splenda for the brown sugar.  Most of the recipes you see have pineapple as an ingredient but this one caught my eye because it didn’t.  I made a few additions, the shiitake mushrooms and the snow peas.

It was a decent dish, satisfying, but the sauce wasn’t quite what I had in mind.  I guess the store brand sweet and sour sauces with their day-glo colors had me conditioned to expect something different.

Used basmati rice for this dish-the new rice cooker did an excellent job on it, the grains were separate and it seems to me that basmati would make a really good base for fried rice.

Enjoy!

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More Better Lasagna

Did I mention that the Asian/International grocery near me had a pretty good cheese selection?  Much better than the supermarkets.  We browsed through the cheese section yesterday and made off with some nice stuff.  Among the cheeses were a couple of pounds of fresh mozzarella.  I was thinking tomato, mozzarella, and basil sammiches on garlic toast but Mrs J went straight to wanting some lasagna.  I aim to please.  Started out thinking I’ll make two, one to freeze and one to bake, so I made a bunch of meat sauce.  Two pounds of Italian sausage, two largish cans of tomato chunks, a can of tomato paste, an entire head of garlic sliced thin on the mandolin.  Plenty of fresh basil.  Some fresh mushrooms, sliced.  More stuff.  Couldn’t get her enthused enough to make fresh pasta-she pointed out that we had some dried lasagna noodles.  OK, fine.

Mixed up some ricotta with an egg and garlic powder, red pepper flakes, some grated parmesan, a we bit of shredded mozzarella.  Debated with myself whether to stir the fresh cheese in with it, opted not to.  Boiled some spinach for a few minutes and wrung the water out of it after cooling it under the faucet.  Stirred that into the ricotta mix.

Started the assembly of the casserole when the noodles were finished and cool.  Pretty soon it was clear I could get all of it into one dish.  A huge lasagna.  Popped that into the oven at 350 for 40-45 minutes, then topped it with a bit of the shredded mozzarella, more grated parmesan, and a few scraps of fresh mozzarella I had saved back thinking still of the tomato sammiches.  Gave it another 15 or so, until the top was toasting.  Didn’t let it rest long enough last night so I’ve included some pics from today that show the layers better.

Enjoy!

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