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By Deborah Dove
Should you peek into my personal recipe box, the one that I reach for on a daily basis, you’d swear I was Italian. There’s my signature cream cheese lasagna recipe, my Aunt Renee’s beef and pasta casserole, my mother’s chicken tetrazzini, my sister-in-law’s bacon and tomato linguini and my late mother-in-law’s homemade spaghetti sauce that tastes as good as if it were made in the old country.
When my nine-year-old daughter recently made her first foray into the kitchen to make dinner on her own (a proud moment for me), it was an Italian salad that graced the menu.
Unfortunately, I can’t claim any Italian heritage. There’s just about everything else represented on the family tree—English, Irish, Scottish, German, even some American Indian, but not a speck of Italian. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I can’t cook like a nice Italian girl!
However, Italian is one of the most varied cuisines. The type of cooking fat and pasta used in a recipe often depend upon the region from which it originated. Northern Italian cuisine typically uses butter, cream, Mascarpone cheese, risotto and fresh egg pasta, while southern Italian cuisine uses Mozzarella cheese, olive oil, dried pasta and larger amounts of tomatoes.
My own family recipe collection is kind of like the Tex-Mex version of Italian food, as many of the recipes take a little from both regions, but have an American twist.
Since most Italian recipes call for pasta, it’s important to make sure you prepare the pasta correctly. A good trick to remember is that before draining your pasta, take a small cup of the pasta water and set it aside. Then, once the sauce has been added to the pasta if it still seems a little dry, you can use the water to moisten it. Also, after draining the pasta, do not rinse it unless you are planning to keep it at room temperature to be used in a salad, as the starch helps the sauce adhere to the pasta.
Following is a peek at my non-Italian family’s best Italian recipes.
Mom’s Chicken Tetrazzini
3 Tbs. chopped green pepper
3 Tbs. chopped onion
3 Tbs. chopped celery
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. flour
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
1-1/2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups grated cheddar or American cheese
1 small jar pimiento
10 oz. package spaghetti, cooked
Sauté first three ingredients in butter. Blend in flour. Add milk, chicken, pimiento and spaghetti. Fold in cheese. Bake in casserole dish at 350º for 30 minutes.
Roma Dove’s Spaghetti
16 oz. package vermicelli
1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 sticks of celery, chopped
6 mushrooms, sliced
4 large tomatoes
14 oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped and undrained
14 oz. can Italian tomato sauce
2 small cans tomato sauce
2 packages of McCormick spaghetti sauce mix
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
Seasoned salt, to taste
1 bay leaf
1/4 Tbs. sugar
Brown beef and drain. Add vegetables and canned tomatoes and cook slowly. Add seasonings, garlic, sugar, tomato sauces and McCormick mix. If too thick after 15 minutes, add one small can of water. Cook 45 minutes to one hour, stirring often. Cook pasta according to package directions. Serve pasta topped with sauce and parmesan cheese.
Cream Cheese Lasagna
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 6 oz. can tomato paste
1/4 c. water
1 Tbs. dried parsley flakes
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. beef bouillon granules
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1 8 oz. package cream cheese
1 c. cottage cheese
1/4 c. sour cream
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 of a 16 oz. package of lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
4 oz. package of pepperoni slices
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1/2 c. grated parmesan
Green pepper rings
Cook beef and onion in skillet; drain. Stir in tomato sauce and next six ingredients. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Combine cream cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream and eggs; stir well.
Spoon a small amount of meat sauce into a lightly greased 13x8x2 dish. Layer with half each of noodles, cheese mixture, pepperoni, meat sauce and mozzarella. Repeat. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Cover and bake at 350º for 30 minutes. Top with green peppers and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
Rexanne’s Bacon Tomato Linguine
8 oz. uncooked linguine
1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 (2.5-oz) package cooked bacon pieces (such as Hormel)
1-1/3 c. grape tomatoes, halved
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. preshredded fresh Parmesan cheese
Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.
Spray a large nonstick skillet with Pam and add oil over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Add bacon bits; sauté 2 minutes. Add tomato, garlic and oregano; sauté 30 seconds. Remove from heat.
Add pasta, reserved pasta water, salt and pepper. Stir well, and cook 1 minute or until thoroughly heated and liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover and let stand 3 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese.
(inspired by Rachel Ray)
1 10 oz. package of chopped romaine lettuce
1/2 c. black olives
1 red pepper, sliced
12 grape tomatoes
24 slices pepperoni
3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
2 Tbs. green salad olives
1/4 tsp. dried basil
2-3 tsp. dried parsley
3 large spoonfuls of grated parmesan
1/2 c. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place lettuce in a salad bowl. Break up the olives with your fingers and scatter around the salad. Add the red pepper slices, grape tomatoes and pepperoni slices.
Pour the vinegar into a blender and add remaining ingredients. Blend until well mixed. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well.
Aunt Reneé’s Beef and Pasta Casserole
8 oz. small or medium shell macaroni
1 16 oz. can tomato sauce
1 8 oz. package softened cream cheese
1/3 c. chopped green onion
1 lb. ground beef
8 oz. cottage cheese
1/2 c. sour cream
1 Tbs. chopped green pepper
Cook pasta according to directions on package; drain. Brown beef in skillet. Add tomato sauce and remove from heat. Combine cheeses, sour cream, green onions and green pepper in separate bowl. Spread half of the shells in a two-quart casserole. Cover with cheese mixture. Add remaining shells. Pour beef and tomato sauce mixture over all. Bake at 350º for 40 minutes or until bubbly.