Sunday, January 30, 2011

Chicken Tortellini Soup

I've been making homemade chicken soup for a little over a year now. It's the perfect compliment to the cold weather that we just can not seem to get away from these days. It's also a great meal for those of us who still can't shake those nasty colds! The idea of adding tortellini came to me earlier this month, when we were having our annual post-holiday  dinner at our friend Lorena's house. Lorena and her mom served chicken soup with tortellini as a first course. We all agreed that the soup alone would have made for a delicious meal - and this says a lot, considering how amazing and off-the-charts all of the home-cooked meals have always been when we get together. You see, these are the meals that set the bar for what I myself attempt to make. I hope that my version of this soup gets me one step closer!


4 chicken thighs (inexpensive and offers more flavor than white meat)
2 bouillon cubes
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
2 cups frozen crinkle cut carrots
2 stalks celery, chopped
1/2 tspn salt (or to taste)
1 soup blend packet (oregano, rosemary, thyme - found in produce section of grocery store). I like to place the herbs in a cheesecloth pouch (usually available up the baking needs aisle). It acts like a tea bag, allowing the herbs to flavor the broth without floating freely in the soup. 
1 10oz pack frozen chopped spinach, thawed
1 16oz package of cheese tortellini

Pour 8 quarts water into a large pot. Bring water to a boil, add chicken. Reduce water to a simmer, cover pot partially, cook chicken for 1 hour, 45 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked. Skim any fat that floats to surface of water. Remove chicken, let cool. Keep water in pot at a simmer. Add bouillon cubes, onion, carrots, celery, salt, and soup blend herbs.

When chicken has cooled, remove and discard skin. Shred meat off of bones with fork, discard bones. Add shredded meat to soup.

Add  spinach to soup. Let simmer, stirring occasionally.

Approximately 20 minutes before serving, add tortellini.

Remove cheesecloth herb pack and discard.

Serve topped with grated parmesan cheese.

BONUS - Replace the spinach and tortellini with escarole and mini meatballs for Escarole,  a.k.a. S'cadole, a.k.a. Italian Wedding Soup!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


If you're a fan of custards and puddings, then I recommend you try this sweet home made Italian dessert. Zabaglione (pronounced zah-bah-yone) is made of three basic ingredients: sugar, egg yolk and Marsala wine. Whipped heavy cream can also be used, as well as flavorings such as grated lemon peel, ground cinnamon and vanilla extract. You'll need a double boiler, or a stainless steel bowl on top of, but not touching, simmering water. After just 10 minutes of continuous whisking (yes, you have to put some effort into this recipe), you end up with a sweet, creamy, delicious treat that can be served as a topping for fresh berries, cakes, cookies or figs. Add a few minutes to the cooking/whisking time and you'll get a terrific mousse-like consistency. Either way, you can not go wrong.

I first heard about this dessert a few months back. After doing some research on the web, I found a variety of recipes. All use the same basic ingredients (egg yolk, sugar, Marsala wine). I really liked the exrta flavor that was added to this particular recipe that I found here.

(courtesy of

6 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup Marsala wine
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
Ground cinnamon
Vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
Strawberries, raspberries, or biscotti

Place egg yolks, and sugar in a large, round-bottomed stainless steel bowl. Add grated lemon peel and a pinch of cinnamon and a drop of vanilla extract to the yolk mixture. Pour in the Marsala wine. You can use sweet Vermouth as a substitute for the Marsala.

Half-fill a pot with water, bring the water to a simmer and reduce the heat to low. Set the pan or bowl containing the custard mixture over the water; the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water. Whisk the custard mixture, making sure that the water does not boil. This ensures that a gentle, even heat thickens the mixture without curdling it. Whisking traps air in the yolks for a light, fluffy mixture.

Continue whisking for about 10 minutes, until the mixture triples in volume, froths up and becomes pale. When it reaches the desired consistency, take the container of custard out of the pot. Slightly thickened, the custard can be used as a sauce. Longer cooking will thicken the custard further, giving it the texture of mousse. Continue whisking for a minute or two to prevent the custard from sticking to its container.

Serve the custard while still warm, or, if you want to serve it cool, set it aside for about 15 minutes. Whisk heavy cream until it forms soft peaks; add the whipped cream to the cooled custard and use a whisk to gently fold them together. Reserve some of the whipped cream to serve on top.

Ladle the zabaglione into individual dishes. Serve with whipped cream, berries, and/or cookies such as biscotti.

Serves 6.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Pastina With A Poached Egg

So the holidays are over and it's time once again time for the season of icy cold weather, cabin fever and, unfortunately, the coughs and sniffles that go along with it. This week, my good friend Emma shares a fantastic, old-fashioned home remedy meal that I'm sure will help put that skip back into your step. Enjoy...and be healthy!

With Emma Caperelli Loerky

My next post is something I wasn't quite sure if I should blog about. Not because it doesn't taste wonderful, because it does, but it wasn't the most photogenic recipe. On the flip side, it's super easy (one pot), it only consists of 5 ingredients (all of which are almost always in my fridge or pantry), and it tastes great. So, I'd say the the good outweighs the bad.

I got the idea for this recipe from a blog I found last month when I was sick. You see, not only was I sick, but I was desperate. It was right before Christmas and besides having all of the usual holiday stuff to do, I was getting ready to go out of town to visit my family in Philly. I needed to get better. Fast! So, I Googled home remedies for colds and came across this blog: But I didn't make it right away. Instead, I opted to make a Hot toddy. It really was all I could muster up the energy for at the time. However, I got the perfect opportunity to make this recipe when I got sick this past week. Again. How fun.

For those of you who are Italian like me, pastina is probably a staple in your pantry. I make it quite often and the way I make it changes all the time. It's one of the dishes I whip up for my teenage son when I make something he doesn't like or when he's not not feeling well. Ever since he was a baby, he has always gobbled it up. This time was no exception. In his opinion, this is his new favorite way to eat pastina and I agree.

One of the things I love about cooking is that everyone can read a recipe then translate it to suit their taste. So, I changed the original recipe a bit (okay, a lot). If any of you make it, I'd be eager to hear how you put your own spin on it.



1/2 cup Pastina
1 tbsp butter
1 egg
About 2 cups Chicken Broth (more to taste)
Parmigiano-Reggiano (for sprinkling on top, if desired)


In a small saucepan with a lid, melt butter. Add pastina and toast lightly for about 1 minute. Add 1 cup of the chicken broth, stir and bring to a simmer, stirring often for about 6 minutes, adding more broth if necessary. Once al dente, make a well in the center of the pasta and add some chicken stock. Add additional stock to the pastina so that it does not stick to the pan. Crack the egg in the well and gently cover the well with some of the pastina. Cover and cook for approximately 2 minutes. Gently spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Butternut Squash Ravioli

While I was putting together my list of upcoming recipes that I am planning to post, I found myself leaning towards a lot of pasta recipes. Being that pasta is probably THE standby Italian dish, it's no real surprise. And I'm not just referring to a standard plate of Sunday pasta with gravy and meatballs. Pasta can be a very versatile ingredient in many creative dishes. So it was an easy decision to make a special Pasta category on my blog. Just as The Mamma Meets the Cucina, Family Recipes, and Guest Recipe with Emma appears every few weeks, I will now start to highlight a special pasta dish under the banner The Pasta Dish. This special section will feature a variety of topics and recipes, such as: home made pasta recipes, creative pasta sauces and toppings, and links to some of my favorite celebrity pasta dishes (and I have quite a few of them bookmarked!). I hope you get as much enjoyment reading the new section as I do posting it.

Served with Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Today's dinner was extra special. Aside from getting to use one of my favorite vegetables incorporated into one of my favorite pastas, my daughter Julianna was very eager to help me roll out the pasta. Spending time in the kitchen with family is always a special occasion, and getting to have my daughter to help out and share in the fun is always a bonus.

I found a good recipe for butternut squash ravioli filling. The most time consuming part is baking the squash in order to purée it, and you can do this ahead of time. After that it's just mixing a few key cheese ingredients and letting it sit while you roll out a basic pasta dough. We used a ravioli stamper to press out the ravioli shapes, but I'm sure that many of you – like myself – have stories of our grandmothers using a juice glass to press out the ravioli.

I used Mario Batali's brown butter and sage recipe for a quick and complimentary sauce, adding some toasted pine nuts as a final touch. Delicious, filling and lots of fun. Three key ingredients to a successful meal!


For the ravioli
3lb Butternut Squash
3/4 Cup Ricotta Cheese
1/4 Cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg
1 Teaspoon Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Salt, to taste
1/2 Cup Bread Crumbs

Slice squash in half, lengthwise. Remove seeds and pulp, place cut side down in a baking dish filled with a bit of water. Bake at 350º for 45 minutes. Let cook, scoop out flesh, purée. Add cheeses, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper, blend. Add breadcrumbs, blend. Cover and set aside in refrigerator.

Next, make a basic pasta dough – you will need 2lbs of dough, which is approx. 4 cups of flour and 4 eggs. This will make approximately 28 ravioli.

When pasta is rolled out, place one sheet of dough on piece of wax paper. Mark the dough where you will be making the ravioli cuts. Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of each expected cut. Place a second sheet of dough on top (you may need to lightly brush the second sheet with an egg wash if the dough has dried out to help the sheets stick together). Press out the ravioli with a ravioli cutter.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently add the ravioli to the water and cook 4-5 minutes.

For the sauce
4 tablespoons butter
8 sage leaves
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

While your pasta cooks, melt butter in a 12 to 14-inch saute pan and continue cooking until golden brown color appears in the thinnest liquid of the butter. Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and set aside. Drain the pasta, but leaving a small amount of cooking water, and gently pour into saute pan and return to heat. Add the cheese and toasted pine nuts, toss to coat and serve immediately.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Melanzana Caprese

Here's a meal that ended up being an impromptu spin-off of a major dish. Our original plans for the day after Christmas were to have my Mom over for dinner. I was going to make Nick Stellino's Baked Pasta with Eggplant Sauce (note: if you are ever planning a dinner for 4-6 people, this is a MUST GO TO dish!). Well, the weather outside was frightful and Mom was not able to make it through the impending snowstorm.

Instead of putting in the time and effort to make this glorious, yet very filling dish for just my wife and I (sadly, my kids haven't developed the appreciation yet for such a fine meal), I decided to put the eggplant to simpler use. Not wanting to just make my standard eggplant parm casserole, I came up with a way to incorporate the flavors of a Caprese salad - fresh basil, tomatoes and chunky slices of fresh mozzarella. While I did not have fresh tomatoes on hand, I did have a can of stewed tomatoes. Using the chunky portions of the tomatoes in the eggplant and reserving the juice to lightly pour on top made for the perfect substitution. The end result was just as tasty and flavorful as a traditional parmesan casserole, but with more of a fresh, crispy spin and less of a gooey, bread crumb encased texture. I can honestly say that I will probably make this version more often than a standard eggplant parm casserole!

Melanzana Caprese

1 large eggplant, skin removed
1/2lb fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Fresh basil, chopped
1 14.5oz can stewed tomatoes
flour, seasoned with salt & pepper and garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350º. Slice eggplants into thin, long slices from top to bottom (instead of traditional round slices). Dredge eggplant slices into flour so each slice is well coated.

Cover the bottom of a large frying pan with some extra virgin olive oil, heat. WHen oil is hot, place eggplant cutlets into pan, no more than three at a time. Fry 3-5 minutes on each side until golden brown. Add more olive oil as necessary. Set fried cutlets aside to slightly cool.

In a 9x13 baking dish, place one layer of cutlets. Top each cutlet with some fresh mozzarella cheese the tomatoes from the stewed tomatoes (reserve the juice for later) and the fresh basil. Place a second row of eggplant cutles on top. Gently pour the juice from the stewed tomatoes over the cutlets. Cover with foil.

Place tray into oven, bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a side of pasta or rice.