Tag Archives: italian

Go-To Tomato Sauce for Pizza, Pasta & More

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Perfect tomato sauce – everybody needs one. They’re a quintessential tool to have in your recipe arsenal. But it’s possible you might have a couple different ones for different purposes, like your grandma’s day-long spaghetti sauce or your dad’s best pizza sauce.

Let me save you some time and memory space by providing you with my Go-To Tomato Sauce. It only takes 30 minutes tops to make, and it’s delicious on just about anything, be it pasta, pizza, or bread. It’s zesty, tangy, sweet, and garlicky all in one, giving you a harmony of fresh flavors that your taste buds can get down with.

I tend to prefer cream-based sauces like blush sauce and alfredo, but even I can’t deny how exceptional this sauce is. I ate spoonful after spoonful as it simmered away on my stove. Then, I grabbed a hunk of bread and dunked it, discovering it was the perfect consistency. I even slathered it on a pizza recipe you will see tomorrow.

Contrary to what you might think, there’s no need to slave over a stove all day to get a great sauce. The key is quality, fresh ingredients with the right balance of flavors. I promise once you make this, you won’t want any other sauce. You’ll find yourself whipping it up time and time again for spaghetti night, pizza night, lasagna night, and more.

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A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. If you make substitutions, don’t expect the same results. You need fresh herbs and good-quality ingredients if you want a stellar sauce.
  2. This stuff is truly versatile. Pour it over pasta, dip breadsticks in it, bake up a casserole, and join me tomorrow for pizza.
  3. Chopping herbs and garlic is a pain, so consider utilizing your food processor instead.
  4. I recommend San Marzanos because they’re the sweetest, most flavorful I know of.
  5. If you don’t have an immersion blender, just put the tomatoes in a regular blender or food processor before adding them to the pot.

Go-To Tomato Sauce
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes & their juices
  • 1 12-oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. fresh finely chopped basil
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 2 tsp. granulated sugar

*If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a regular blender or food processor to puree the San Marzano tomatoes BEFORE adding them in

Directions:

  1. Bring olive oil to medium heat in a large saucepan. Add onions and saute for two minutes. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more.
  2. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Use an immersion blender to smooth out to your desired consistency. Stir in all remaining ingredients and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes then serve. You can simmer it as long as you like until you’re ready to eat.

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Baked Tortellini & Broccoli Alfredo

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Let me give you some options here: you can go out to some chain restaurant, sit with a bunch of people you don’t know, and order an overpriced meal that will probably be sub-par, or you can make this Baked Tortellini & Broccoli Alfredo in the comfort of your own home for less money and less hassle.

The choice seems simple to me.

Not to mention, this casserole is absolute heaven. Tender tortellinis and crisp broccoli are coated in a rich and smooth alfredo sauce then buried in breadcrumbs and baked until bubbly and golden brown. I love Olive Garden’s alfredo as much as the next guy, but I’m sorry, mine has theirs beat by a mile. It’s so creamy and cheesy, made with simple and fresh ingredients.

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This is a crowd-pleasing meal. Whether you’re feeding family, friends, a significant other, or the cats (really, I tried), they’re going to love this dish. Everyone adores alfredo, and you can’t go wrong with a cheesy baked casserole. It tastes like a decadent dish from a favorite restaurant, except much better. But if you make this once for somebody, expect to be asked to make it again and again.

The versatility here is great as well. You can make this as an easy but comforting weeknight meal, or serve it as a special occasional dish. There’s nothing quite as beautiful as when you sink the spoon into the golden brown crust and pull away a creamy mound of pasta and cheese. We can all appreciate the double-cheese power at work here: cheese-filled pasta covered in cheese.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You want to make sure your tortellini is slightly undercooked since it will bake more in the oven.
  2. Similarly, you want to have more sauce than you actually need since it will thicken up slightly while baking.
  3. Use whole wheat tortellini to make this better for you.
  4. This is a must-have alfredo recipe. Save it for pasta, dipping breadsticks in, and more.
  5. The breadcrumbs are optional, but they add something really special.
  6. Buy the best quality parmesan you can. It really makes a difference.

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Baked Tortellini & Broccoli Alfredo
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side

Ingredients:

  • 30 oz. fresh tortellini (you can get 1 20-oz. pack + 1 10-oz. pack)
  • 16 oz. frozen broccoli florets
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 tbsp. minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups + 1 cup heavy cream, divided
  • 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper

For the topping

  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbsp. butter, melted

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil over high heat. Cook tortellini until they float to the top, about 3 minutes. They should be al dente because you still have to bake them. Drain.
  2. Place broccoli in a large microwave-safe dish and fill halfway with water. Cover and microwave on high for 2 ½ minutes. Stir and microwave 3 minutes more. Drain.
  3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  4. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add garlic and sauté for one minute. Whisk in flour until well-combined then immediately whisk in 3 cups cream until free of lumps. Cover and let simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn down the heat if it starts to boil.
  5. Whisk in ¾ cup cheese, salt, and pepper until cheese is completely melted. Stir in remaining cream.
  6. Turn off heat and fold in tortellini and broccoli. You might not want to add it all at once; make sure there’s plenty of sauce first. You should have excess left because it will dry as it bakes.
  7. Pour tortellini into a 9×13 in an even layer. Sprinkle remaining ½ cup parmesan over tortellini.
  8. In a small bowl, mix together melted 1 tbsp. butter and breadcrumbs until evenly combined. Sprinkle over dish in an even layer.
  9. Bake just until breadcrumbs are browned, about 10 minutes. Let sit for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy.
    *If you let the dish sit for a while before baking, and it cools, bake it at 350, and keep it covered until warm in the center. Then remove cover and let brown.

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Rosario Eggplant Stuffed Shells

DSC02628I often take you guys with me when I go on food adventures. That means I’ll post reviews of almost all the places I eat at, and give you photos to drool over. We’ve visited Mama’s Restaurant in Hackettstown, NJ multiple times because it’s my favorite restaurant of all-time, and I can never say enough good about it.

I have to give them another shout-out because one of my favorite dishes at Mama’s, the Rosario, inspired these incredible Rosario Eggplant Stuffed Shells that I’m sharing with you today. Continue reading

Perfect Blush Sauce

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You and I have a pretty close relationship by now. You know my ins and outs, everything from my addiction to sugar to my undying love for pizza. Think about it; you and I talk every day when you get my posts in your email or in your Facebook and Twitter feeds. By now, you’ve got a pretty good idea of who The Smart Cookie Cook is.

And even if you’re new around here, one of the easiest things to pick up about me is my cooking style: doable, but fun and creative. I’ve always got an imaginative Smart Cookie twist on what I make. Continue reading

Spinach-Basil-Parmesan Pesto

DSC_6710Yesterday, I told you guys all about how deceptive whipped cream is since it seems like this fancy, complicated challenge to make, when it’s actually the opposite. Pesto falls under the same category. It’s green and flavorful, and rather intimidating. The fact that it’s absolutely delicious also makes you think it must be hard to make, because good things are never simple, right? Wrong. Although pesto and whipped cream may seem about as different as can be, they’re quite similar in how downright easy they are to make.

Let’s get the truth about pesto out right now: it’s just fresh basil, olive oil, and usually pine nuts and a hint of cheese pureed together to make a smooth sauce. You don’t even cook it, guys. How many sauces do you know of that you don’t have to cook before serving? Pesto is amazing like that.

The star of classic pesto, and the reason it’s green, is fresh basil. But lately, people have been pumping out new pesto flavors left and right featuring all kinds of different herbs and ingredients as the headliner. Basically, if you can put it in a food processor with olive oil, you can make a pesto out of it.

Continue reading

Easy, Big, Fat Garlic Knots

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I know we’re all supposed to be afraid of bread and carbs, but my god, sometimes you just need them. When it comes to eating your emotions, I swear no food makes me feel better than some good, starchy carbs. They fill me up with artificial comfort, and make my tummy happy. Maybe they don’’t make my thighs happy, but they sure do taste good.

That’s why, after a rough week, I knew I needed some carby goodness to take the edge off. You see, you have three options to lift your mood when things go sour: drink, do drugs, or eat. I don’t bother with either of the first two; they’re too expensive and render you incapable of controlling yourself. Instead, I turn to food when I’m down in the dumps. It’s inexpensive and won’t cause you half the bodily harm that alcohol and drugs do (assuming you don’t eat too much).

Continue reading

White Chocolate Tiramisu (Easy & No-Bake)

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Every so often, there comes a recipe so wonderful, so divine that you cannot keep your fat head out of the fridge and away from it. You can fight, you can give yourself pep talks and words of encouragement; but in the end, you wind up face-first in food, too overcome by its delicious force to even use a spoon.  These battles are fruitless. In the face of something that good, it is best to give in early and let your taste buds bask in the sweet bliss.

I put up a mighty fight against this White Chocolate Tiramisu, my friends, but my will power was meek and defenseless compared to its heavenly allure. I made it for Easter dessert, fully intending to only eat it on Easter and then go back to my healthy eating ways, but that baby called to me from the fridge for several days after. I was only released from its hypnotic hold when it was gone.

And what a bittersweet moment that was. Continue reading

Vegetable Lasagna with Blush Sauce + How-to Video

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One of the most obvious signs of growing up is when your holidays start to change. For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated Easter morning together with multicolor baskets brimming over with chocolates and other goodies. Then, in the glow of the post-basket-opening high, we’d have a spirited egg hunt, the memories I have of which are tainted by visions of my too-competitive older sister hurling me out of the way to snatch an egg from me. Finally, we’d capped off the day with a multi-course dinner and dessert. However, this year was the first year that all of that drastically changed (and yes, I received baskets through age 18; I’m not ashamed). Continue reading

Copycat Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo

Olive Garden perfectly exemplifies the americanization of European foods. I’m fairly certain that any self-respecting Italian who stepped foot in Olive Garden would be appalled, and would say something along the lines of “Those American morons did it it again” in Italian. In fact, I’ve even heard a ton of U.S. citizens complain about how Olive Garden isn’t real Italian food.

Well, duh.

Did OG ever once peg themselves as 100% authentic Italian food? Of course not. They put an American twist on their Italian-inspired dishes, because this is America after all. Just because OG’s food doesn’t perfectly replicate that of an Italian cucina doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.

So, I’m sorry, but I love Olive Garden. It’s self-indulgent American fare at its finest. But I love authentic Italian too. It just depends what you’re in the mood for. Sometimes, I turn to my classic and traditional Fettuccine Alfredo recipe, which is pasta perfection. Or, when I need a little twist, I’ll go for my Roasted Garlic Alfredo. Other times, however, I want that super rich, super decadent American twist on the Italian classic. And that, my friends, is my Copycat Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo.

Ever since I was a kid, I have adored OG’s Alfredo. Say what you want about how it’s unauthentic and calorie-laden, but that stuff is gut-bustin’ good. In fact, it wasn’t until last year that I actually tried ordering something else off the menu; I just loved the Alfredo too much to get anything else.

For a while, I wondered how OG got their sauce so thick and rich. I knew from experience that it was simply impossible to make a sauce with that viscosity using only butter & cream. When I finally figured out their secret, I felt like a fool for not realizing it sooner: they used a roux!

A roux is a thickening agent consisting of equal parts butter & flour. It is almost always the base for mac & cheeses, bechamel sauce, and cream-based soups, hence why they’re so darn thick. Roux is not a traditional component in classic Alfredo; normally, it’s just butter, cream, and parmesan. But of course, Olive Garden added that indulgent American touch. And I have figured out exactly how to not only make an OG replica at home, but make it even better.

The result is the richest, most indulgent Alfredo you’ve ever had, so thick, creamy, garlicky, and bursting with tangy, cheesy Parmesan goodness. It’s the most sinful plate of pasta you’ll ever experience, decadent in all the best ways. Is it traditional Italian? No. But you can taste those Italian roots in there, along with that American richness we all love so much.

Dare I say this is the best Alfredo sauce ever? Yes, I do.

I so just went there.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. Fresh garlic is essential to making this amazing. Not to mention, it’s cheaper than the jarred minced stuff.
  2. I highly recommend serving the fettuccine with broccoli. I always stir fresh broccoli into my alfredo. It’s delicious,  adds nutritional benefits, and bulks up the meal so you don’t need as much pasta.
  3. You could also serve with chicken, pancetta, or bacon for more protein.
  4. There’s no excuse to not choose whole wheat or whole grain pasta. It’s delicious, and so much better for you.

Copycat Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fettuccine, I recommend whole wheat or whole grain
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 3/4 – 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese, not grated
  • fresh chopped parsley, for garnish

Directions:

  1. In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to boxed directions. Drain.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and let cook until translucent and aromatic, about 2 minutes. If you can smell the garlic, you’re good to go.
  3. Whisk in the flour until free of lumps. Cook for another 2 minutes, continuing to whisk the entire time. Whisk in the cream until free of lumps. Cover and let cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
  4. Whisk in the cheese, salt, and pepper. Continue whisking until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Taste test and decide if you would like more cheese or seasonings and add more to taste.
  5. Whisk in the milk, 1/4 cup at a time, until sauce reaches your desired thickness. More milk means a thinner consistency. Keep in mind, it will thicken slightly as it cools.
  6. Spoon fettuccine into bowls and top with sauce. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately.

Healthy Cookie: Eggplant Rollantini

Eggplant Rollantini is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s basically all the goodness of Eggplant Parmigiana rolled up, and you know how I love my Eggplant Parm. You know what I don’t love though? All that fat and calories. It’s kind of frightening. In fact, I’m eternally grateful that most restaurant menus don’t reveal the caloric count, because I’m pretty sure I’d have a heart attack on the spot. Even though I know deep down the Eggplant Rollantini I ordered in all its breaded, cheese-covered glory is going to tower into the 700-800 calorie vicinity, I prefer to ignore that.

So what is there to do when I want some Eggplant Rollantini without a side of guilt? Make a lighter version, of course! We make a couple of quick switches: lighter cheese instead of full-fat, spinach to bulk up the dish with vitamins, a light marinara sauce, and nix the frying. The last step is doubly helpful because not only do you save fat/calories, but you also avoid pain-in-the-butt breading and frying. Therefore, this Eggplant Rollanti is much easier than the standard recipe.

Just because we’re skimping on calories doesn’t mean we’re skimping on any of the good stuff. Each roll is so stuffed with creamy ricotta and fresh spinach that they’re bursting at the seams. And there ain’t just cheese inside the rolls; they’re covered in a gooey layer of mozzarella too! On a side note: has anyone noticed that I tend to whip out the word “ain’t” when I get really excited?

Well, there’s a lot to be excited about here: tender eggplant stuffed with cheese then topped with more cheese and zesty sauce. It’s such a comforting, filling meal that it’s easy to forget that you can have two honkin’ rolls of eggplant for under 300 calories.

Yay for being full of food, not guilt!

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You can use part-skim mozzarella instead, which will taste more indulgent. It’ll cost you a few more calories, but will still clock in under 300.
  2. The thinner you slice the eggplant, the easier it is to cut.
  3. This dish actually has a LOT of protein, which makes it a great vegetarian meal.
  4. USE FRESH BASIL. Dried = icky.

Light Eggplant Rollantini
Adapted from Hungry Girl

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, ends removed, cut lengthwise into 8 slices
  • 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters Original)
  • 2 tsp. chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. salt
  • 2 cups low-fat marinara sauce (like Ragu)
  • 1 cup shredded fat-free, reduced fat, or part-skim mozzarella cheese (fat-free will be lowest in calories)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets and a 9″ X 13″ baking pan with nonstick spray.
  2. Lay eggplant slices on the baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Flip slices. Bake until soft, about 5 more minutes. Leave oven on.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, thoroughly mix spinach, ricotta cheese, basil, egg substitute, garlic, pepper, and salt.
  4. Lay eggplant slices in front of you with the short sides on the top and bottom. Distribute spinach-ricotta mixture among the bottoms of the eggplant slices. Roll up each slice around the mixture, and place them in a single layer in the baking dish, seam sides down. You may want to use toothpicks to secure the rolls, but make sure you remember to take them out before you eat!
  5. Cover rolls with marinara sauce. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove foil and sprinkle rolls with mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, until cheese has melted, 10 – 15 minutes. Serve it up!

Serving Size: 2 rolls (1/4th of recipe), Calories: 288, Fat: 7.5g, Sodium: 937mg, Carbs: 30g, Fiber: 8.5g , Sugars: 15.5g, Protein: 24.5g (Note: Nutrition stats are calculated using part-skim mozzarella. Fat-free will have less calories and fat).