Tag Archives: italian

Pasta Marinara Garlic Bread Bowl

There’s nothing that makes my carb-loving self happier than a meal that includes bread and pasta. Any restaurant that serves up complimentary hot bread and butter before my meal automatically wins a spot in my heart for that very reason. The best thing is when I save a little piece of bread and dunk it in my pasta sauce when the entree comes.
So why not skip the wait and enjoy two favorites together with my Cheesy Pasta Marinara Garlic Bread Bowls? No plates necessary – this bowl is not only edible; it’s made out of buttery garlic bread. I can’t think of any better cradle for our tangy, cheese-loaded pasta marinara.
I ate quite a few more of these than I care to admit, but what can I say – I’m helpless in the face of pasta and bread. The fun thing is that you can choose to make these dinner or an appetizer; they cover both. You could even get creative with your sauce choices for the pasta sauce. Vodka sauce, alfredo, or a meat sauce would all be delicious variations.
If you can have two favorite foods at once, then I don’t know why you’d want anything else. For as much as I complain about being an adult, it’s pretty awesome to be able to say I want pasta AND bread in one meal, and no one can tell me “No.”
I guess being grown-up isn’t all that bad.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
  1. If you’re not a fan of spice, avoid the red pepper flakes.
  2. For a stellar jarred marinara sauce, I recommend Hannaford’s Taste of Inspiration Neapolitan Sauce (if you live near a Hannaford). It’s exceptional: great quality and great flavor.
  3. You can make the pasta ahead of time and just heat it up when you’re ready.
  4. Store-brand crescent dough is much cheaper, and you don’t trade off in quality.

Cheesy Pasta Marinara Garlic Bread Bowls
By The Smart Cookie Cook

  • 2 cups cooked elbow pasta
  • 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 8 0z. can crescent dough
  • 1/2 stick (4 tbsp) butter, melted
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp.red pepper flakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Roll out crescent dough and separate by perforated lines. Slice sections in half.
  3. Arrange dough pieces in the muffin tins so that it completely covers the bottom and comes up the edges like a little cup. Brush with butter mixture.
  4. Bake for 5 minutes, or until starting to puff up. Immediately use the end of a handle of something thick and circular like an ice cream scoop to make an indentation in the crust where you can fill with pasta. Return to oven for another 3 minutes or until golden.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium heat, stir together pasta, sauce, and the cheese until warm and cheese is melted, about 10 minutes.
  6. Spoon pasta into the finished bread bowls. Sprinkle with extra cheese, if desired. Enjoy.


Baked Tortellini Parmesan


Any dish with the word “parmesan” is fantastic in my book. When I was a kid, and I still ate meat, I loved cheesy chicken parmesan. Then, when I became a vegetarian at age 14, I discovered the magical dish that is eggplant parmesan. My mother and I pretty much discovered the best recipe of all time for that.

I’ve also seen people make zucchini parmesan, and just about any “- parmesan” you can imagine. But what I had never seen before was what my Valentine suggested making for our Valentine’s dinner on Saturday: Baked Tortellini Parmesan.

I was skeptical – would it be too rich? That’s a lot of cheese and pasta. But then again, aren’t those two things that I love? I figured we might as well give it a go. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s Day then making a pan of bubbly, cheese-filled goodness with my favorite person.


I’ll be honest that this dish is a tad time-consuming, only because it takes a while to fry all of the tortellini. And you might find yourself having to fry a few more tortellini than you imagined if you can’t keep your hands off them as they come out of the pan. Did I eat more tortellini while frying or in the actual dish? I think it was close.

All that aside, this Baked Tortellini Parmesan was well-worth the elbow grease we put into it. It was everything I love about an incredible “-parmesan” dish, made even better with delectable little tortellini. There was endless melty, gooey cheese with a trio of fresh mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. Then an easy but absolutely incredible homemade marinara sauce covers every crisp, breaded tortellini.

Although this dish was indulgent, it somehow wasn’t too rich. There was the right amount of everything. You could taste the good-quality ingredients of fresh cheeses and herbs, and the homemade sauce really packed a punch.

This was a really special meal, and I would definitely make it again. Don’t limit yourself to chicken and eggplant when it comes to parmesan; tortellini is the way to go.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. You can make this with one person, but it will go much faster if you make it a two-person effort. Have one person bread the tortellini while the other person fries.
  2. Make the sauce the day before to save you some trouble the next day when you’re ready to make this for dinner.
  3. You can even assemble the whole thing ahead of time and keep it in the fridge.
  4. Fresh herbs and a homemade sauce are a must. You won’t believe the difference it makes, and you’re just not living if you’re eating sauce from a jar.
  5. This sauce is versatile and would be delicious on pasta, or in any kind of casserole.


Baked Tortellini Parmesan
By The Smart Cookie Cook


  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 20 oz. fresh tortellini
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, divided
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 large fresh tomato, roughly chopped
  • 1 28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 7-oz. can tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 20 oz. fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1 lb. provolone cheese, sliced
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese


  1. Line a large tray with paper towels. Set aside.
  2. In a large, deep skillet, bring oil to medium heat.
  3. Meanwhile, place half the flour in a shallow bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the milk and egg. Place half the breadcrumbs in a third bowl.
  4. Bread the tortellini by dropping in the flour, then the milk mixture, and lastly, the breadcrumbs. Make sure to completely cover the tortellini with each layer. To repeat, flour – milk – breadcrumbs.
  5. Drop breaded tortellini into hot oil. It should sizzle. If not, you need to let the oil heat longer. Fry tortellini on both sides until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer finished tortellini to prepared tray and allow the paper towels to absorb any extra grease.
  6. To make the sauce, bring oil to medium-low heat. Add onion, garlic, and fresh tomato and sauté for 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in canned tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, and basil and let simmer for 15 minutes.
  8. Use an immersion blender to smooth out sauce, pureeing all of the chunks. Stir in salt, pepper, and sugar.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  10. Spread a thin base layer of sauce onto the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Sprinkle half the fried tortellini on the bottom. Cover with an even layer of half the sauce. Lay half of the mozzarella cheese slices out in a single layer, followed by all of the provolone slices and half of the parmesan. Cover with the rest of the tortellini, followed by the rest of the sauce, and the rest of the cheese. To repeat, it’s: base layer of sauce, tortellini, sauce, cheese; tortellini, sauce, cheese.
  11. Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbling, and a knife inserted in the center feels hot to the touch. Enjoy.


Simple Secret Ingredient Marinara with Penne


The other day, as I was brainstorming a hearty dinner of Roasted Red Pepper Veggie Burgers, Mother Cookie made the unfathomable suggestion that we buy some frozen French fries to go on the side. Can you believe it? I wanted to make fresh homemade veggie burgers, and she had the audacity to suggest frozen French fries to accompany them!

I did not agree to the fries, but I did agree to make an easy side to pair with our burgers: Simple Secret Ingredient Marinara & Penne. Why was this recipe so easy? Because the sauce has less than 10 ingredients, and I utilized the juices from the roasted red peppers in the burgers. Pretty crafty, eh?

The red pepper oil is my secret ingredient. It adds this savory, zesty dimension to the sauce that makes you say, “Mm, what IS that?” It’s robust enough that it infuses into every bite, but subtle enough that it’s not outright peppery. You’ll find your tasters clamoring to know what gives the sauce its flavor.


It only takes a few other ingredients to create a sauce that’s both sweet and tangy. I use those must-have San Marzano tomatoes for their great flavor plus fresh oregano. My boyfriend said this show-stopping sauce was good enough to drink from a thermos.

People assume a good marinara sauce has to have 17 herbs and be cooked low and slow for an entire day by an Italian grandma. But this sauce will show you that someone with little cooking experience can whip up an absolutely incredible sauce that’s loaded with flavor in under 30 minutes.

A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:

  1. This sauce is also great as a dipping sauce or in lasagnas and bakes.
  2. You can make this sauce ahead of time then let it simmer on low as long as you like until you’re ready to eat.
  3. If you don’t have an immersion blender, puree the San Marzanos in a regular blender before adding to the pot.
  4. You can use any brand of peppers, just make sure it’s the kind that’s jarred in oil, NOT water.


Simple Secret Ingredient Marinara & Penne
By The Smart Cookie Cook


  • All oils & juices drained from 2 12-oz. jars of roasted red peppers in olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 28-oz. can San Marzano tomatoes
  • 6-oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp. Nectresse or sweetener of your choice
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  • 1 lb. penne pasta


  1. In a large pot of salted water over high heat, cook pasta according to box directions. Drain.
  2.  In a large pot over medium heat, saute the onion in the oil for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, San Marzanos, tomato paste and oregano and stir until evenly combined.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Cover and let simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Mix in the sweetener, salt and pepper. Serve over pasta with more fresh oregano or parmesan.


Rosie’s Trattoria – Randolph, NJ

Summer 1411

For my birthday dinner a few weeks ago, I was quite set on going to my favorite restaurant of all-time, Mama’s Restaurant in Hackettstown, NJ. However, Sister Cookie told me about a restaurant she recently tried with Eggplant Rollantini she claimed could rival Mama’s. Given that Mama’s Eggplant Rollantini is my favorite restaurant dish of all time, I had to see if this was true.


So, we set out to Rosie’s Trattoria in Randolph, NJ to celebrate my birthday in the only way I know how: by stuffing my face with food.


I’m going to give you the good news before the bad, so let’s talk about the food. Like any good Italian joint, they gave us free bread. It was crusty and warm, but best of all, it came with both butter and olive oil sprinkled with parmesan. After trying each, I definitely loved that oil complimented by the cheese. However, I must complain that there was not enough of anything. We should’ve had more bread considering our large party, and the oil was only enough for maybe two people.


For an appetizer, I selected Mozzarella en Carozza, a dish I am always curious to try when it’s on the menu. FYI, “mozzarella en carozza” means “mozzarella in carriage.” Rosie’s was delicious. That breading was crisp and tasty without being bland, and it was loaded with cheese. But they only give you two, which is extremely depressing, especially considering the price.

The only thing that was a bit off-putting was the texture of the mozzarella. They need better quality, or perhaps a different brand depending on where they get it from. It was “choke-y,” tasteless and hard to swallow.


I suppose I don’t need to tell you what I ordered for dinner since that’s the whole reason I went there, but yes, I got the Eggplant Rollantini. The eggplant rolls themselves had a generous amount of filling, but you could tell the ricotta was not homemade, and the breading was quite thin. That same mozzarella that was in the Mozzarella en Carozza was on top of the eggplant.

I will say, however, that the serving size was perfect, and WOW, they have some of the best marinara sauce I’ve ever had, if not the best. I am not a marinara fan most days, so for me to be impressed is a big deal.

Overall, although I thought the eggplant was great, Mama’s still reigns supreme.


Now we have to talk about the bigger issue, which is why I have no desire to ever eat at Rosie’s again: the service.

I did not like  the feeling of being suffocated and under constant surveillance. First of all, we were seated in this awkward dark corner. In fact, the entire restaurant was very dark, and it made for a gloomy atmosphere. Furthermore, our location was directly by the door, so servers were standing practically on top of our table at all times. That is an awful set up.

The biggest issue I had was the fact that the servers were overwhelming and vulcher-like. They loomed around the table the entire time, and I mean the ENTIRE time. They did so in an invasive way that made you feel like you were under constant watch, and it created an incredibly anxious and tense experience. Furthermore, the servers leaned over you every five minutes to refill your water that you literally had only take two sips out of so far or to grab plates.

I understand taking a few things out of the way between courses, but these servers were reaching over you constantly to grab things. Everyone at dinner said they felt rushed, and poor Mother Cookie had her salad whisked away before she was ready. One of the servers took my BF’s napkin and placed it in his lap for him. This was well-meaning, no doubt, but it made my BF quite uncomfortable, and just wasn’t necessary in a restaurant like that. Maybe at a place where rich folks who can’t even wipe their own butts eat, but not here.


Ry & I at Rosie’s

Overall, Rosie’s had potential but failed to live up to it. The food was good as a whole, but not worth bearing the horrendous service.


Father Cookie & I at Rosie’s

Have you ever had an unpleasant service experience at a restaurant like this?

Go-To Tomato Sauce for Pizza, Pasta & More


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.


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


  • 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


  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.


Baked Tortellini & Broccoli Alfredo


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.


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.


Baked Tortellini & Broccoli Alfredo
By The Smart Cookie Cook

Serves 4 as a main, 6 as a side


  • 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


  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.


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


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


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