Meatless Monday: Tortellini Sorrentina

At the end of high school one of my favorite part-time jobs was at a sweet little Italian spot in town called Pasta e Basta. It was a fresh pasta fast food-like restaurant where you ordered at the counter, choosing first your pasta, then your sauce, etc. The garlic bread was dangerously addictive and sitting in a big bin right beside me at the cash register, and another bonus was a pasta plate of your choice every shift. I almost always ordered the gemelli pasta with a Sorrentina sauce – tomato sauce with fresh mozzarella and basil. So simple, and so perfect. Crisp and acidic with the thick, fresh tomato sauce, balanced with the rich softness of fresh mozzarella, and finally topped with the earthy herbiness of fresh ribbons of basil. Whoa baby. Even just writing about it sends me back to that happy place. That right there–what I just described to you–is easily the best bowl of pasta on the planet. Oddly, I’ve never cooked it before. Never even thought to try. Until tonight. I served my sauce over spinach and cheese tortellini tonight. I wish I’d found gemelli (not an easy pasta to locate). But it’s all about this sauce. When the dinner table at my house is silent, you know you have a winner. When a little person hums while eating, you also know you need to add it to the regular rotation. Here you go.

WHAT YOU NEEDsorrentina6
*1/4C olive oil
* 4 stems flat leaf parsley
* 2 stems fresh basil (plus more for garnish)
* 1t dried oregano
* 1/2 sweet onion, diced
* 3t minced garlic
* 28oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
* 1t Kosher salt
* 1/2t ground black pepper
* 1/4C half and half (milk or cream would be fine as well – whatever you have; you can also leave this out altogether)
* 8oz package cherry sized fresh mozzarella balls, halved
* 1/2C grated Parmesan cheese
* 1 package tortellini (or other pasta of your choosing)

In a large, high-sided, oven-safe pan heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the parsley, basil, and oregano and cook a few minutes, allowing them to infuse the oil with their flavor. When the herbs are crisp, remove them from the pan and discard.


Add the onion and garlic. Lower the heat and saute until the onion is softened and transparent. Add the tomatoes, crushing each in  your hand as you add it to the pan, as well as the juice from the can. Add the salt and pepper and stir to combine. Simmer about 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens up. Stir in the half and half and remove from heat.


While the sauce simmers, boil water and cook the pasta to al dente, according to package instructions. Drain and add to the pan with the sauce and stir to coat.



Sprinkle the fresh mozzarella around the pan and the sprinkle the Parmesan on top of that. Turn the broiler onto high and broil just 5 minutes in the oven, until the cheese melts and the top becomes a little browned and crispy.


Cut additional basil leaves into thin ribbons for garnishing, serve, and enjoy!


Meatless Monday: 3-Tomato Soup

I’m back home after a work trip out of town for a few days. I was in sunny Florida (though I’m impressed I even knew anything about the weather, as I was in a Convention Center the whole time), and I came home to a return to winter. Seriously, the tulips that were ready to bud in my yard are in a state of shock and confusion, and if they don’t bloom, I’ll be in a state of something else. It was so very springlike here, so to go back to heavy boots, double socks, and wool hats — not to mention snow! — in March is disappointing, to put it gently. So what else could we do? Grilled cheeses and tomato soup for dinner! But not just any tomato soup. I’ve been working on this one for a while, trying to get an easy, weeknight-friendly, but flavor-deep tomato soup I could depend on. And this is it. And here you go.

WHAT YOU NEED3tomsoup1
* olive oil
* 1/2 a small sweet onion, chopped
* 3t minced garlic
* 1T flour
* 280z can whole peeled tomatoes
* 14.5oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes (both Hunt’s and Trader Joe’s have a version, I know for sure)
* 3-4C vegetable broth
* ~1/4C sun dried tomatoes in oil (drained)
* 1/4C half and half
* 1/4C fresh basil, chopped, plus extra leaves for garnish
* 2 bay leaves
* 1t salt
* 1/2t black pepper

Heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium heat in a large soup pot. Add the onions and garlic and cook about five minutes, until the onions begin to soften and the aromatics are released, but before the garlic burns. Add the flour and stir to fully combine, then add the whole, peeled tomatoes (juice included), crushing each with your fingers before dropping it into the pot. Next add the diced tomatoes, 3 cups of the veggie broth, sun dried tomatoes, and half and half. Stir to combine, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, partially covered, for twenty minutes, allowing the tomatoes to break down.

Remove the pot from the heat and use an immersion blender to puree the soup. If you don’t have an immersion blender, just transfer the soup in batches to a regular blender.

If the soup seems too thick for your texture, add in the last cup of broth, a little at a time, to thin it out to a consistency you like. Otherwise, add in the fresh basil, bay leaves, salt, and pepper, mix to combine, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed, and then return to medium-low heat. Simmer another 15 minutes, and serve steaming hot, garnished with a few torn leaves of fresh basil. My Tiny Sous Chef likes cooling it down with a dollop of Greek yogurt stirred through. Mmmmmm…

Mac n Cheese with Chicken Sausage and Arugula

One of my dearest old friends was in town from New York for an event he was working last weekend, and his time freed up for a visit on Sunday afternoon/evening. Just in time to help me meal plan and then watch the Oscars with us, which I’m sure is exactly what he thought he’d be doing on his free time in Chicago. What a sport! Anyway, his meal planning assistance involved suggesting mac and cheese for every meal, so obviously I had to work something into the week’s menu. My brother has always been a huge mac and cheese fan, too, and he used to use the boxed kind as a base and then cut up a ton of veggies and add them in, so that inspired my planning and cooking. I lightened up this recipe a bit and then added in some chicken sausage and arugula we had already. The result was so delicious. Bonus points for the fact that the whole thing is done and ready to eat in 30 minutes! I wish I were embarrassed to admit that we ate almost all of it, but I’m not at all embarrassed. You’ll see what I mean. Here you go.arugsausmac1

* 1T unsalted butter
* 3T all-purpose flour
* 1t dry mustard
* 1/2t paprika
* 1/2t Kosher salt
* 1 1/2C lowfat milk
* 1C Greek yogurt (I use 2%)
* 1 egg, lightly beaten
* 1 1/2C shredded cheddar cheese
* 2 links pre-cooked chicken sausage (any flavor, quartered lengthwise and cut into small pieces)
* a few handfuls fresh arugula
* 4C cooked elbow macaroni (from 2C dry)
* panko breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 375F. Spray an 8X8 (2-quart) baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

Cook the pasta to al dente in boiling water. Drain and set aside.

While that’s going on, melt the butter over medium-low heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour, mustard, paprika, and salt, whisking constantly. Slowly pour in the milk, continuing to whisk until all the lumps are gone. Raise the heat to medium and continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken and bubble. Remove the pan from heat immediately.

Stir in the yogurt, egg, cheese, sausage, and arugula. Add the cooked pasta to a large mixing bowl, then pour in the cheese mixture. Mix thoroughly and then pour the whole thing into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle just a light layer of the panko breadcrumbs on top, then bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, turn the broiler on for only a minute or two to brown up the breadcrumb topping, and serve. HE-LLO.