ITALIAN PIGGY SHELLS

ITALIAN PIGGY SHELLS
SHELLS
1 pound sweet Italian ground sausage
12-15 jumbo shells
1/3 cup diced onions
1/3 cup diced mushrooms
1 tablespoon avocado oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced celery & leaf tops
3 tablespoons quality DRY sherry
Fresh ground salt and black pepper, to taste
1 batch Balsamella (Italian béchamel) recipe below
2 cups fresh tomato sauce
1/4 cup fresh torn basil (small pieces)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese

  • Preheat oven to 400°.
  • Add shells to boiling water for 4 minutes in boiling water. Drain in colander and rinse with cool water. Drain again.**
  • Heat avocado oil in skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add onions and celery, stirring to cook until soft.
  • Add pork, cooking until completely browned. DRAIN off any fat.
  • Add sherry and simmer over medium heat until liquid is completely absorbed, about 5 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Remove from heat and cool.

Meanwhile prepare the balsmella sauce recipe below.

  • Combine the meat mixture and the balsmella sauce until well blended.
  • Combine tomato sauce and basil pieces.
  • Pour half the sauce into the bottom of your baking dish.
  • Carefully stuff each shell and arrange on sauce in the baking dish.
  • Cover with foil.@@
  • Bake 15 minutes.
  • Remove foil.
  • Drizzle remaining tomato sauce over top of all the shells.
  • Sprinkle with cheeses.
  • Bake 5 minutes more until cheese is melted and starting to brown.
  • Garnish with basil.

**NOTE 1: BE SURE TO BREAK DOWN THE MEAT INTO TINY PIECES to make stuffing the shells easier. I use my NINJA to breakdown the meat mixture into a smooth consistency.
@@NOTE 2: This can be refrigerated overnight and baked the following day. Bring to room temperature before baking.

BALSMELLA (Bechamel)

1/2 tablespoon unsalted better
2 tablespoons Wondra flour
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
Fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste

  • Melt butter to a saucepan over medium heat.
  • Whisk in flour until golden brown.
  • Whisk in milk and nutmeg until well blended.
  • Bring to a SLOW simmer, whisking intermittently. Simmer until it thickens, about 10 minutes.
  • Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Remove from heat and cool slightly.

**NOTE: Cook the shells 4 minutes ONLY – JUST enough to be pliable for filling! They will continue cooking while the dish bakes.

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STUFFED MARSALA CHICKEN

STUFFED MARSALA CHICKEN

4 chicken breasts
6 slices of mozzarella (about 1/4 inch thick)
16 sun-dried tomatoes (I use the ones packed in olive oil and Italian herbs)*
1/2 cup baby spinach (optional)
2 tablespoons avocado oil
8 mushrooms, sliced thin
1 large shallot, sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt & pepper to taste
2 green onions, sliced thin (optional)

  • Heat oil or butter in a skillet over medium high heat.
  • Add mushrooms and shallots, sweating until caramelized.
  • Cut a horizontal pocket into each chicken breast being careful not to go all the way through.
  • Stuff each breast with one slice of mozzarella, 4 sun dried tomatoes and a spoonful of mushrooms and shallots.
  • Secure with baking bands or toothpicks.
  • Heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil in the same large skillet.
  • Brown chicken breasts on both sides.
  • Move to casserole dish and bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes depending on size of your chicken breasts.
  • Meanwhile using the same skillet heat remaining tablespoon avocado oil over low heat.
  • Add garlic and cook until fragrant; less than 1 minute.
  • Add sweet Marsala wine and reduce by half.
  • Add chicken broth and cook on high for 1 minute.
  • Reduce heat to low.
  • Add cream and simmer until slightly thickened approximately 5-7 minutes; whisking frequently.
  • Salt & pepper to taste.
  • Top chicken breast with 1/2 mozzarella slice and allow to melt.
  • Spoon sauce over warm chicken.
  • Top with optional green onions.

Linking up to FULL Plate Thursday.

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ITALIAN STUFFED CHICKEN

Coating the chicken breast with homemade Italian dressing inside and out helps keep this chicken juicy and adds so much flavor as the dressing combined with the marinade from the sun dried tomatoes constantly bastes the chicken as it bakes.

ITALIAN STUFFED CHICKEN
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup sun dried tomato tapenade
2 slices Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup spinach leaves, washed and dried
2 tablespoons Avocado or olive oil

DRESSING
1 tablespoon mayonnaise*
1 tablespoon White Wine Vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons avocado or olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Oregano
1/4 teaspoon Basil
1/4 teaspoon Parsley
1/2 teaspoon Thyme
1/4 teaspoon Marjoram
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 350°.
  • Whisk together dressing ingredients until well blended (it will not be pourable, but that’s what you want).
  • Cut a slit in each breast to create a pocket, but not all the way through.
  • Stir together the ricotta cheese and sun-dried tomato tapenade.
  • Coat the inside of the pocket with the dressing.
  • Add ricotta sun-dried tomato mixture, spinach leaves and a slice of cheese.
  • Coat outside of chicken with dressing on both sides.
  • Seal with toothpicks.
  • Heat oil in cast iron pan over high heat.
  • Add chicken and sear both sides quickly until golden.
  • Transfer pan to oven and bake 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly and chicken is cooked through.
  • Rest for 5 minutes.
  • Drizzle with any juices that leaked out.

NOTE*: Most people would use a Dijon mustard, but I’m allergic to mustard so substitute mayonnaise and make up the flavor in herbs.

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SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

Last weekend we went to dinner with my uncle at Olive Garden.  Usually I love Olive Garden, but this meal was not so.  My husband and I both ordered their Carbonara with chicken and shrimp.  It was the blandest, most flavorless pasta I had ever eaten.  It really left me craving an authentic style Italian Carbonara so I decided to make some here at home that was more similar to one of my favorite Italian restaurants from our old town. I added a bit of chopped chicken scallopini for some extra protein.

SPAGHETTI CARBONARA

1/2 pound spaghetti
4 large slices pancetta, diced small (quality bacon works also)
1 egg + 2 yolks
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tablespoon coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  • In a large pot, add the salt to the water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente.
  • Reserve some cooking water and then drain it.

While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat.

  • Add bacon and sauté for around 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels.
  • In a bowl, beat the egg and the yolks with pecorino cheese and a sprinkling of pepper.
  • Add the drained spaghetti to the skillet with the pancetta and toss for a minute or so over medium heat.
  • Transfer into the bowl with the eggs/pecorino mixture, stirring until the egg sauce thickens.
  • Add some cooking water if the sauce is too thick or more cheese if it’s too liquid.
  • Season with some fresh ground black pepper and a sprinkling of cheese.
  • Serve immediately in a warmed bowl.

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STUFFED PINK ALFREDO MANICOTTI

STUFFED PINK ALFREDO MANICOTTI 
1 box manicotti pasta shells
1 pound lean ground chuck
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small bunch green onions, diced
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning mix
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated Mozzarella cheese
2-8 ounce cans  tomato sauce
1 recipe PINK ALFREDO SAUCE (recipe follows)

  • In a large skillet brown ground chuck with onions and garlic.
  • Salt and pepper generously.
  • Drain fat.
  • Slice shells carefully along one edge so they resemble taco shells. Once they are cooked no one will notice that you took the easy way out to fill them.
  • In a 9×13 baking dish pour tomato sauce evenly on bottom.
  • Top with 1/3 of the grated Mozzarella cheese.
  • Fill each shell to overflowing with Ricotta mixture.
  • Lay side by side on tomato sauce.
  • Top with PINK ALFREDO SAUCE and the remaining Mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake 30 minutes until cheese is golden and melted.
  • Serve with Garlic Cheese Bread.

PINK ALFREDO SAUCE
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon minced garlic, jar
1 tablespoon Classico sun-dried tomato paste
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • Melt butter in a saucepan.
  • Add garlic and saute until fragrant.
  • Gradually add heavy cream, stirring constantly. Stir in salt, pepper and grated Parmesan cheese and stir constantly until melted.
  • Whisk in egg quickly and heat through.

COUNTRY HEAVEN LASAGNA

COUNTRY HEAVEN LASAGNA

1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground sirloin
1 package pepperoni slices
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, well beaten
1 tablespoon FRESH flat leaf parsley, minced
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 can tomato paste
1/2 cup Classico Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
1 small can crushed tomatoes
1 carton ricotta or cottage cheese
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
2 cups Mozzarella cheese
Lasagna noodles

  • Brown meat, drain fat.
  • Add garlic and Italian seasoning to the tomatoes and tomato paste. Reserve 2 tablespoons.
  • Fold meat into tomato mixture.
  • Slice pepperoni slices into quarters.
  • In a mixing bowl combine the ricotta cheese, eggs, Parsley and Parmesan cheese.
  • In am oil coated baking dish spread an even layer of the Classico Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto.

Then layer twice:
NOODLES
MEAT MIXTURE
PEPPERONI PIECES
CHEESE MIXTURE
MOZZARELLA CHEESE

  • Bake 50 minutes OR until golden brown.
  • Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  • Serve with salad and garlic bread.

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After I go grocery shopping I split the Italian sausage, ground pork and ground sirloin all in half. Then I mix them all together and freeze half for the the next time.

CHICKEN PARMESAN MEATBALLS

CHICKEN PARMESAN MEATBALLS – This makes 12 or so meatballs
1 1/4 pounds ground chicken

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt to taste
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 egg, whisked
zest of half a lemon
3 tablespoons sesame oil
Marinara pasta sauce
3-4 slices mozzarella

  • Preheat oven to 400°F, setting rack to upper third part of oven.
  • In a large bowl, using your hands, gently mix together first 10 ingredients.
  • Shape into golf-ball size balls and place a few inches from each other on a foil-lined baking sheet.
  • In a small bowl, mix one spoonful of your pizza sauce with olive oil.
  • Brush this mixture on top of each meatball.
  • Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Remove meatballs from oven, spoon some sauce on top of each meatball, and cover each with a slice of cheese.
  • Broil another 3 to 5 minutes until cheese is bubbly and golden.
  • Heat remaining sauce in a small saucepan.
  • Serve meatballs with pasta and a dollop of sauce.

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CHICKEN CACCIATORE ala SLOW COOKER

CHICKEN CACCIATORE ala SLOW COOKER

1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1 large carrot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Avocado oil**
Fresh ground salt and black pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
14.5 ounce can stewed tomatoes
1/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup beef consomme’
1/4 cup Wondra flour
2 tablespoons tomato paste
PASTA

*Soak the mushrooms in 2/3 cup HOT water for 10 minutes.
*Toss carrots and chicken with avocado oil in slow cooker.
*Generously season chicken with salt and pepper.
*Strain mushrooms through coffee filter lined sieve, reserving the liquid for later.
*Finely chop mushrooms.
*Top chicken with chopped mushrooms, garlic.
*Strain tomatoes into the mushroom liquid.
*Hand crush tomatoes over top of the chicken.
*Whisk together the tomato mushroom liquid, tomato paste and red wine with the flour until smooth.
*Pour wine mixture over chicken pieces.
*Cover and cook on low 7 hours.
*Using 2 forks shred chicken.
*Let stand uncovered 15-20 minutes and sauce will thicken.
*Re-season as necessary.
*Serve over prepared pasta.

**NOTE: I don’t care for the flavor of olive oil, but it is a great substitute for the avocado oil.

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MEAT LOVER’S PIZZA MAC & CHEESE

I found A recipe for Pepperoni Pizza Mac & Cheese in the recent issue of Cuisine at Home. It was NOT what we had hoped it would be (though it was good)  so we made a few changes to help it be the GREAT recipe we thought it was going to be originally.

MEAT LOVER’S PIZZA MAC & CHEESE
2 cups dry penne pasta
3 oz. package pepperoni
2 mild Italian Sausages, skins removed
1 cup rotisserie chicken pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red pepper, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/3 cup Wondra flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk
3 cups grated Provolone cheese
2 cups grated EXTRA sharp white cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup of your favorite Marinara sauce

  • Preheat oven to 400˚.
  • Prepare pasta per package directions. Drain.
  • Set aside several pieces of pepperoni for the top. Mince the remaining pieces of pepperoni.
  • In a large deep oven proof skillet heat the oil over a medium high heat.
  • Brown the sausage and minced pepperoni. Remove meats to a paper towel lined plate to absorb the grease.
  • Reserve 1/4 cup of the drippings.
  • Sweat the bell pepper, garlic, onion, oregano and red pepper flakes in the drippings until softened.
  • Increase the heat and whisk in the flour until vegetables are well coated.
  • Whisk in milk, stirring until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to low and gradually add Provolone, Cheddar and Parmesan cheeses whisking until smooth.
  • Fold in Pepperoni, Sausage and Chicken pieces until well coated.
  • Fold in Pasta.
  • Top with reserved Pepperoni pieces and Mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake 20 minutes until bubbly.
  • Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

WHITE CHICKEN LASAGNA

WHITE CHICKEN LASAGNA
3 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
14 ounces artichoke hearts, drained VERY well and chopped
16 ounces shredded Mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 box grape tomatoes, sliced in thirds
12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup heavy cream
4 cloves garlic, minced fine
salt and pepper, to taste
1 box Barilla oven ready lasagna noodles

  • Pre-heat oven to 350°.
  • In a large bowl combine chicken pieces, artichoke hearts, Parmesan, 4 ounces of the Mozzarella cheese and half of the tomatoes.
  • In another bowl beat together the cream cheese, heavy cream, garlic, salt and pepper until well blended.
  • Divide cream cheese mixture in half and add one half to the chicken mixture.
  • Using a 9×13 baking dish spread some of the non-chicken cream cheese mixture into the bottom.
  • Top with an even layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Top with one third of the chicken mixture.
  • Top with one third of remaining tomato pieces.
  • Repeat these layers two more times.
  • Spread remaining cream cheese mixture on last layer of noodles.
  • Top with remaining non-chicken Mozzarella cheese.
  • Tent with foil.
  • Bake covered 20 minutes.
  • Remove foil.
  • Bake another 10 minutes until noodles are cooked through.

OPTIONAL: If you prefer a more traditional flavoring, add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste to the cream cheese mixture.

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RUSTIC CREAMY PARMESAN CHICKEN

I ALWAYS make a recipe as written the first time. You have to see what they were aiming for after all.  The next time through I make changes to appeal to my family’s taste as well as my ease and anything I feel will make the recipe MORE flavorful and/or MORE healthy.

I originally found this one on facebook and it was delicious, but hubby hated the bones so I now make it with boneless breasts. He also is NOT fond of wilted spinach so I cut back on the spinach and increased the parsley.  I also increased the garlic – A LOT!

RUSTIC CREAMY PARMESAN CHICKEN
4 chicken thighs, bone-in & skin-on  skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Wondra flour

2 teaspoons fresh ground Pink Himalayan sea salt 
1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper 
1 tablespoon oil
3 6 cloves garlic, chopped minced
1 LARGE shallot, diced
½ Vidalia onion, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 2 cups fresh spinach
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2/3 1/2 cup grated powdered Parmesan
1/2 cup 2 tablespoons FLAT LEAF parsley, chopped

  • Generously season chicken with the salt and pepper.
  • Dredge in Flour until VERY well coated.
  • Heat oil in a skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Sear chicken well on both sides. Move the chicken around from time to time to ensure it cooks evenly.
  • Remove chicken from the pan and keep warm.
  • Add garlic, shallot and onion, stirring until onions are translucent. 
  • Add the heavy cream, salt, and pepper, bringing to a boil.
  • Stir in the tomatoes and spinach until the spinach is wilted.
  • Add the Parmesan cheese and parsley, stirring until the sauce has thickened slightly.
  • Place the chicken back in the pan, spooning the sauce on top of the chicken.
  • Serve with pasta!

CHEESY ITALIAN CHICKEN PASTA

I love this recipe because it is quick, simple and only uses a single pan!

CHEESY ITALIAN CHICKEN PASTA
8 ounces baby spinach leaves, divided
1-8 ounce jar Classico Sun-dried tomato pesto
1 medium large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts or tenders, cut into bite size pieces
6 garlic cloves,minced
1 pound dry linguine**
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning*
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup Chardonnay wine
5 ounces fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded

  • In a 5 quart large saute/stock pan arrange half the spinach, tomato pesto, garlic, onion, chicken and linguine on the bottom of te pan.
  • Sprinkle with the Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper.
  • Pour chicken stock and wine over top. Cover and bring to a boil over a medium high heat.
  • Cook 7-9 minutes until pasta is al dente.  Toss pasta with tongs occasionally to keep the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pot. 
  • There will still be liquid in the pan when the pasta is done cooking and that’s perfect as it will be the base for the cheese sauce.
  • Turn off the heat and add the cheese to the pasta. 
  • Toss pasta with tongs until the cheese melts into the pasta. 
  • Toss in remaining spinach. 
  • Serve immediately and enjoy!

*If you don’t have any dried Italian Seasoning just make your own by combining 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon oregano and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

**My pot is just a bit smaller than the length of linguine so I halve mine before putting it into the pot.