Marinara Sauce – An Italian Essential

Marinara Sauce is a basic Italian ingredient that can be used in many recipes.  My  marinara sauce has no added sugar.  Ground up fennel seeds are used to give the illusion of sweetness.  This is actually an Indian cooking tip that I learned from my great grandmother.  TIPUse fennel powder to impart the illusion of sweetness without using any sugar or sugar substitute.  

Marinara Sauce Feature

When I was 12, my family moved to America.  We settled in Queens, New York.  We lived in a very Italian neighborhood.  Most of the Italian families were related to each other, and everyone had vegetable and herb gardens in their backyard.  I had never even heard of Italian food, much less tasted it.  The Italians I met were full of joy and very generous.  They loved to feed me whenever I visited.  This was my introduction to Italian food, where I learned how to make marinara sauce from one of the Italian grandmothers (nonnas.) They always seemed to have jars of homemade marinara in their cupboards.

I learned from the nonnas, the great TIP of having marinara sauce on hand because it can be used to make so many dishes.  I have already created and photographed two recipes using my homemade marinara.  They will post on July 11th and July 18th.  For the 4th of July, I have planned a very special red, white and blue Italian dessert that is low carb and keto friendly.  I named the dessert Berries & Fennel Scented Zabaglione.

INGREDIENTS:

Marinara Sauce Ingredients

  • 8 large ripe tomatoes ( these beauties came from my neighbor’s garden.  I have the best neighbors 😃)
  • a large handful of basil ( the basil in the photo was grown by me.  I grow herbs in pots in the sun room just outside my kitchen.  This way I can get fresh herbs when I need them.  I feel truly blessed to be able to have the luxury to do this.)
  • 1 large white onion (this one was grown by my neighbor.  He brings us vegetables and we give him eggs from our chickens and ducks.)
  • 3 Tbsp of the best extra virgin olive oil you are able to find (the can of extra virgin olive oil in the photo, was picked up in Tuscany while I was taking a pasta making class.)
  • 1 bell pepper and 1 Serrano pepper (optional.  I like adding the peppers for an extra kick.)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 tsp of red chili flakes (leave these out if you want to make the dish less spicy)
  • 2 tsp of fennel seeds ( grind these to a powder in a spice grinder)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Parmesan cheese rind.  TIP: Keep leftover cheese rinds in the freezer and use them to add flavor when making marinara sauce.
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup of red wine
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PREPPING THE TOMATOES:

 

  • Score an “X” mark in the skin at the base of each tomato
  • Boil a large pot of water
  • Get an ice bath ready
  • Blanch each tomato in the boiling water for 30 seconds
  • Immediately place the blanched tomato in the ice bath to stop the cooking process
  • Once the tomatoes are cooled, peel off the skin starting at the scored “X” mark.  It should peel off easily.
  • Dice the peeled tomatoes and place them in a crock pot

TIP: Use a crock pot to make the sauce so you don’t have to spend hours stirring the sauce like the Italian nonnas, who taught me to make the sauce did.  

Its a good time saver.  If you want to make it like the nonnas, feel free to make it the traditional way in a large sauce pot.

PREPPING THE OTHER INGREDIENTS:

Marinara Sauce Prep

  • Add the bay leaf and cheese rind to the tomatoes in the crock pot
  • Turn the crock pot to high, and put the lid on while you prep the other ingredients.
  • Dice the onion and bell pepper
  • Mince the garlic and Serrano pepper
  • Tear the basil into small bits

COOKING THE AROMATIC BASE (SOFRITO):

 

  • Coat a stainless steel pan with the extra virgin olive oil and place on medium heat
  • Add the onion, garlic, peppers, basil, red chili flakes, oregano and fennel powder
  • Saute until lightly brown
  • Add the tomato paste, stir it in and cook for another minute
  • Add the cooked sofrito to the crock pot that already has the tomatoes in it

COOKING THE SAUCE:

 

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  • Add 1 cup of red wine
  • Turn the crock pot to low and cook for about 4 hours.  At this point the sauce should have turned a deep red color.
  • Now add salt and pepper to taste
  • Turn the crock pot to warm and let it sit for 30 minutes to let all the flavors marry

I wait until the end to add salt and pepper because it allows me to balance the flavors once everything has already blended and come together.

You can use the marinara immediately for many recipes, or you can put it in mason jars and keep in the frig for up to 2 weeks.  It will keep in the freezer for 6 months.

On a final note, I want to credit Ceramiche d’Arte Carmela, in Ravello, Italy for making the beautiful bowl and plate that I used to present my Marinara Sauce.

Marinara Sauce Feature

I visited their shop when I was in Ravello and fell in love with their ceramics.  I ended up ordering a whole set.  I use it frequently and remember Italy fondly.  I get no compensation for mentioning Carmela’s lovely art work here, but I like giving credit where credit is due.

Please use the comments section to let me know what you think if this recipe.  I always love hearing from you.

Ciao for now.  🖐😃

 

 

Carrot Tops & Parsley Pesto Pasta

Carrot Tops & Parsley Pesto Pasta, is the fourth in a series of six recipes inspired by Vegetables From Down The Road.

Carrots Tops & Parsley Pesto Pasta Feature

The fresh carrot tops in my vegetable basket, inspired me to create a playful twist on the classic pesto made with basil.  Another twist is that I mixed in cabbage with the pasta.  The addition of the cabbage ups the nutritional value and lowers the carbohydrate content.  It also tastes great.

INGREDIENTS:

Carrot Tops & Parsley Pesto Pasta Ingredients

  • 1 large bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 small bunch of carrot tops
  • 1 small head of green cabbage
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic–1 clove for the pesto and 2 cloves for the pasta base
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan
  • 3 small sweet bell peppers
  • 3 twigs of thyme
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup of white wine (use the same wine that you will have with the pasta.  This way the wine and pasta will pair perfectly.)
  • 1/2 a cup of extra virgin olive oil for the pesto.  A little bit extra to coat the pan for the pasta base.
  • 2 cups of dried gemelli pasta
  • salt and pepper to taste

PREP:

Carrot Tops & Parsley Pesto Prep

  • Separate the parsley and carrot top leaves from their stems–set aside for the pesto
  • Toast the pine nuts–set aside a handful for garnish.  The rest will be used in the pesto.
  • Chop the head of cabbage into strips that are about the same size as the pasta
  • Chop the red onion, peppers and garlic
  • Separate the thyme leaves from their woody stems

MAKING THE PESTO:

  • Add the parsley, carrot tops, 1 clove of garlic, and extra virgin olive oil to a small food processor
  • Blend till smooth
  • Add the grated Parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts
  • Blend till smooth
  • Taste the pesto.  Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

COOKING THE PASTA BASE:

  • Coat a heavy duty stainless steel pan with extra virgin olive oil and place it on medium heat
  • Add the red onion, peppers, 2 cloves of garlic, thyme and oregano
  • Saute till lightly brown.
  • Make a hot spot in the center of the pan by moving the sauteed vegetables aside
  • Add the tomato sauce, let it cook down for 2 minutes
  • Deglaze the pan with the white wine
  • Add the cabbage and saute till it is ‘al dente’ (firm to the bite)
  • While you are cooking the cabbage base, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water.  The pasta should also be cooked ‘al dente’.
  • Add the pasta to the cabbage and toss.

Since the cabbage is about the same size and shape as the pasta it doesn’t even get noticed.  Next add the pesto to the pasta and toss.

Adding the Pesto

Plate the pasta onto a beautiful platter and garnish with toasted pine nuts and extra grated Parmesan.

Carrots Tops & Parsley Pesto Pasta Feature

Serve with a glass of the same wine that was used during cooking.  You will be surprised at how good the cabbage in the pasta tastes.  It adds an unexpected twist of flavor and texture.

I hope you like this dish.  Next Saturday, I will be posting the fifth in a series of six recipes inspired by Vegetables From Down The Road.

I am having a lot of fun creating these recipes.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.  Bye for now 🖐

 

Cooking Class/Pop Up Supper Club in Support of the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry

I am finally doing my first cooking class/pop up supper club to benefit the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry.  This is event is a trial run for a small group at my  home.  I am opening a cooking school on my ranch in September and am planning to do a larger event for Hunger Action Month.

As stated on  feedingamerica.org,  “September is Hunger Action Month-a month where people all over America stand together with Feeding America and the nationwide network of food banks to fight hunger.  It’s a month to spread the word and take action on the hunger crisis, and dedicate ourselves to a solution.”

My trial event is this Saturday, July 27th 2019.  I will be featuring an Italian menu paired with Texan wines from Messina Hof.

BCEFP Event 2

I am happy to say that the event sold out before I even had a chance to send out e-mail invites.  Believe it or not, besides being delicious, the whole menu is gluten free.  The main course is the first recipe that I posted on my blog, Stuffed Dover Sole.

Today is 4 July 2020.  I am updating this post to direct you to the Berries & Fennel Scented Zabaglione recipe from this menu.  I decided to post this very special, red, white and blue, Keto friendly dessert recipe in honor of our Independence Day.

I am in charge of the food and my husband is in charge of the drinks.  In addition to the wine, he will be making cocktails and mocktails.  Some of our guests don’t consume alcohol, so we want to accommodate everybody.

Tresha Silva, the director of the food bank, has kindly offered to help me serve.  I am very excited that I finally managed to make time in my life to do this.  There is a lot of work to do between now and the event.  I will let all of you know how it went.  I have never done a cooking class/pop up supper club before.

WISH ME LUCK !!!

Happy Fourth of July–Roasted Ravioli & Blistered Tomato Skewers

HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY to everyone!!!

Happy Fourth of July 2019My husband and I are just about to go to a neighborhood pool party to celebrate with our friends.  I came up with this easy red, white and blue appetizer for the party pot luck.

INGREDIENTS:

Toasted Ravioli & Blistered Tomato Skewers Ingredients

  • 48 ounces of grape tomatoes
  • 24 ounces of basil and cheese ravioli
  • blue toothpicks
  • olive oil to coat and toast ravioli

PREPPING THE RAVIOLI

Boiling the Ravioli

  • Bring 4 quarts of water to boil
  • Add a table spoon of salt
  • Add the ravioli and boil till they float to the top and puff up.  This takes about 4 minutes.

Placing the Ravioli in an Oiled Baking Dish

  • Drain cooked ravioli into a glass baking dish that has been oiled with olive oil.  This prevents the ravioli from sticking to each other.

Toasting the Ravioli

  • Coat a large non-stick skillet with olive oil and place on medium high heat.
  • Place the cooked ravioli in a single layer and toast on both sides.
  • Do this in batches and keep adding the toasted ravioli to a glass baking dish.

Toasted Ravioli

Follow the instructions from my Blistered Tomatoes post to prepare the tomatoes.

Toasted Ravioli & Blistered Tomatoes

ASSEMBLY

Skewer Assembly

Assembling the skewers is very simple. Gently pierce the center of the ravioli and push it to where the blue decoration starts. Then pierce the stem end of the blistered tomato placing it on top of the ravioli.  Arrange on a platter to resemble an American Flag.

Toasted Ravioli & Blistered Tomatoes Feature

 

Let me know what you think in the comment section.  We are off to the party now.  Hope you are all having a good time with your friends and family. !!!

Golden Beet Salad (topped with crispy goat cheese)

Golden beet salad is one of my favorites.  I love the happy yellow color and the earthy, but mellow taste of the golden beets.  The salad can be individually plated for an elegant dinner or arranged on a large platter to be served family style.

Ingredients:

Golden Beet Salad Ingredients
  • 9 medium golden beets (these were grown by JBG Organic Farm in East Austin)
  • 1 large bag of mixed greens (also from JBG Organic Farm)
  • fresh thyme leaves from 2 large sprigs
  • fresh oregano leaves from 1 large sprig
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • white balsamic vinegar
  • 8oz log of goat cheese
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • Italian Spice Mix
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prepping The Beets:

Golden Beets Preped for Oven
  • Remove the tops and bottoms from each beet ( if the beet greens are fresh use them in the salad with the mixed greens)  Note: these beets are so fresh that I have left the skins on.  There are a lot of nutrients and fiber in the skins, so leave them on if you can.
  • Use a damp paper towel to clean any dirt off the beets
  • Arrange them on an ovenproof baking dish
  • Coat each side with olive oil
  • Sprinkle each side with salt, pepper and my Italian Spice Mix
  • Roast in a 450 degree oven until tender
  • Slice the beets and set aside while you prep the rest of the salad components
Golden Beets Sliced

Prepping The Goat Cheese:

Golden Beet Salad Prep2
  • In a pie plate, mix together, 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon of my Italian Spice Mix, salt and pepper to taste
  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1 egg with a pinch of salt and my Italian Spice Mix
  • Cut the goat cheese log into 10 slices.  We will use 8 slices for frying.  Crumble up 2 slices and set aside to top the salad
  • Using a pastry brush, coat each slice of goat cheese with the egg mixture.  Then coat each slice of goat cheese with the panko breadcrumb mixture
  • Place in the refrigerator for an hour to chill.  This will allow you to fry the cheese without melting it
  • Coat a non-stick skillet with olive oil.  Heat the skillet to medium-high.  Fry the cheese medallions till they are golden brown
  • Set aside while you assemble the salad

Prepping The Salad Greens & Dressing:

Golden Beet Salad Prep1
  • Wash the salad greens and tear them into bite size pieces.  Dry the salad greens using a salad spinner
  • The salad dressing is very simple.  In a small jar, add 1/2 cup of the best extra virgin olive oil you have, 3 table spoons of white balsamic vinegar, oregano, thyme, sea salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste.  Shake to combine.

When you are ready to serve, toss the greens with the salad dressing and place in the center of a large platter.  Arrange the sliced beets surrounding the salad greens.  Top with the crumbled goat cheese.  Finish by arranging the crispy goat cheese medallions on top.

This is a yummy and  satisfying salad that can also be used as a vegetarian main course, along with some crusty bread and a glass of your favorite white wine.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Collard Greens

I originally created Pumpkin Gnocchi with Collard Greens for a family Thanksgiving dinner. In 2020, my students and I are going to make this dish as the Primo for our upcoming Halloween Italian Cooking Class/Pop Up Supper Club in Support of the Bastrop County Emergency Food Pantry.

Ingredients:

Pumpkin Gnocchi Ingredients
  • 16 large collard green leaves
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red chilies, minced
  • 18 oz package of pumpkin gnocchi
  • 8 oz package of shaved or grated Italian cheese (Parmesan, Romano , Asiago or a mixture)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep:

Pumpkin Gnocchi Prep
  • Remove the stems from the collard greens.  Cut the leaves into strips.
  • Dice the onion
  • Strip the leaves off the oregano and thyme stems
  • Mince the garlic and chilies

Cook:

  • Coat a large stainless steel skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on medium heat.  Add the onions, garlic, chilies, oregano and thyme.  Saute until golden brown.
  • Add 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • Add the collard greens and stir.  Let the collard greens wilt for 2 minutes.
Pumpkin Gnocchi Cook 3
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.  Then turn off the heat and cover with a lid while you cook the gnocchi.
  • Coat a large non-stick skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and place on  medium high heat.  Add the pumpkin gnocchi and cook until brown on all sides. Toss the gnocchi gently with a plastic or silicone spoon so that all sides get brown without bruising the delicate gnocchi.
Pumpkin Gnocchi Cook 5
  • Add the browned gnocchi to the cooked collard greens.  Add half the cheese and gently toss everything together.
Pumpkin Gnocchi Cook 4
  • Plate the dish.  Sprinkle with additional cheese .  Serve with a glass of Chianti or any red wine you like.
Pumpkin Gnocchi Feature

I served this as a side dish at Thanksgiving.  Also for those who don’t eat meat, it serves as a yummy and satisfying main dish.

If you can’t find pumpkin gnocchi, you can use another flavor.

Hope you enjoy!!!

Italian Spice Mix

I use my Italian Spice Mix in a lot of my recipes.  I have posted it here so that you can refer to it.

To make a dry rub, mix equal parts of:

Italian Spice Mix

  • Onion Powder
  • Dried Oregano
  • Garlic Powder
  • Red Chili Flakes

You can also just sprinkle each item on individually.  It is a simple but flavorful spice mix.  I have linked this as a reference tip in each recipe where this formula is used.

If you want to make it less or more spicy just increase or decrease the amount of red chili flakes.