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Beans, Dinner, Dressing, Italian, Recipes, Salad, Side Dishes

Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

June 5, 2017

Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

This salad is one you will never get bored with.  Crunchy lettuce, tart pepperoncini, wholesome chickpeas, and savory peppered salami, all tossed together with a refreshing oregano vinaigrette makes this a perfect lunch.  I love serving it with slices of hearty sourdough bread or avocado toasts.  There are many fine chopped salad recipes but this one created by Nancy Silverton and published in The Mozza Cookbook is by far my favorite.  This beautiful salad will bring much satisfaction to whomever you share it with.

Iceberg Lettuce, Radicchio, Pepperoncini, Onion, Chickpeas, Tomato, Salami & Cheese

Peppered Salami

There are so many different types of salami however I always reach for the peppered version. The slightly peppery crust adds an extra level of flavor to the salami.  Leftover slices are perfect in a sandwich or served with slices of extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Oregano Vinaigrette

Don’t hesitate to use lots of dried oregano in the vinaigrette. It really makes the dressing stand out and goes well with the chopped salad.

Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette

Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette
Adapted from Nancy Silverton's Chopped Salad Recipe
Serves: 6
  • Vinaigrette:
  • 2½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 medium garlic clove, crushed + 1 small garlic clove, grated finely
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
  • Salad:
  • 1 medium head iceberg lettuce cut into ribbons ⅓" wide
  • 1 small head radicchio cut into ribbons ¼" wide
  • ½ small sweet white onion cut into thin strips
  • ¾ pounds diced tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes)
  • 1 15 ounce can chickpeas rinsed and drained
  • 6 ounces yogurt cheese sliced into ¼" wide strips (you may substitute with provolone)
  • 6 ounces peppered salami sliced into ¼" wide strips
  • 5 medium pepperoncini sliced into rings
  1. Combine all of the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Set aside.
  2. In a large salad bowl toss the lettuce, radicchio and onions together. Add tomatoes, chickpeas, cheese, salami and pepperoncini. Spoon dressing over the salad and toss well so that all ingredients are well seasoned with the vinaigrette. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and more vinaigrette. You will not need all of the dressing. Store leftovers in the refrigerator and use within a week. Serve the salad with some good sourdough bread on the side.


Beef, Dinner, Italian, Pasta, Recipes

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells

April 12, 2017

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells

These stuffed shells are my new favorite pasta dish.  It has many flavors in common with lasagne bolognese.  Yet unlike bolognese sauce that simmers for a several hours, this meat sauce is ready in less than 30 minutes and is equally delicious.  Another time saver is to use a good store-bought pasta sauce such as Rao’s Basil Tomato Sauce. Because it is particularly tasty, I stock up when it is on sale.

Barilla Jumbo Pasta Shells

Barilla makes beautiful pasta shells that are just the right size for this recipe.  Check the box for broken pieces before purchasing it.  If the box shows signs of being damaged, the shells may be fractured and once cooked can fall apart and be unusable.

Meat Sauce for Shells

Ground sirloin is the perfect choice for the meat sauce.  It is flavorful yet lean.  However if you are unable to find ground sirloin, lean ground beef is a fine substitute.

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells

I use cottage cheese in the recipe however you may substitute ricotta.  The cottage cheese is light and mild in flavor but adds a creaminess without adding too many calories. I love how it melds together with the meat sauce and becomes a luxurious filling.

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells

Cheesy Beef Stuffed Shells
Serves: 6
  • Meat Sauce:
  • 1½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground sirloin (or other lean ground beef)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 24 ounce jar Rao's Tomato Basil Sauce, divided
  • Pasta Shells:
  • 20 - 24 jumbo pasta shells (Barilla Jumbo Shells 12 oz. box)
  • Cheese Mixture:
  • 16 ounces cottage cheese (I use Lactose Free)
  • 6 ounces (2 cups) coarsely shredded yogurt cheese (or mozzarella), divided
  • 3 ounces (1 cup) coarsely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x13" casserole dish.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the ground sirloin and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until meat is no longer pink. Season with ¾ teaspoons kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add fresh parsley, dried oregano and marjoram. Stir to combine. Remove from the heat and mix in 1¼ cups of Rao's sauce. Spread the remaining sauce in the casserole dish.
  3. Cook shells in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes or until al dente. Rinse under cold water to stop the cooking, drain on paper towels.
  4. Combine cottage cheese, ¾ cup yogurt cheese, and all of the cheddar cheese in a large bowl. Mix in beaten egg. Add beef mixture to the bowl, stir to combine well. Spoon the filling into the pasta shells and arrange over the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining 1¼ cups yogurt cheese over the shells. Bake for 30 minutes or until the filling is thoroughly heated and the cheese is melted and bubbly.



Appetizers, Dinner, Italian, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegetarian, Veggies

Puff Pastry Tomato Tarts

November 14, 2016

Tomato Tart

These tasty tomato tarts are so easy to make when using ready-made frozen puff pastry.  Of course if you have time you could make your own, but using already prepared puff pastry reduces your prep time. The key to a delicious tart is to use really good tomatoes.  You want tomatoes that are meaty with few seeds so that the crust doesn’t get soggy.  Our tomato plants underproduced this summer, however, we were lucky to have a handful of really nice tomatoes that I used for tomato sauce, salsa, Mexican rice, salads, and these tarts.

Homegrown Tomatoes

Peeled Tomatoes

I didn’t peel the tomatoes the first time I made the tart but did so the next time around.  The tomato skins don’t soften much or break down when baked so peeling them ensures that when you take a bite of the tart you’re not left with the tomato skin pulling away from the rest of the slice.

Unbaked Tomato Tart with Feta & Thyme

You can make one large tart or divide the puff pastry into two equal portions and make two tarts.  Below I made one with pesto and another with feta cheese.  It was nice to have a variety of flavors.  These little tarts  make perfect appetizers for a small party.  You can make them a couple of hours in advance and still count on the crust being flaky and crisp.

Pesto & Feta Tomato Tarts

Tomato Tart with Thyme

The tomatoes above were not peeled.  You may notice the skins did not cook down much which means that when you take a bite of the tomato tart the skin may come off in one piece.  It’s definitely OK to leave the skins on though if this isn’t bothersome to you.

Tomato Tart with Feta & Thyme

Puff Pastry Tomato Tarts
Adapted from Canal House Cooks Every Day
Serves: 6 - 8 as an appetizer
  • 1 frozen ready-to-bake puff pastry sheet such as Pepperidge Farm
  • 2 - 3 tomatoes, peeled, cored, and sliced (about ⅓-inch thick)
  • 3 branches fresh thyme
  • crumbled feta (optional)
  • basil pesto (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pepper
  • Maldon or other crunchy sea salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit a large baking sheet pan. Place parchment paper on counter. Remove puff pastry sheet from the freezer and place it on the parchment paper. Let puff pastry defrost for 20 minutes.
  3. Roll out puff pastry on the parchment paper to measure 9½ x 12 inch rectangle. If making two tarts divide the pastry in half. Once rolled out, transfer puff pastry (on parchment paper) to your baking sheet. Using the tip of a small paring knife, lightly score a border about ½ inch from the edge of the pastry. Pierce the dough inside the border all over with the tines of a fork to prevent the central area from puffing up too much during baking.
  4. If using only tomatoes: Arrange tomatoes over the pastry. Season with pepper. Drizzle or brush a bit of olive oil over the tomatoes. Scatter fresh thyme leaves over the top.
  5. If using pesto: Brush pesto over the pastry (except border). Arrange tomatoes on the pesto and season with pepper. Drizzle or brush a bit of olive oil over the tomatoes.
  6. If using feta: Arrange tomatoes on pastry and season with pepper. Scatter crumbled feta between the tomatoes. Drizzle or brush a bit of olive oil over the tomatoes. Scatter fresh thyme leaves over the top.
  7. Bake tart(s) for 30 - 35 minutes until the pastry is crisp and edges are lightly browned. Season with Maldon salt.


Dinner, Italian, Lactose Free, Pasta, Recipes, Side Dishes, Vegan, Vegetarian

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

October 12, 2014

Cherry Tomato VinaigretteSummer is officially over yet this record hot weather will be with us for at least another month.  Nevertheless, it hasn’t deterred me from baking brownies or simmering short ribs for 2 1/2 hours in the oven, but it does bring to mind meals that can be prepared in a jiffy, like this simple tomato sauce.

Cherry Tomatoes

Pan Fried Cherry TomatoesThough the recipe refers to this as a vinaigrette,  it is also referred to as a condiment and as such, is equally delicious on grilled sourdough bread, or grilled chicken, pork or fish.  It adds beautiful color to all these dishes. I love serving the tomatoes on thin capellini noodles for a summery lunch or dinner.

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette on Capellini

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette on Capellini

Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette

Bon Appetit Magazine

Serves 2


1 pint cherry tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons finely chopped chives

crumbled feta (optional)


Cut half of the cherry tomatoes in half.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the shallot, and cook, stirring often until softened, about 4 minutes.

Add halved and whole tomatoes to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to release juices, about 4 – 6 minutes.  Crush some of the tomatoes with the back of spoon.

Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil; season with kosher salt and pepper.  Serve warm or at room temperature; add chives just before serving and sprinkle with feta cheese.

Dinner, Italian, Recipes, Sauces, Vegan, Vegetarian

Homemade Pizza Sauce

September 20, 2014

Homemade Pizza SauceOne of my favorite meals is homemade pizza.  John has perfected a recipe for really good pizza crust, one that is both tender yet chewy with a bit of those crispy edges that we all love.  There are a number of ready-made pizza sauces available and I found one that was acceptable, but not perfect.  Most of the prepared pizza sauces are a bit too “tomato pasty” and just don’t have that fresh tomato flavor.  One of our favorite Wine Country restaurants, Redd Wood, makes some of the best pizza we’ve had.  Their sauce is very simple but delicious.  With that in mind,  I decided to make my own pizza sauce and now I shall never go back to prepared sauce.

Homemade Pizza

Rao's Italian Peeled TomatoesWith just a few good ingredients, you’ll have a delicious pizza sauce that takes just about 45 minutes to prepare.  I am very fond of Rao’s Italian Peeled Tomatoes.  They are by far, the best canned tomatoes I have found.  I once bought them at our local Whole Foods market, however they no longer carry them. Mail order is the way to go.

Rao's Italian Peeled TomatoesRao’s tomatoes are always beautiful.  They are peeled well, plump and juicy with a rich puree.

Raos Tomatoes in the Food MillI use a food mill to puree the tomatoes.  If you don’t have a food mill, squish the tomatoes with your hands or whirl in the food processor.

Homemade Pizza Sauce with Oregano

Homemade Pizza

Best Homemade Pizza Sauce

Makes 1 3/4 cups – Enough for two large pizzas or four small pizzas


1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in puree, Rao’s brand if available

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

freshly ground black pepper


Puree the tomatoes (tomatoes and puree) using a food mill (I used the coarse disc). Alternatively, puree the tomatoes in a food processor (quick pulses) or smash the tomatoes with your clean hands for a chunkier pizza sauce.  Pour in a bowl and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large deep sided sauté pan.  Add minced onions, turn the heat down to medium low and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onions are soft but not browned, stirring frequently.

Add the pureed tomatoes to the onions and mix to combine.  Cook the sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The sauce will have reduced and thickened up nicely.  Add the oregano, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper.  Continue to cook the pizza sauce for another 10 minutes or until the sauce is as thick as you like it. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Let the sauce cool while you prepare your pizza toppings and roll out your dough.  The sauce can be made a few days in advance and freezes nicely for a couple of months.




Dinner, Italian, Pork, Recipes

Rigatoni with Spicy Calabrese-Style Pork Ragu

June 1, 2014

Rigatoni with Pork RaguFor years my hands down favorite Italian meat sauce was beefy Bolognese.  However, I found an intriguing pork ragu recipe in Bon Appétit’s February 2013 issue. Hot and sweet Italian sausage, ground pork and savory tomato sauce, this pork ragu is now on my favorites list.

Rao's TomatoesThere are all sorts of canned tomatoes available these days.  My favorite by far is Rao’s Homemade Italian Peeled Tomatoes.  Certified organic, these tomatoes are of high quality and very flavorful. I once found them at Whole Foods but when I checked back again they were not on the shelf.  Not to worry, these days you can find almost anything on-line.  I’ve purchased other brands of whole canned tomatoes and had to peel off skin that was left on by poor handling.  Rao’s tomatoes are always peeled well, the tomatoes and puree are a beautiful deep red, and they taste delicious.  They make a really good homemade pizza sauce too.

Assorted Italian Sausage The prices at Whole Foods markets can be high, however, I’m willing to spend a bit more for excellent quality meat and fish, unique and sometimes difficult to find (on Maui) pantry ingredients, and fruits and vegetables that are not easy to come by.  At the meat counter I found many choices of fresh Italian-style sausage to use in this recipe so I decided on a couple of different types for the ragu (including chicken as well as pork).

Assorted Italian Sausage Hot chicken, sweet chicken, and hot pork sausage.

Fresh Oregano Sprig

MIrepoix ingredientsYou begin with a mirepoix which is a combination of finely diced celery, onion, and carrot, the foundation of many meat dishes and sauces.

Mirepoix for Ragu

Simmering Pork Ragu

Rigatoni with Spicy Calabrese-Style Pork Ragu

Rigatoni with Spicy Calabrese-Style Pork Ragu

Adapted from Bon Appétit 

Serves 6 – 8


1 medium onion, quartered

1 medium carrot, peeled, cut into 1″ pieces

1 large celery stalk, cut into 1″ pieces

4 medium garlic cloves

2 teaspoons fresh oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided

1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound hot and/or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (I used both chicken and pork sausage)

1 pound ground pork

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1  teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup white wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 pound rigatoni or penne pasta

3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan or Grana Padano


Pulse onion, carrot, celery, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup parsley in a food processor until finely chopped ; transfer to a small bowl and set aside.

Puree tomatoes with juices in processor, set aside.

Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat; add sausage and cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned, about 4 minutes.  Add ground pork, fennel seeds, and season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and cook, breaking up pork with a wooden spoon until no longer pink.  Add wine, and stir until wine has evaporated, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.

Increase heat to medium-high.  Add reserved vegetable mixture to pan, season with salt, and cook, stirring often, until golden 8 – 10 minutes.

Stir tomato paste and 1 cup water in a small bowl; add to pot.  Cook, scraping up any  browned bits from bottom of pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the liquid has almost evaporated, 6 – 8 minutes.

Add reserved meat and tomato puree and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, until meat is tender, about 3 hours. Bon Appétit’s recipe mentions adding more water as needed to keep the meat submerged however I found this was not necessary.  Stir in remaining 1/4 cup parsley. Adjust seasoning, adding salt if needed.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling, salted water just before you are ready to serve dinner.  The original recipe calls for reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid then adding it to the sauce along with the pasta and 3/4 cups parmesan and remaining 1/4 cup parsley.  I did not add any additional liquid and plated the ragu in  individual bowls, spooned the sauce over the pasta and sprinkled with parmesan before serving.

*Leftover ragu freezes well in airtight plastic containers.





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