Stuffed Shell Weekend

When the temperature drops there are a lot of people who enjoy preparing and eating soups, stews and chilis. Me, I go straight for the Italian dishes! Pasta in a good meat sauce topped with cheese is my cold weather comfort food. So when the weekend arrives I like to prepare meals that will provide me with multiple nights’ worth of dinner options, like my stuffed shells in a vodka cream sauce.

This will make enough extra sauce that you can either freeze it or use it later in the week over rigatoni or spaghetti. And these shells are so filling that you’d better invite some friends over to help you eat this; otherwise you’re going to have it as leftovers for a good week!

Katt’s Stuffed Shells in Vodka Cream Sauce

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Don’t Mess With the Classics!

I’m not Italian but I love Italian food. It’s satisfying, hearty and soothing…and it’s relatively simple to make. Some dishes are so simple in fact, that what separates a fantastic dish from a great dish is the quality of the ingredients more so than the cooking techniques. Take the classic Italian dish spaghetti carbonara; it’s spaghetti, pancetta (or guanciale), pecorino romano cheese, pepper and eggs. That’s it! The only real variation is whether or not you going to add garlic (which I always do). The best version of this dish is the one made with fresh pasta instead of boxed, and guanciale instead of pancetta. Guanciale is a cured pork cheek which carries a ton of great-tasting fat and, if it’s available to you, is a better choice than pancetta—although not by much. When I have a great piece of guanciale I don’t use any olive oil. I’ll do a slow, low-heat sauté of the meat, which will render its delicious fat without requiring the aid of the oil. Now that’s classic!

But if you look up this recipe on many of the food and cooking websites, you’ll get some whacky variations that totally destroy this dish. And most of them come from American cooks that try to ‘improve’ this classic by making it ‘healthier.’ Substituting wheat pasta, egg whites and ground turkey sausage may make it lower in fat content, but where do you think the taste comes from? And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average life expectancy for us health-conscious Americans is 78.2 years. For native Italians? 81.7 years! Those wine-swilling, chain-smoking Italians would never THINK to use turkey sausage in this dish so why should you? You ever hear Mario Batali talk about his cholesterol level? Get real! If eating this classic is shaving a few years off my life, so be it! Just stop calling your turkey-and-wheat-pasta versions carbonara, ‘cause they’re NOT!

Katt’s Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

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Rainy Day Meatballs

On a recent Saturday morning here in sunny southern California, I woke up fully expecting to go for a long run, when I look out the window and see a phenomenon that I rarely experience and always despise—RAIN! God, I hate the rain. I’ve got an underground lawn sprinkler system that is fed by the water we steal from Colorado, so why do I need rain? Now what do I do to fill my day? Guess I could cook something…but what would take all day to make and yet still be worth the effort? Hmmmm….wait, I’ve got it! Meatballs! What’s better on a rainy afternoon than spaghetti and meatballs? And considering that I’ve already had a bottle of wine and some crusty bread for breakfast, it makes perfect sense!

First I’ll make my usual large pot of tomato sauce and while it simmers for a few hours I’ll make a batch of my world-class meatballs. Being that I was raised on meatballs made by some chef named ‘Boy-ardee,’ I don’t have any warm childhood memories of great-tasting Italian dishes. I came from a Polish family and our version of spaghetti and meatballs was sauerkraut and sausage. So over the years I’ve tried many different versions and methods of making this dish, and this is the recipe that I’ve come up with. I don’t know what is considered a ‘classic’ version but this one never gets any complaints… except that I should have made more. Maybe it’s the medical marijuana talking but my friends seem to like it. I hope you do too. It just takes a while to put together so rent The Godfather 1 and 2 and open a couple bottles of good Chianti or <erlot. As they say in Italy, “Divertanosi”!  (Look it up!)

Katt’s Rainy Day Meatballs

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The Post Breakup Meal…For Guys

If a woman really doesn’t want to know how she looks in a dress, why does she ask? I don’t know either but what I do know is that you shouldn’t say “Like a sausage in a twist-tie.”

Trust me on this one.

Which brings me to today’s topic: The Post Breakup Meal. During the last few months, I seem to have consumed these quite frequently. I’m not talking about breaking up DURING a meal. I’ve been there before and believe me, most red wines leave a permanent stain. No, I’m talking about the meal AFTER the breakup. Some splits are so heart-wrenching that you just can’t eat, while others make you come home and do a fist pumping victory lap in your living room. I’m referring to the day or so after, when you need to be alone and all you want to do is curl up with a good exploitation-beat-down-action-adventure movie, and a bowlful of soul-healing proteins and carbs (along with your favorite bottle of rotgut).

Yeah, guys are different, but we still need sustenance during the healing process, and I’ve got something for my newly solo brothers out there. My go-to meal has to have pasta and a rich, soothing tomato sauce. And usually some meat—which almost always includes pork—but for some reason, this time I didn’t feel like sausage. So, let’s go meatless on this one. I’ll keep it simple, yet fulfilling. Almost as easy as calling an escort service. And a lot cheaper.

Katt’s Soul Healing Tomato Sauce


¼ cup of olive oil
3 28 oz cans of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes (Find ‘em…they’re worth it.)
3 peeled carrots
3 stalks of celery
1 large red onion
4 cloves of garlic and 2 sprigs of thyme
1 1/2 cups of chicken stock
Kosher salt
Fresh cracked pepper
1 tsp of red pepper flakes
Heavy cream
2 handfuls of fresh basil leaves
Your favorite pasta
Crusty bread
Unsalted butter
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Man up and grate it yourself!)

This is my stock tomato sauce recipe, minus the cream. You will need either a hand blender (kinda looks like a boat motor), or you can mix it in batches using a countertop blender. Or you can leave it chunky, but blending it imparts air into the sauce, which makes it creamy and smooth.

First, chop up the onion, carrots and celery. Dump them all into the same bowl because you’ll sauté them together. Then mince the gloves of garlic, but keep them separate. Pour your olive oil into a large soup pot and kick up the heat. Sauté the vegetables until the onions are soft and then throw in the garlic. When you smell the garlic coming from the pot, pour in the chicken stock. Garlic will quickly burn if you’re not careful so I don’t cook it too long over a high flame. Let that come to a simmer and cook down for about 5 minutes. Then, add your tomatoes and their juices one can at a time. Use a potato masher to break up the wholes tomatoes before adding the next can. Strip the thyme sprigs of their leaves over the pot and sprinkle them in. Add the red pepper flakes, salt and black pepper to taste and bring it up to a simmer. Here’s where I blend it well. If you don’t have a hand blender, use your countertop blender BEFORE you bring it up to a simmer. Let it cook uncovered for at least an hour. Two or three is better.

Now prepare some salted water to cook your pasta in. While your pasta is cooking, turn the heat off on your sauce and add some heavy cream. The worse the breakup the more cream you’ll need. Mix it well and then throw in a couple of tablespoons of butter for good measure. Next, coarsely chop up the basil and add it to the sauce. I like it at the end so that it doesn’t cook down and lose its flavor. Once the pasta is done, remove it from the heat and take some straight from the pot to the plate. Don’t rinse the first couple of batches. The pasta water will help the sauce coat the pasta. Ladle on some sauce, spoon on the cheese, and butter up a couple hunks’a bread. Pour yourself a tall one and pop in the DVD. It’s been a rough couple of days but things are looking up. Let the healing begin!

Squash on Fire: “Spaghetti” Puttanesca

On a recent trip to a local market we were greeted by a gorgeous array of orange pumpkins and irregular gourds. Instead of heading straight for the quintessential Halloween symbol, we simultaneously reached for the oblong, sunny spaghetti squash. When roasted, the bright yellow squash is transformed into pasta-like strands, so we thought it was only appropriate living, in the North End of Boston, a historic Italian neighborhood, to use it like spaghetti.

While in Italy, we were big fans of the famously pungent and spicy Puttanesca sauce. The deep, rustic red sauce with bursts of green briny capers transforms any pasta, or in this case, the subtly sweet squash ribbons. With the addition of earthy eggplant, a sprinkling of fresh chopped basil and Parmesan cheese, it’s our fresh, seasonal take on an Italian classic.

Spaghetti Squash Puttanesca

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Indian Eggplant Parm

Editor’s Note: New contributor Prof. Fusion, an English professor, kitchen dabbler and Dora the Explorer antagonistjoins ES with pretty much our favorite thing…a new sandwich!

This is basically your classic Italian eggplant parm sub, gone Indian—although there’s no Parmesan inhabitant on this blissfully delicious breaded island, just Provolone. The inspiration behind the Indian eggplant sub spawned from  the Food in My Beard’s chicken crispy masala. When I first made this, I made a few adjustments to Dan’s amazing recipe (i.e. how I breaded and fried the chicken—dusted with salt and curry powder), and this salaciously cheesy dish quickly became my wife’s favorite dinner option. One night, I planned to do the same thing to eggplant, when my food muse spoke to me in a garlic-infused whisper, “Why not make this into a sub?!”  And there’s our causal chain, people.

Note: if you’re not a big fan of eggplant (my pal Russ hates its texture, whereas Caitlin finds it tolerable—she’s far too polite), then use chicken instead. I really dig the fusion of Indian/Italian flavors; these yield great pairings when using Indian spices instead of Italian ones.  And what can honestly go wrong when there’s tomato sauce and cheese involved?

Indian Eggplant Parm

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Eyes Before Taste Buds: Panzanella Salad

Sure, it’s great when food tastes good, but any food blogger will tell you that what’s really important is presentation. Colorful, vibrant food is instantly appealing. Looking at a wall of penny candy or a heaping bowl of fruit, you are mesmerized by the abundance of color. If it’s appealing to the eye, it must be appealing to your taste buds, right? We felt this way when we first created this summery, visually enticing side dish. Panzanella salad, a classic Tuscan summer dish, celebrates fresh garden produce.

Classic panzanella incorporates stale, unsalted Tuscan bread. Since we do not keep stale bread on hand (who doesn’t finish bread before it goes stale?) we decided to char a fresh French baguette. The toasted baguette inside the dish absorbs the vinaigrette while maintaining its crunch alongside the fresh cubed vegetables. The married flavors are a kaleidoscope of color and texture.

Panzanella Salad

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