Dining Outside the Home: L’Olivo Ristorante in Naples, Florida! Located in the heart of Fifth Avenue is an authentic Italian restaurant where Happy Hour, Three-Course Specials, and Featured Entrees make it a memorable place. Although there is a main menu, sometimes it’s a good idea to go with the flow, especially when the chef suggests preset combinations. The portions were reasonable in order to keep a steady pace from one specialty to another. The Bruschetta Prosciutto with shaved parmesan cheese was an easy start, allowing time for sipping on an Aperol Spritzer. The oven-baked Lasagna with bolognese sauce and melted mozzarella cheese was hearty, down to the very last dredge of crusty bread across the marinara. As a finale, there’s always room for dessert when it’s Tiramisu. The espresso-soaked ladyfingers are like eating air. Grazie!
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Start Smart: Lentil Rotini Pizza Pasta! Going organic, especially with red lentils, doesn’t necessarily mean the meal has to be completely plant-based. Sure, you still get the protein and fiber you need, but think about making it appealing to your family as well. By adding cheese and pepperoni slices, you can turn the rotini spirals into an Italian favorite. Pizza Pasta. Spice things up with red pepper flakes, garlic, and oregano. Now you’re talking. Serve in individual baking dishes for extra special treatment. You may even have the kids asking for it again.
LENTIL ROTINI PIZZA PASTA
12-ounce box of organic red lentil rotini
1 1/2 cups prepared marinara sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 cup pepperoni slices, divided
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
Crushed basil for garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add rotini. Cook until tender, stirring occasionally, 8-10 minutes. Caution: Watch carefully as the lentils will foam up to overflowing. You may have to reduce heat to a Simmer. Drain well. In a large bowl, combine marinara sauce, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Add rotini; stir to coat. Fold in 3/4 of the pepperoni and half the mozzarella cheese. Divide into individual broiler-proof baking dishes. Top with remaining pepperoni and shredded mozzarella cheese. Adjust oven rack to at least 4” away from broiler coils. Preheat broiler on High setting. Arrange individual casseroles on a baking sheet. Transfer sheet to oven. Cook until cheese is melted and slightly brown. Garnish with crushed basil. Serve with garlic bread.
Dining Outside the Home: Tony Sacco’s Coal Oven Pizza in Estero, Florida! You’re probably wondering what the big deal is about mentioning “coal oven” in the name of this pizza joint. Basically, it boils down to the deliciousness of a charred crust enclosing a chewy center without overcooking the toppings. You get this from very high, dry heat contained within the oven walls. The coal oven is a little larger than the others, so it holds more pizzas. Makes sense, amirite? There’s nothing worse than sinking your teeth into a pizza pie loaded with extra cheese only to discover the bottom crust is a bit soggy. That’s not going to happen at Tony Sacco’s. In fact, customize your creation like I do. For cheese-lovers, request shredded mozzarella, smoky provolone, grated parmesan, and fresh mozzarella over authentic Italian marinara. The cheese pulls will practically make your mouth drool in public. Slowly wipe your chin. Then garnish a pizza slice with freshly chopped basil and dig in.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Next Step: Unstuffed Green Pepper Bake! If you love the taste of stuffed green peppers, but really hate the extra steps of preparation, look no further. This “unstuffed” version can be served in individual casserole dishes or a family-style pan, thus eliminating the need for hollowed-out green peppers. Still yummy, still Spanish-flavor, still way back generational goodness like your grandma used to make. Be good to yourself when the week gets crazy busy. Make a batch of “unstuffed” green peppers and sit back with a glass of wine while the oven does all the work. You’re worth it.
UNSTUFFED GREEN PEPPER BAKE
2 green peppers, coarsely chopped
24-ounce jar traditional pasta sauce
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon basil
2 cups rotisserie chicken or turkey, shredded
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 1/2 cups Italian cheese blend, shredded
2 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook chopped green peppers in the microwave-safe dish for 2 minutes on High setting. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine pasta sauce, garlic powder, oregano, and basil. Mix well. Fold in shredded meat, brown rice, and 1/2 cup shredded cheese. Add green peppers. Transfer filling into prepared casserole dish(es). Top with remaining cheese. In a small bowl coat panko crumbs with olive oil. Mix well. Spoon crumbs over cheese. Baked 25 minutes or until heated through.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Cheerful Choices: Italian Meatball Manicotti! Pasta tubes, known as manicotti, are mere vessels for holding melted cheese, savory meat, Italian herbs, and certain vegetables like spinach or mushrooms. The marinara sauce is spread on the bottom of the dish to prevent the pasta from sticking, or tearing, which would ruin the whole idea of creating the perfect pocket of delicious fillings. With a crowning layer of marinara sauce on top, it deserves a round of applause for the extra cheese sprinkled there for good measure. Cray, Cray!
ITALIAN MEATBALL MANICOTTI
6 dried manicotti shells
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
12 Italian meatballs, cut in quarters
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
8 ounces marinara sauce, prepared
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, shredded
Preheat oven to 400°. Spray an 8.5”x5.5” baking dish with nonstick oil. Set aside. Cook manicotti shells in boiling water for 9 minutes. Drain and cool on a baking sheet pan. Set aside. In a skillet, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic clove, meatballs, sea salt, cracked black pepper, and Italian herb blend. Cook until heated through, stirring occasionally. Remove and set aside to cool slightly for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, spread half the marinara sauce in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. In a bowl, mix ricotta cheese and 1/2 cup parmesan cheese. Gently fold in meatball mixture. Fill each manicotti shell with meat and cheese mixture; place in the prepared baking dish over the marinara layer. Top with remaining marinara sauce. Cover dish with foil. Bake 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Country Casual Cravings: Toasted Cheese Ravioli! Crunchy on the outside, creamy on the inside. Take a walk on the wild side by turning dumpling-style pasta dough into a flavorful, tart, and cheesy appetizer. Panko breadcrumbs provide a crunchier coating that taste more like a fried shell when baked. This is due to the fact that panko breadcrumbs are made from crustless bread, thereby making them have an airier texture. The results are amazing.
TOASTED CHEESE RAVIOLI
8-ounces fresh cheese ravioli, found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store
1 tablespoon milk
1/2 cup plain panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Marinara sauce, for dipping
Preheat oven to 425°. Spray a wire rack with nonstick oil. Place rack on a baking sheet. Set aside. In a shallow dish, whisk together egg and milk until fully incorporated. In another shallow dish, combine panko breadcrumbs, grated parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and kosher salt. Mix well. Working one at a time, dip ravioli in egg mixture. Allow excess to drip off before generously coating both sides with breadcrumb mixture. Place ravioli on prepared wired rack. Leave spaces between ravioli to allow even browning. Spray tops of ravioli with nonstick oil. Bake 10 minutes until ravioli is golden brown. Turn ravioli over and bake 10 minutes longer. Serve immediately with marinara sauce for dipping.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Country Casual Cravings: Spinach Ricotta Flatbread! Savory flatbreads have to be on my Top 10 list of foods to make. Growing up as a child of the ‘60s, Sunday nights were the night for pizza. Because my mother cooked well-balanced meals all week, she boldly declared Sundays “Pizza Night”. Back then it still meant she made homemade pizza because we lived in the country and, to my knowledge, there was no such thing as pizza delivery. Years later, while raising my own children, I adopted her “modus operandi” and to this day I still honor it. Sometimes I make the dough from scratch, and other times I take a shortcut by using prepackaged flatbreads found in the bakery department of the grocery store. The toppings change according to the mood of the day and the ingredients in the kitchen. So far, no complaints from the husb.
SPINACH RICOTTA FLATBREAD
1 flatbread, prepackaged
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/2 cup marinara sauce
3/4 cup ricotta
1 cup grilled chicken, precooked and cubed
1 cup baby spinach leaves, stems trimmed
1/3 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Brush both sides of flatbread with olive oil. Sprinkle bottom side with cornmeal. Place flatbread, bottom side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Spread marinara sauce evenly over top of flatbread. Place dollops of ricotta cheese over marinara sauce, leaving 1/2” perimeter around the edge. Arrange grilled chicken and baby spinach leaves as the next layer. Sprinkle mozzarella and parmesan cheeses over top. Garnish with dried oregano and red pepper flakes. Bake for 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly gooey. Remove flatbread from oven. Allow to cool for 2 minutes before cutting into slices. Serve warm with extra marinara sauce for dipping.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? The Food Whisperer: Original Marinara Sauce! Marinara isn’t just a fancy name for spaghetti sauce, it actually lacks one key ingredient that sets it apart. You guessed it: MEAT. Basically, marinara is a tomato-based sauce infused with herbs and spices. It can be prepared very easily in less than half an hour. Personally, I find it perfect for a meatless meal. I like chunks of tomatoes, the hint of garlic, and a slight kick of red pepper spice. Look again at the snapshot. Perhaps it’s time to make marinara at your house.
ORIGINAL MARINARA SAUCE
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
28-ounce can Italian Roma tomatoes, diced with sauce
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1/4 cup basil, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon marjoram
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
In a large skillet over medium-low heat, warm olive oil. Add minced garlic; sauté for one minute until slightly brown, stirring occasionally. Add diced Roma tomatoes with sauce, fresh oregano, chopped basil, sea salt, marjoram, agave nectar, and red pepper flakes. Simmer sauce until thickened, approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Marinara sauce will be chunky and thick. Serve with cooked pasta.
What’s Cooking in Gail’s Kitchen? Equal Measures: Yellow Pepper Spaghetti! You know how spaghetti always tastes better the second day? There’s something about those savory spices intensifying the sauce and melding it with the pasta. Some of it has to do with starch, I’m told, but I don’t want to get too scientific. I’ll trust my taste buds to go with the flow. Because my garden has a bounty of peppers right now, this seemed like a natural progression. Stuff ‘em. Not only did the leftover spaghetti taste amazing, but the yellow pepper added it’s own smoother mild flavoring. Not bitter. Not sweet. Just right. Maybe you’ll come to the same conclusion.
YELLOW PEPPER SPAGHETTI
4 yellow peppers, whole
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 cups of leftover cooked spaghetti in marinara sauce
Chopped tomatoes, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°. Cut off the top of each yellow pepper and remove the insides. Rinse and drain. Stand peppers upright in a baking dish. Put a heaping tablespoon of mozzarella cheese in the bottom of each yellow pepper. Then stuff each pepper with the leftover cooked spaghetti in marinara sauce. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil, divide remaining cheese over the tops. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and bake 15 minutes longer. Serve immediately.