Tuscan Sausage & Kale Soup

We’re not quite into fall weather yet, but heading into “soup season” I wanted to try out some new recipes.  And with the glut of fresh late-summer vegetables we have, it was a no brainer to come up with this savory, but surprisingly light, Tuscan soup.  For those that aren’t kale-lovers, I bet you’ll have a hard time putting your spoon down!

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TUSCAN SAUSAGE & KALE SOUP

Ingredients

  • 1 Lb. Mild Italian Sausage (no casing)
  • 1 Medium White Onion, Diced
  • 4-5 Cloves Garlic, Chopped
  • 2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 Large Tomatoes, Peeled & Diced
  • 1 15-ounce Can White Beans, Drained
  • 4 Cups Fresh Kale, Chopped
  • 3/4 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 4 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 4 Cups Water
  • 1 Tbs. Dried Parsley
  • 2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/4 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 2 Bay Leaves
  • 3-inch Chunk of Parmesan Rind

Instructions

  • In a heavy bottom pot, add 1 Tbs. olive oil and brown sausage until cooked through and crumbly – about 8-10 minutes.  Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  • Add 1 Tbs. olive oil and the diced onion.  Cook 2-3 minutes until translucent and then add garlic.  Cook for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add tomatoes and any juice to onions and garlic.  Season with 1 Tsp. salt and cook for 5 minutes until tomatoes are soft and begin to break down.
  • Add white wine to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
  • Add chicken stock, water, remaining salt, pepper, parsley, red pepper flakes and bay leaves. Bring to a simmer, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir the kale into the hot liquid and simmer for another 5-7 minutes.  Kale will soften and turn bright green, then darken.
  • Add sausage back into the pot along with the white beans and Parmesan rind.  Reduce head and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with a sprinkle of parmesan and/or croutons.

For about an hour of work, you’ll get a rich broth and amazing flavors from this soup.  Homemade stock and fresh tomatoes are best, but using canned for either still works really well.  For a little kick, add double the red pepper flakes or use hot Italian sausage.  The Parmesan rind is optional, but gives a rich nutty flavor to the broth.  Now that we’re wrapping up summer, this recipe will serve you well through the fall months and on cold winter nights too.  Dig in!

Portobello Personal Pizzas

When don’t you have a craving for pizza?  The fact is, most of us will save pizza for Friday movie nights, a party or some other excuse to indulge our endless craving for dough, cheese, sauce and goodies.  Trying to get in shape for an upcoming vacation has me rethinking recipes and finding ways to have my favorites without sacrificing too much.  That’s where this alliterative recipe comes in – you’re going to love it!

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PORTOBELLO PERSONAL PIZZAS

Ingredients

  • 2 Portobello Mushroom Caps
  • 2 Tsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 Tsp. Dry Italian Seasoning
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Pizza Sauce
  • 2 Tbs. Diced Red Onion
  • 8 Slices Pepperoni or Turkey Pepperoni
  • 1/2 – 3/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Remove gills from mushrooms with a spoon.  Wash and dry them thoroughly.
  • Place mushrooms on a baking stone or sheet.  Drizzle each with a teaspoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle with Italian seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.
  • Place in the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on size and thickness of your mushrooms.  They should darken and shrink some, but still be slightly firm to the touch.
  • Remove from oven and pat dry with a paper towel.  They release a lot of water in the initial baking and you don’t want soggy pizzas!
  • Spread each cap with half of the pizza sauce.  You can use marinara or any other jar sauced here as long as it is thick and not watery.
  • Top each cap with onions, then pepperoni and finally cheese.
  • Place in the oven and bake an additional 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted and slightly brown and bubbly.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately.

You almost don’t miss the crust on these easy pizzas.  The good news is that your topping choices are endless – sausage, peppers, olives, etc.  As long as you like mushrooms, you’ll be thrilled with an alternative to heavy pizza that saves you both carbs and calories.  It’s also great for gluten-free friends if you watch your sauce ingredients.  Try some at home and let me know what you create.  Dig in!

Pomodori – Hilton Head Island

It’s good to reflect on this summer’s vacation and delicious eats as we head into our first few snowflakes flying at home soon.  While searching for new eateries on Hilton Head Island we came across some rave reviews for Chef Amanda Russ’s Pomodori and knew we had to give it a try.  And what a delight it was!!

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Hidden in a small small collection of boutique shops, you wouldn’t know this place is there unless you were looking for it.  Comfortable and island casual, you can dine both inside or out for a relaxing weekday meal or a special occasion.  Our wait staff and everyone else we encountered were charming and helpful.  The personal touch of our name written on slate at our table (we had a reservation) was a nice touch.  There’s an eclectic wine list and good selection of cocktails.  Once we settled into drinks we perused the menu filled with classic Italian dishes and many that included local seafood.

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My wife ordered the pappardelle con costolette brasate – this was a wonderfully rich short rib ragu over handmade ribbons of pasta.  There’s no doubt this feels like a signature dish with visions of old Italy and the recipe having been perfected over centuries.  I dove into the zuppa di pesce con arrabiata which takes advantage of the plentiful seafood on the island.  A spicy tomato sauce complimented the shrimp, mussels and scallops over a bed of linguine.  There’s nothing I would change about this amazing combination of spicy, briny and yet somehow light, dish!

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I love when we find someplace new that feels like we’ve belonged there all along.  Pomodori is an absolute must-try when you’re on the island.  Bravo, Chef Amanda, on your culinary expertise and business savvy.  There is no doubt that you will be a permanent fixture for locals and visitors for many years to come!  Visit gopomodori.com for the full menu and additional information.  Dig in!

Fettuccine Pomodoro

I’ve been traveling way too much lately and haven’t really been in the kitchen.  Even though I was short on time tonight, I was determined to cook!  With a glut of fresh tomatoes, it was a no-brainer to make pomodoro sauce tonight with fettuccine.  Simple, flavorful and ready in less than 30 minutes, you have to add this to your weekly meal planning.

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FETTUCCINE POMODORO

Ingredients

  • 8 Ounces Fettuccine, Cooked al dente
  • 2 1/2 Cups Diced Tomatoes
  • 1 Medium White Onion
  • 5 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 1/2 Cup Dry White Wine
  • 1 Tbs. Fresh Chopped Basil
  • 1 Tbs. Fresh Chopped Parsley
  • 1 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes

 

Instructions

  • Finely dice onion and set aside.
  • Cut top off of each tomato.  Gently squeeze and roll tomato with cut side down to drain out most seeds.  Do this for all tomatoes and discard seeds.  Cut into 1/4 inch dice.  If you’re using cherry tomatoes, don’t worry about the seeds.  HINT:  Any combination or variety of tomatoes works!
  • In a large skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and minced garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until translucent.
  • Add tomatoes to pan and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add remaining ingredients to tomato sauce.  Stir and continue to simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and pour over cooked fettuccine.
  • Toss and serve immediately.  Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side.

Yes, it really is that easy!  This is a delicious pasta on it’s own or is delicious with marinated grilled chicken breast or a pan-seared white fish.  You’ll love making this light pasta sauce, especially when tomato season is in full swing.  Dig in!

Sale & Pepe – London

For beautiful classic Italian fare in the heart of London’s shopping district, be sure to make your reservation at Sale & Pepe.  Among one of our busier days touring the city, we made a late reservation for dinner at this highly-rated eatery.  Tightly packed and slightly up upscale, the restaurant has a lovely interior decor with small tables and a lively atmosphere.  The maitre de was especially entertaining and made every person that walked through the door feel special and part of the family.  We were immediately thrilled to be there!

While the seating is tight and service a bit slow, we enjoyed the atmosphere while we reviewed the menu.  Sipping a great pinot grigio and nibbling on bread, we made selections from the ample menu filled with traditional dishes.  I loved that there were lots of seafood options to take advantage of the local bounty!  We started with a few basic salads and a very fresh melon and prosciutto starter.  All of them were well-prepared with as much local produce available.

We made our way to our mains where everything was equally as tasty.  The veal ravioli with fresh marinara we rich and decadent, but not heavy.  The linguini and clams was beautiful and a great rendition of the classic.  I opted for the mixed seafood grill which was a top-notch preparation of langoustine, scallops, fish and squid.

There was no doubt we were ordering cappuccino and dessert to round out our evening! Both the creme brûlée and chocolate semifreddo were outstanding.  If we only had more time to try more on the menu – we’ll have to make another trip!  You’ll have a wonderful dinner out with the famiglia or your sweetheart at Sale & Pepe.  Make sure you book a reservation!  Find out more on their website at saleepepe.co.uk.  Dig in!

Sausage & Pesto Campanelle

After a weekend on the road and eating out, it felt good to be back in the kitchen on a Monday evening!  Taking my recipe for Basic Pesto I created this delicious combination that’s perfect for summer night with a glass of wine and crusty bread.

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SAUSAGE & PESTO CAMPANELLE

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 Cups Basic Basil Pesto
  • 1 Lbs. Campanelle Pasta
  • 3 Links Sweet Italian Sausage, Casings Removed
  • 8 Ounces Fresh Mozzarella Balls
  • Red Pepper Flakes

Instructions

  • Prepare pesto per my recipe and set aside.
  • Place pasta in boiling water and cook 10-11 minutes.
  • While pasta is cooking, brown Italian sausage in a pan until cooked through.  Don’t break it all up completed as the dish is better with small and large pieces both.
  • Drain pasta and place in a large bowl.  Add in sausage, mozzarella and 1 cup of pesto.
  • Stir together until combined.  You may need to add more pesto depending on taste and personal preference.
  • Serve immediately and top with parmesan and red pepper flakes to taste.

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The combination of crumbly sausage, bright pesto and slightly creamy mozzarella that gives this dish great balance.  No fuss and few dirty dishes for a simply tasty dinner.  Enjoy it with a glass of wine and good company.  Dig in!

Italian Beef

My mom has this great recipe for Italian beef that we’ve enjoyed for years.  As with all recipes though, I wondered “what would make this better?”  Now, improving on mom’s cooking is a delicate matter (go ahead, ask her!) so I wholly admit that her version is rock-star.  What I love about this recipe is that you can make it ahead and easily put it in the oven for a family gathering without having to go through a lot of fuss.

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ITALIAN BEEF

Ingredients

  • 3-4 Lbs. Top Sirloin Roast
  • 8 Whole Garlic Gloves, Peeled
  • 1 1/2 Tbs. Olive Oil
  • 2 Tbs. Dried Italian Herbs

For The Au Jus

  • 1 Envelope Dry Italian Dressing Mix
  • 1 Envelope Brown Gravy Mix
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1 1/2 Cups Warm Water

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Tie roast with 4-5 rings of cooking twine to hold together.  Place in a shallow roasting pan.
  • Make eight slits in the top of the roast and put a clove of garlic in each slit.
  • Rub roast with olive oil and then sprinkle with Italian herbs.
  • Place in oven and roast for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 120 degrees.
  • Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to cool completely.
  • Place roast in refrigerator for 24 hours.
  • Using a very sharp knife or meat slicer, cut cold roast beef into 1/4-inch slices.  Garlic pieces will fall out as you slice it – keep them!
  • Place sliced beef and garlic in an oven-safe baking dish.  Shallow is better.
  • In a medium bowl, combine au jus ingredients and whisk until thoroughly combined.
  • Pour over sliced beef.  Cover with foil and bake in a 325 degree oven for 1 hour until beef is warmed through.  You can also put this back in the fridge and store for up to two days before baking and serving.
  • Serve immediately after baking.

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We typically enjoy this rich bold beef on ciabatta rolls with a slice of provolone cheese and a little horseradish and wow, are they good!  You’re going to want to pour some of that wonderful au jus on that roll to soak in and give you an exceptional bite every time!  Try dressing it up in a sandwich with giardiniera or sautéed mushrooms and onions – the possibilities are endless.  It’s an awesome main dish for a buffet too, everyone loved it on Easter Sunday.  Give this one a try and let me know what variations you come up with, I’d love to hear your ideas.  Dig in!

Rustic Roasted Mushrooms w/Tomatoes

When I’m cutting back on the carbs for a meal, I like to use hearty vegetables to take the place of the potatoes and pasta I love so much.  So forgoing the baked potato with our ribeye steaks tonight I opted for this Italian-inspired baked mushroom and tomato dish.  A friend of mine, Todd – a fellow food connoisseur, made a similar dish almost 7 or 8 years ago for a dinner party and I haven’t forgotten about it.  I know you’ll love the combination of sweet tomatoes, nutty mushrooms and salty parmesan breadcrumbs.

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RUSTIC ROASTED MUSHROOMS W/TOMATOES

Ingredients

  • 2 Quarts Button Mushrooms
  • 12 Small Campari Tomatoes or 15-18 Large Cherry Tomatoes
  • 6 Tbs. Olive Oil, Divided
  • 2 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 Tbs. Italian Herb Seasoning (dry works well here)
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 1/2 Cup Dry Breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan

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Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Wash trim and quarter mushrooms.  Place into a large bowl.
  • Wash and dry tomatoes.  Slice each one in half and squeeze gently to remove the seeds.  Add to mushrooms.
  • Pour 4 Tbs. olive oil over vegetables.  Add minced garlic, italian herbs, salt and pepper.
  • Toss gently to evenly coat vegetables and place into a 2-quart baking dish with high sides.
  • Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Combine breadcrumbs, parmesan and remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil in a small bowl.
  • Sprinkle this mixture over mushrooms and tomatoes and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until topping is browns and veggies are bubbling.
  • Remove from oven and serve immediately.

There’s a lot of liquid rendered from this dish so it’s best served with a slotted spoon.  If you want to take advantage of all that liquid, you can also toss in 1 1/2 cups stale bread cubes before baking.  Think of all that Italian-herbed earthiness soaked up in tender bread!  Of course that defeats the purpose of going no-carbs.  Either way, you’ll forget all about the missing potato and savor the flavor of this rustic side dish.  I can’t wait to put a few over-easy eggs on the leftovers tomorrow.  Dig in!

La Piazza Cafe – Palm Coast, FL

On our first visit to Palm Coast, we had some great and not-so-great meals in the area.  La Piazza Cafe in European Village was the former and a rare treat of authentic Italian in a sea of chains in this resort area!  A quaint, kind of kitschy, restaurant with an old-world feel, La Piazza is a labor of love for the Lass Family.  Dine inside or alfresco under the ample covered patio and warm breeze.  You’ll love the atmosphere and the freedom to dress up or dress down for a relaxed dinner.

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We were seated inside and made some selections from the ample wine list to start the night.  Given a long list of beautiful antipasti choices, we decided on the Antipasto Italiano.  This was a beautiful assortment of meats, cheeses, olives and dressed vegetables served  crostini.  Enough as a starter for four people or a meal for two, the selections were fresh and flavorful.  It’s worth noting here that our server was really friendly and attentive.  She took the time to explain specials, let us drink and chat at our own pace and kept the glasses full throughout dinner.  It really made for a pleasant experience and fun evening!

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We enjoyed traditional caesar salads, perfect with optional anchovies, and then made our selections from the entrees.  There’s quite a list of pastas, traditional fare, steaks and fish, but it doesn’t feel crowded or fussy.  Our table devoured the traditional Bolognese and Carbonara – some of the best we’ve had.  I ordered the Fra Diavolo which was overflowing with fresh shrimp and calamari.  You can order the spice level from 1-10 and my 4 was plenty to give it a good zip.  The portions are huge though and a single pasta dish is nearly impossible to finish all on your own!

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Overall, it was a wonderful meal and a great evening with my family.  I definitely recommend making a stop or going out of your way to make a drive to enjoy a meal with the Lass Family.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!  You can find out more and take a look at their menu at lapiazzacafe.com.  Dig in!

White Pizza Dip

Everyone loves a good hot dip for a party.  Among the buffalo dips and spinach artichoke dips of the world it’s nice to bring something different to a party.  This white pizza dip was introduced to us by our friend Mindy and we’ve been making it ever since!  It’s perfect for a mini crock, but can be doubled for a larger slow cooker and a bigger crowd.  Either way, I know this will quickly become a favorite for you and your friends.

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WHITE PIZZA DIP

Ingredients

  • 16 Ounces Sour Cream
  • 8 Ounces Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 Packet Garlic & Herb Dry Soup Mix
  • 30-40 Slices Pepperoni
  • 1 Large Loaf Italian Bread

Instructions

  • In a mini slow cooker, mix sour cream, ricotta, mozzarella and soup mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Cut pepperoni slices into quarters or eighth, depending on preference, and mix into sour cream mixture.
  • Plug in cooker and allow to heat for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Cut bread into bite-size pieces and arrange in a bowl to serve.

White pizza dip is tangy and a little spicy depending on the amount of pepperoni you put in it.  Like a lot of my recipes, you can easily update it with flavors of your choice.  Go with a meatless version and add sautéed mushrooms and green peppers instead.  Try adding 8 ounces of cooked crumbled spicy Italian sausage or even ground beef and diced chopped and seeded tomatoes.  I’d like to hear what you try and what worked well.  I’m sure you’ll quickly find your favorite combination.  Dig in!!