Chicken Piccata

Pinky's Pantry | Chicken Piccata
Chicken Piccata is one of my very favorite things to order from an Italian restaurant. Piccata actually refers to a method of cooking where something is sauteed in a sauce of butter, lemon juice and capers. In Italy, veal and fish are most often cooked in the piccata style, but chicken seems to be the popular choice in the United States. Whatever you choose, this dish is delicious and the impressive way it looks on a plate belies how simple it actually is to make.

CHICKEN PICCATA

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • all purpose flour, for dredging
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine (I like Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 Tbsp. capers, drained (or rinsed well if using capers cured in salt)
  • 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley, optional
  1. Slice chicken breasts in half horizontally.
  2. Place chicken between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound to 1/4-inch thickness.
  3. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Dredge chicken in flour until well-coated, shaking off excess flour.
  5. In a large skillet, heat olive oil and butter together over medium-high heat.
  6. Add chicken breasts and cook until golden and cooked through, about 3 minutes per side.
  7. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate.
  8. In the same pan where you browned the chicken, add lemon juice, wine, and broth, and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits at the bottom of the pan.
  9. Stir in capers, then return the chicken to the pan, including any juices that might have leaked out onto the plate.
  10. Continue to cook for another 4 or 5 minutes till the sauce reduces and thickens a little bit.
  11. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with chopped parsley, if desired.

NOTE: Instead of half white wine and half chicken broth, you can make the sauce with just chicken broth or just wine. But don’t leave out the lemon juice. It’s a must!

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Eggplant Rollatini

Eggplant Rollatini | Pinky's Pantry
This vegetarian dish looks like you spent all day making it but is actually very easy. Not only is it delicious, but it’s healthy too. If you have a mandoline, use it. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it sure makes nice even eggplant slices. You can also make your own marinara sauce or just buy a jar, like I did. They have lots of healthy ones out there nowadays. This recipe makes a big 9×13-inch casserole. If you’re feeding less people, cut the recipe in half.

EGGPLANT ROLLATINI

  • 2 large eggplants
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 container (15 ozs.) ricotta cheese
  • 1 pkg. (10 ozs.) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 jar (24 ozs.) marinara sauce
  1. Line 2 large baking sheets with foil and generously grease each with olive oil.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. Trim off and discard stem ends and bottom ends of the eggplants.
  4. Slice off 2 opposite sides of each eggplant so you have a flat top and a flat bottom.
  5. Using a mandoline, slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/4-inch thick slices. You’ll have about 20 slices total.
  6. Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer on the baking sheets and lightly drizzle a little more olive oil over them.
  7. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
  8. Place in oven and bake about 12-15 minutes or until tender and pliable.
  9. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
  10. Pour half the jar of marinara sauce into a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  11. Tilt the dish left and right to spread the sauce evenly across the bottom. Set aside.
  12. Make the rollatini filling by beating the eggs in a medium bowl with ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. pepper.
  13. Add the ricotta, spinach, Italian seasoning, and 1 cup of the mozzarella.
  14. Stir well to combine.
  15. Divide the filling evenly between all the eggplant slices, placing a scoop of filling onto the wide end of each slice.
  16. Roll each slice up and place seam side down on sauce in baking dish.
  17. Pour the remaining marinara sauce over each eggplant roll.
  18. Sprinkle top with remaining mozzarella cheese, then parmesan cheese.
  19. Bake about 20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese is melted.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara | Pinky's Pantry
Spaghetti alla Carbonara is one of the most delicious pasta dishes the Italians make. With just four main ingredients, it’s a breeze to prepare. People worry about having raw eggs in the sauce, though I think the eggs cook with the heat from the spaghetti. I’ve never had a problem, but if you’re really concerned, you could use pasteurized eggs or omit the eggs altogether.

Traditionally, Spaghetti alla Carbonara is made with guanciale. Guanciale is an Italian bacon made from pork cheeks or jowls. It’s delicious, but unfortunately, I can’t get guanciale where I live. Thankfully, you can substitute bacon or pancetta. Half a pound of bacon is good for a pound of pasta, but my family likes lots of bacon so I use a whole pound. I never have leftovers when I make this dish.

SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA

  • 1 lb. spaghetti noodles (can also use fettucine or linguine)
  • 1 lb. bacon (or pancetta or guanciale), sliced into ½-inch strips
  • ½ small onion, diced
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1½ cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus extra for the boiling water
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, set another large pot over medium heat and fry the bacon until crispy; then remove bacon from pot with a slotted spoon and transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
  3. In the same pot, sauté the onions in the bacon grease until the onions become translucent; remove pot from heat and add the bacon back in with the onions.
  4. When the water in the first pot is boiling briskly, add the spaghetti and cook until al dente.
  5. While the spaghetti is boiling, prepare the sauce. It’s important to make the sauce while the pasta is cooking to ensure that the noodles will be hot when the sauce is done. The heat from the noodles is what cooks the raw eggs in the sauce.
  6. To make the sauce, beat the eggs in a bowl with a fork; then stir in the parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
  7. Drain the cooked pasta well, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
  8. Slowly drizzle the reserved hot pasta water into the egg mixture, mixing well. This tempers the eggs, so you don’t end up with scrambled eggs.
  9. Add the hot, drained spaghetti to the pot with the bacon and onions; then pour the egg mixture over the pasta and toss until the noodles are well-coated with the sauce.
  10. Taste the spaghetti and adjust the seasonings. Depending on the pork you used, you may need to add more salt.

Tiramisu

Tiramisu | Pinky's Pantry
Tiramisu is a very popular Italian dessert. It’s not a very old recipe. In fact, it’s said to have been created in the 1960s. These days, you can find it offered in practically every Italian restaurant all over the world. Tiramisu is typically made with mascarpone cheese, eggs, sugar, and ladyfingers that have been dipped in espresso. It’s rich and creamy and so delicious that you’ll be tempted to have a second and a third piece!

Mascarpone cheese is pretty easy to find nowadays, but if you can’t get it in your local grocery store, you can substitute 1 box (8 ozs.) of cream cheese, blended with ¼ cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons butter. (You would have to double that for this recipe.)
Tiramisu | Pinky's Pantry

TIRAMISU

  • 2 cups boiling-hot water
  • 3 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 3 Tbsp. coffee liqueur, like Tia Maria or Kahlua
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 16 ozs. mascarpone cheese
  • 1 cup chilled heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 24 to 46 ladyfingers or savoiardi cookies (depending on how big your cookies are)
  • unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting
  1. Stir together water, espresso powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, and coffee liqueur in a  shallow bowl or pie plate until sugar has dissolved, then set aside to cool.
  2. Using a wire whisk or hand mixer, beat egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a double boiler set over gently simmering water until tripled in volume, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat.
  4. Add the mascarpone and beat until well incorporated, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Cover and place in refrigerator while you prepare the vanilla cream.
  6. In another bowl, beat cream until stiff peaks form, then beat in vanilla.
  7. Gently fold one-third vanilla cream into mascarpone mixture to lighten it.
  8. Then gently fold in remaining cream until thoroughly combined, taking care not to deflate the cream. Mixture will look lumpy. I have no idea why it does that. Don’t worry about it. It’ll still taste good.
  9. Quickly dunk each ladyfinger in the cooled coffee until the coffee soaks about halfway through, leaving the center of the cookie dry (you can break one in half to check). Don’t get the ladyfingers completely saturated or you’ll end up with a layer of unrecognizable, soggy mush. Gently shake off excess coffee and lay soaked ladyfingers in 9×13 pyrex glass baking dish, lining them up to completely cover the bottom. If you need to, you can break some of the ladyfingers to create a snug fit.
  10. Spread half of mascarpone filling on top of the ladyfinger layer.
  11. Dip remaining ladyfingers one by one in coffee and arrange in second layer over mascarpone cream.
  12. Spread remaining mascarpone cream evenly on top of second layer of ladyfingers.
  13. Cover and chill in refrigerator until set, at least 4-6 hours.
  14. Before serving, dust top generously with cocoa powder using a fine-mesh sieve.

NOTE:

  • You can substitute 2 cups freshly brewed espresso or double-strength drip coffee for the water and instant espresso powder.
  • Tiramisu can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days before serving.
  • If you don’t have a double boiler, you can make one by setting a heatproof glass bowl on top of a pan of gently simmering water, as pictured below.
    Homemade Double Boiler | Pinky's Pantry

Italian Beef Sandwiches with Coleslaw

Italian Beef Sandwich | Pinky's Pantry
It’s Super Bowl Sunday again. I saw Valerie Bertinelli make Italian Beef sandwiches on TV last week and decided that that’s what I wanted to do for our Super Bowl Sunday lunch. She made her sandwiches with a giardiniera aioli but I don’t particularly care for giardiniera. At least not the ones I’ve tried so far. I do think these sandwiches would be great with a garlic aioli though.

One thing she did do was serve her sandwiches with coleslaw and that was definitely the way to go as far as I’m concerned. Delicious! The coleslaw added a sweet crunch to the tender, savory beef that made it the perfect well-rounded meal.

ITALIAN BEEF SANDWICHES WITH COLESLAW

Make Italian Beef the Night Before:

Italian Beef | Pinky's Pantry

  • 4 lbs. boneless beef chuck or rump roast, cut into large chunks
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 can (15 ozs.) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 packet Italian salad dressing mix
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients together in slow cooker.
  2. Cook on low setting for 10-14 hours.
  3. Skim some of the excess fat from the surface using a ladle or cooking spoon.
  4. Shred the beef coarsely with two forks.

Assemble Sandwiches:

  • 4 loaves (12-14 inches each) Italian or French bread
  • Italian Beef, warm or at room temperature
  • coleslaw, ready-made or make your own (recipe here)
  1. Cut each loaf of bread into 4 to 6-inch lengths depending on how big you want your sandwiches.
  2. Split each sandwich in half lengthwise and toast lightly.
  3. Fill sandwiches with the shredded beef.
  4. Top beef with coleslaw.

NOTE:  Serve sliced pepperoncinis on the side for those who might want them.
You can also top the beef with a slice of mozzarella or provolone cheese before piling on the coleslaw, if desired.

Low-Carb Zucchini Lasagna

Zucchini Lasagna | Pinky's Pantry
My daughter, Spunky, recently went in for some allergy testing at her doctor’s office. The good news is she doesn’t have Celiac Disease, however she does have gluten sensitivity and is allergic to shellfish, wheat, corn, soy, and their by-products, which makes it difficult to find things for her to eat. Seems like there’s wheat, corn, or soy in everything these days! Because of this, I’ve been on the lookout for healthy recipes to try and ingredient substitutions I can make for her.

This recipe is a delicious, healthy take on lasagna that’s lower in carbs and gluten-free because it has no pasta. The lasagna noodles are replaced by thinly sliced zucchini. The recipe seems like it has a lot of ingredients but once you get everything you need prepped, it comes together very easily. The fam loves it and they don’t miss the pasta noodles at all! Best of all, Spunky can eat it! Serve this with a salad and you’ve got one satisfying, healthy meal.

Oh, one other thing, you could prepare the “meat” sauce up to 5 days in advance and just keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to make your lasagna. Doing that speeds up the prep time which is a big help to a harried cook on a busy week night.

LOW-CARB ZUCCHINI LASAGNA

  • 5-6 medium zucchini (depending on how big they are)
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1½ lbs. lean ground turkey (can substitute extra lean ground beef)
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (approx. 24-oz.) jar spaghetti or marinara sauce (I like Prego Heart Smart)
  • 2 tbsp. dried Italian seasoning (can substitute dried oregano)
  • 1 (15-oz.) tub part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 (8-oz.) tub lowfat cottage cheese
  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. fresh basil, minced (can use dried)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Slice zucchini lengthwise into ⅛-inch thick slices. If you have a mandolin, use it! It makes it much easier to get nice, even slices.
  2. Place sliced zucchini in a colander, sprinkle with a little salt, tossing it together, then set aside over an empty bowl for at least 20 minutes or more. Zucchini contains a lot of water and salting it removes some of the water.
  3. While the zucchini is draining, heat olive oil in a medium saucepot.
  4. Sauté garlic and onions until onions begin to turn translucent.
  5. Add ground turkey and sauté until turkey is cooked through.
  6. Add diced tomatoes, Prego sauce, and Italian seasoning, stirring together well.
  7. Let sauce simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  8. While sauce is simmering, rinse zucchini quickly in cold water to remove the salt, then gently squeeze dry between 3 or 4 layers of paper towels.
  9. Spread zucchini on extra paper towels to blot out any excess moisture.
  10. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  11. In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, basil and egg.
  12. On the bottom of a 9×13 pyrex baking dish, spread one-third of the meat sauce.
  13. Arrange zucchini slices on top of sauce and top with one-half of ricotta mixture.
  14. Do a second layer of one-third meat sauce, zucchini slices, and remaining half of ricotta mixture.
  15. Do a third layer with remaining meat sauce, then zucchini slices, but instead of ricotta mixture, top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
  16. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until mixture starts to bubble around the edges and cheese melts and begins to brown in spots.
  17. Remove from oven and let stand 10-20 minutes before cutting.

Zuppa Toscana

Zuppa Toscana | Pinky's PantryI love the all-you-can-eat Soup & Salad combo at Olive Garden Restaurant. The salad is always fresh and their soups are to die for. My absolute favorite is Zuppa Toscana, or as my family calls it, “the white soup.” It’s rich and hearty with chunks of italian sausage and potatoes, interspersed with bits of healthy kale. But the best part of all is how surprisingly easy it is to make. Give it a try and you’ll see what I mean.

ZUPPA TOSCANA

  • ½ lb. spicy Italian sausage
  • 2¾ cups chicken stock or broth
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 1 medium russet potato
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  1. Sauté the sausage in a soup pot and drain off excess oil.
  2. Add the stock and cream to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
  3. Slice the unpeeled potato into ¼-inch thick slices, then quarter the slices and add them to the soup.
  4. Bring back up to a simmer, then add the kale.
  5. Stir in the salt and red pepper flakes, and let the soup continue to simmer on medium, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.

Insalata di Caprese (Caprese Salad)

Insalata Caprese | Pinky's PantryInsalata di Caprese (or Capri-style salad) is a simple and refreshing salad made with just three basic ingredients – tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil. It epitomizes the healthy, fresh flavors of Mediterranean cuisine. It’s great served as a starter course or as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.

I don’t have any measurements for the ingredients to this salad. You don’t really need them. Just slice however many tomatoes you want to serve, then make sure you have an equal number of slices of mozzarella cheese and basil leaves so you can layer or stack them. Easy, quick and delicious, especially when you use fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes.

I love making this salad with a balsamic reduction which I make myself. If you don’t want to make the balsamic reduction, you could just use a nice balsamic vinegar. But try the reduction, if you can. Believe me, it’ll elevate your salad to new heights!

INSALATA DI CAPRESE

  • fresh homegrown or vine-ripened tomatoes
  • fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese
  • large, whole fresh basil leaves
  • good olive oil
  • balsamic reduction or balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Slice the tomatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
  2. Slice the buffalo mozzarella cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices.
  3. Lay the tomato slices on a big platter. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  4. Alternate each tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. You could also make stacks of tomato, mozzarella and basil, if you prefer.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over everything, then drizzle with balsamic reduction.
  6. Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving to give the flavors time to meld.

NOTE:  You could also make a Mini Caprese Salad using grape or cherry tomatoes and little bocconcini mozzarella as pictured below. Just cut the tomatoes and the bocconcini in half, julienne the fresh basil leaves, and toss everything together with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Don’t forget to season with a little salt and pepper.
Caprese Salad | Pinky's Pantry

Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)

Panzanella | Pinky's Pantry
Panzanella is a Tuscan salad made of chunks of stale bread and the wonderful juicy tomatoes and fresh vegetables that the Mediterranean is known for. The bread soaks up the dressing and the juices from the tomatoes to become a delicious, refreshing salad. What once originated as a poor man’s way to use up left-over bread has now become so trendy that it can be found on even the swankiest of restaurant menus.

Though it really is a great way to use up stale, left-over bread, it’s so good that I’ve been known to make it with a fresh loaf when I just can’t wait for the bread to go stale. If you want, you could toast the fresh bread cubes in the oven to dry it out a little and you’ll be all set. You’ll want to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil for this recipe and make it fairly early on to give the flavors a chance to meld by the time you’re ready to sit down and eat. The salad only gets better the longer it sits. It makes a great accompaniment to serve with meat or fish, but can also be served for a nice lunch on it’s own with a good bottle of Chianti. Mangiamo!

Panzanella (Tuscan Bread Salad)

(Serves 4 to 6) 

  • 1/2 loaf sturdy Italian or French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
  • 1 red bell pepper, raw or roasted, cut into short, 1/4-inch strips
  • 1 green or yellow bell pepper, raw or roasted, cut into short, 1/4-inch strips
  • 3/4 lb. cherry tomatoes or grape tomatoes, left whole or cut in half
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed, Spanish-style green olives, whole or cut in half
  • 1 medium scallion, sliced thin, including white part
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, minced
  • 1/2 small red onion, quartered and sliced thin
  1. In a large salad bowl, mix olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, oregano and red onion. Set aside.
  2. Prepare bread cubes and veggies as directed in ingredients list. If desired, you could toast the bread cubes in a 400° oven until golden and let cool completely.
  3. Add prepared veggies to dressing in bowl and toss together well.
  4. Let stand about 10 minutes for flavors to develop.
  5. Add bread cubes and toss to combine. If bread seems too dry, sprinkle in 1 or 2 tablespoons water to moisten a bit.

NOTE:  You need a sturdy peasant bread for this salad. Light, airy bread will become soggy pretty quick and turn to mush.

Coffee Panna Cotta

Coffee Panna Cotta | Pinky's Pantry
We’re having some old friends over for dinner tomorrow. We haven’t seen them in a while so I’m really looking forward to it. For the dinner, I thought I would keep it simple so I’m making a slow-roasted beef brisket with mushroom gravy, roasted potatoes, and steamed broccoli. But for dessert, I wanted to serve something that would be easy to prepare and yet be fancy enough to make a statement. I decided to make Panna Cotta but didn’t feel like doing the traditional vanilla flavor. Then I thought, ‘how about coffee flavored?’ It would jazz up the custard quite nicely and make it sophisticated enough to appeal to the grown-up palate. If I could come up with some kind of sauce to serve it with, that would be the icing on the cake!….. or the icing on the cotta….. LOL! I must say, I think it turned out pretty well! I hope my friends, Maureen and Bullet, like it too.
Coffee Panna Cotta with Coffee Cream Sauce | Pinky's Pantry

COFFEE PANNA COTTA

  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 3 cups whipping cream
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1½ tsp. instant espresso or coffee granules
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  1. In a small bowl, soften gelatin in cold water; set aside.
  2. Place whipping cream, sugar, instant coffee and vanilla extract in a saucepan.
  3. Stir over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
  4. Simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and add gelatin to hot cream mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves.
  6. Pour into 6 lightly oiled 1/2 cup ramekins or other small containers and refrigerate overnight or at least 8 hours.
  7. Once panna cottas are firm, turn out onto dessert plates.
  8. Decorate with chocolate covered espresso beans and mint leaves.
  9. If desired, serve with Coffee Cream Sauce.