Chicken and Cheese Ravioli

Homemade pasta is one of my favorite things to eat, and it is surprisingly simple to make. Many restaurants have gotten away from the art of making dough by hand and our culture has become accustom to the taste of store-bought pasta. I savor the practice of making pasta by hand, and it has become a favorite stay-home, date night activity. The experience of making the pasta together creates much anticipation for enjoying this delicious meal, and it tastes like takeout from a family-owned Italian restaurant.

With Italian music playing in the background and glasses of our favorite Pinot Noir in hand, my husband and I begin the process of creating pasta dough. We use this recipe for Food-Processor Pasta Dough from William Sonoma, and once it’s ready we roll the dough into thin strips with an old-fashioned style pasta machine just like the one pictured in the pasta recipe photo. One of us turns the dough crank and feeds the ball through the machine, while the other catches the flat sheet of pasta from the other side. We use a ravioli mold to create our stuffed pasta, but you can also make tortellini without any equipment.

Ingredients for Pasta Filling:
1 large chicken breast, cooked and diced
1 (15 to 16 ounce) container of ricotta cheese
⅓ cup freshly grated Asiago cheese
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Other Ingredients:
Pasta dough
1 (26 ounce) jar of marinara
Parmesan cheese for grating

Directions:

  1. Place chicken, ricotta and Asiago cheeses, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse, until chicken is finely chopped.
  2. Follow recipe for Food-Processor Pasta Dough and roll the pasta into thin sheets as directed in the recipe, but do not cut pasta. If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can use a rolling pin.
  3. To make ravioli, place a sheet of pasta dough over a ravioli mold and gently press down to add space for the filling. Use a spoon or small scoop and place an equal amount of filling into each square. Brush the edges of the dough with a small amount of water and top ravioli with another sheet of pasta dough. Gently roll over the top sheet of dough with a rolling pin to cut and seal the ravioli.
  4. To make tortellini, cut the sheets of pasta into 3 inch by 3 inch squares. Place your filling into each square and brush the edges of the dough with water. Fold into triangles and wrap the bottom two corners together to seal tightly in a kerchief shape.
  5. Heat marinara sauce and serve ravioli or tortellini with desired amount of sauce and grated Parmesan cheese.

Chicken Sausage and Spinach Stuffed Pasta

This meal was inspired by a dish at one of my favorite Italian restaurants, where the noodles are made from scratch daily and you can taste the love and attention that went into creating the pasta from this family-owned establishment. At Carmelo’s Italian Restaurant in Wausau, WI they stuff their homemade shells with a similar combination of ingredients. While my take on their recipe is designed for a quick weeknight meal, when I have more time I switch out the store-bought noodles and make some from scratch just like they do at this charming local restaurant in Wisconsin. When preparing the meal with dry noodles, it works equally well with either large shells or manicotti. Pair this pasta well with your favorite red wine, and add some Italian music for a date night experience at home.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mild Italian chicken sausage
1 (10.5 ounce) package large shells or manicotti noodles
2 cups frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
1 (15 ounce) container part-skim ricotta cheese
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 (26 ounce) jar marinara
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, and spray a large rectangular baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Warm olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute, until fragrant. Add Italian chicken sausage and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until browned. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Cook noodles according to package instructions. Drain noodles and let cool.
  4. Place the spinach in a cloth towel and squeeze to remove water. In a large bowl combine Italian chicken sausage, spinach, ricotta cheese, nutmeg, salt and white pepper. Stir until well combined.
  5. If you are using manicotti noodles or shells that are more tubular, place mixture in large zip top bag. Cut a small slit in the corner of the bag. Pipe mixture into pasta and place in the baking dish. If your shells are more open, simply use a spoon to fill them before placing them in the baking dish.
  6. Cover stuffed pasta with marinara and bake for 25 minutes, until edges are brown and sauce is bubbly. Remove and top with Parmesan cheese. Continue baking for about 2 minutes, until cheese has melted.

Italian Vegetable and Lentil Soup

Cold winter nights call for warm bowls of soup and this one is packed with vegetables and lentils and a dash of crispy, salty pancetta. Cooked with a Parmesan rind, this soup captures the sharp and nutty flavors of the cheese in every bite. If you are planning the perfect cozy night at home, enjoy a bowl of this delicious soup with your family and end the night with a mug of hot cocoa and good book by the fire. Cheers to nutritious comfort food and warm evenings at home this winter.

Ingredients:
4 ounces pancetta
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, trimmed and chopped
8 ounces baby portabella mushrooms, sliced
32 ounces low sodium vegetable broth, divided
1 cup lentils (any color)
1 (14.5 ounce) can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Parmesan rind (cut from a wedge of cheese)
5 ounces baby spinach or 1 bunch spinach, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions:

  1. In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, cook pancetta until brown and crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove pancetta and place on a paper-towel lined plate. Drain all but about 2 teaspoons of pancetta drippings from the pot.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, carrots and celery to the stock pot. Sauté until vegetables are tender and lightly browned, about 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and 2 tablespoons of vegetable broth to the mixture and sauté until tender and browned, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add lentils, tomatoes with their juices, the remaining vegetable broth, rosemary, bay leaf, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese rind to the stock pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until lentils are tender.
  5. Add spinach and pancetta to the soup and cook for another minute or two, stirring until spinach is wilted. Serve in bowls and top with grated Parmesan cheese.

Servings: 4

Sausage and Eggplant Lasagna Rollups

Lasagna and eggplant parmesan are two of my favorite Italian dishes and this meal is the perfect blend of both. Ready in just a little over 30 minutes, it’s a fast take on lasagna that’s perfect for a busy weeknight meal. It’s excellent made with homemade marinara using farm-fresh tomatoes.

If you’re struggling with recipes that please the carb lovers and low-carb people in your life, this recipe is perfect for both. You can easily prepare whole wheat spaghetti or garlic bread on the side and give your dinner guests options.

Ingredients:
2 large eggplant, trimmed and cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups good-quality marinara, divided
1 pound mild ground sausage
15 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons fresh grated nutmeg
¼ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Heat the broiler to high and arrange half of the eggplant in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Brush both sides of eggplant with half of the olive oil and sprinkle with half of the salt and pepper. Broil for 5 to 6 minutes, until lightly browned, flipping halfway through cook time. Set aside until cool enough to touch. Repeat process with remaining eggplant. Turn off the broiler and heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Cook the sausage in a medium skillet over medium-high heat until browned and crumbly, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain grease from skillet and return to the stove top. Add 3 cups marinara to the sausage and stir to combine.
  3. Spread 1 cup marinara in the bottom of a large rectangular baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, basil and nutmeg. Top each eggplant slice with about a tablespoon of ricotta filling and spread it out evenly. Roll up the eggplant, starting with the shorter end and arrange seam side down in the prepared baking dish.
  4. Top eggplant rollups with sausage and marinara mixture and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 20 minutes, until the sauce is warm and bubbly.

Servings: 6 to 8

Summer Tomato and White Bean Pasta

My Pantry Pasta dish just got a summertime makeover with my new Sumer Tomato and White Bean Pasta recipe. It is still a quick meal for a busy night when you want a delicious homemade meal without spending a lengthy amount of time in the kitchen. Sweet summer tomatoes pair excellently with white beans in this hearty vegetarian pasta. With a puree sauce, it looks like a simple marinara that is sure to please the picky eaters in your life. Cheers to making meals that are both healthy and convenient.

Ingredients:
½ pound whole wheat spaghetti noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15 ounce) can Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 tablespoon concentrated tomato paste
¼ cup white wine
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons
Parmesan cheese, grated

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, wine, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about ten minutes.
  3. In a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender, puree bean and tomato mixture to create a creamy sauce. Return to skillet and simmer for five more minutes.
  4. Serve over spaghetti noodles and top with basil and Parmesan cheese.

Servings: 4