Fusilli with Basil, Mint, and Mozzarella

It was the offer of fresh herbs from my mother that inspired this recipe — big bunches of mint and basil that I was determined to make good use of right away. I thought of using them together over pasta, and I took inspiration from a New York Times recipe for the addition of fresh mozzarella and fusilli pasta. While at the store to buy the pasta, I saw grape tomatoes I wanted to use. That’s how I came up with this recipe, an easy one that is great for warm weather, when we don’t want heavy sauces and don’t want to spend a long time in the kitchen.

I can’t give exact amounts of the herbs, but I recommend using a whole lot. I had about six sprigs of garden-grown mint that, when chopped, yielded a large pile on the cutting board (if I could have scooped it up, it would have been a giant handful). Same with the basil. I had maybe three stems of organic basil that were huge and gave me about the same amount as the mint. But go with what you have, or whatever amount you prefer.

16 oz. fusilli pasta
1 punnet (about 1 pint) grape tomatoes
16 oz. mozzarella pearls (I used these from BelGioioso) or balls of mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
A lot of mint, chopped
A lot of basil, chopped
Garlic powder (about 1/2 tsp.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop the tomatoes in half width-wise (if they are especially long grape tomatoes, cut them in thirds). Place them in a large bowl with the rest of the ingredients, mix and let sit at room temperature while you cook the pasta.

Cook the fusilli until al dente, then drain and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Mix well and serve.


This is a copycat recipe for the chow mein at Panda Express. I think it comes very close, and is just as delicious, but after making it myself I’ll just call it yakisoba. We gobbled this up at dinner and it made great leftovers for lunch the next day. I served this with teriyaki chicken skewers.

Here it is, tweaked from the original based on the amounts that worked best for me.

1/4 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger
1/4 tsp. white pepper
2 4-oz. packages dried yakisoba noodles, seasoning packets discarded (this is the kind I used)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
2 small stalks celery, sliced diagonally
1/8 head of cabbage, shredded

In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, garlic, brown sugar, ginger and white pepper; set aside.

Cook yakisoba noodles according to package directions. Drain well. Measure out 11 oz. of cooked noodles and save the rest for another meal.

In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Add onion and celery and cook until tender, about 3-4 minutes, stirring often. Stir in cabbage until heated through, about 1 minute.

Stir in noodles and soy sauce mixture until well combined, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

Baked Rigatoni in Creamy Tomato Sauce

Rigatoni1The layers of homemade tomato-meat sauce, cheese, and easy, creamy bechamel come together to make a delicious baked pasta dish that could also be a good alternative to lasagna, if you’re looking for something different. The white bechamel has a bit of nutmeg and blends so nicely with the tomato sauce. And I always like when I can cook a creamy dish without any cream — it keeps things just a bit healthier.

You’ll have a few pots on the stove for this recipe, but if you prepare all of the ingredients before you start, you’ll find it comes together quickly.

The recipe comes from Valerie’s Kitchen and I’ve made just a few tweaks, mostly by increasing the amount of meat. The original recipe calls for beef, but I always cook with ground turkey, so I’ve included instructions for both. Serve this with a green vegetable on the side to round out your dinner — I served ours with delicious buttered spinach.

16 oz. rigatoni, cooked until barely al dente

For the sauce:
Olive oil
1/2 cup onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. ground turkey (or beef)
1 28-oz. can crushed Italian style tomatoes
1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
1 tsp. salt, or more to taste
Fresh ground pepper to taste
1/3 cup red wine
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped

For the bechamel:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup lowfat milk
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg

For layering:
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved

Preheat oven to 350F/175C degrees. If you forgot to cook the rigatoni, do that now.

In a very large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic until fragrant. Add turkey and cook until browned. (If using beef, also drain off the grease.) Add remaining sauce ingredients and simmer while preparing the bechamel.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Sprinkle in flour and whisk until smooth. Gradually whisk in milk and nutmeg. Turn heat to medium and whisk and cook until smooth, thick and creamy. Remove from heat.

Add the pasta to the tomato-meat sauce and mix thoroughly.

In a 9×13-inch baking pan, layer half the pasta mixture, drizzle with half the bechamel, and top with half the cheeses. Repeat the layers. Bake 35 minutes, or until cheese is just starting to brown.


Fettuccine Alfredo

Simple, tasty, elegant, filling, and very much not healthy — but sometimes that’s a worthwhile tradeoff for an easy pasta dinner.

I had a recipe for this in my cookbook for years, but for some reason it stopped working for me. There was no creaminess and it didn’t mix well. This one I found recently on the Food Network site and it was perfect. My only addition is the garnish of fresh parsley.

I served this with small meatballs on the side.

Serves 6

1 lb. fettuccine noodles
1/2 cup (1 stick/110g) butter
1 cup heavy (double) cream
2 cups finely grated Parmesan
Handful fresh parsley, chopped

Start cooking pasta. In a small saucepan, warm butter and cream with a good amount of salt and pepper.

Put half of the cheese in a large bowl.

When pasta is about to finish, add the butter/cream mixture to the cheese in the bowl and mix well. Drain pasta and immediately pour into bowl. Toss well, then add the rest of the Parmesan. Toss to combine.

Garnish individual servings with parsley.

Moroccan Rice


Here is a delicious side dish that’s full of flavor and very easy to make. I served it alongside a simple baked salmon drizzled with lemon — it was so good that the meal is now going to be a staple on our menu!

1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup bell pepper, any color, chopped
1/2 small onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (regular paprika is OK)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pinch of cinnamon
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbsp. golden raisins (sultanas)
Fresh cilantro and parsley
Fresh lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.

In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, bring the oil up to medium-high heat.

Rinse the rice to remove excess starch and then add to the hot oil. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently until golden.

Meanwhile, in a blender, place the tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and spices and puree. Add the mixture to the rice and cook for 4 minutes or until the color of the tomato deepens.

Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil.

Cover and bake for 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed. Add the raisins and herbs, and serve with lemon wedges.

Sausage Mushroom Alfredo Pasta

20140302_192956[1]This is an easy dish that you can prepare in as much time as it takes to cook the pasta. It calls for a jar of store-bought alfredo sauce, something I’m embarrassed to say that I used — but wow, does it make things simple. That means it’s a great dish to make on a weeknight. You could also use a homemade alfredo sauce on a night when you have more time. One tip: Chop the vegetables and grate the cheese as you wait for the pasta water to boil.

Serves 6

1 large leek, white and pale green part only, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 links mild Italian pork sausage (8 oz.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
8 oz. rigatoni pasta
8 oz. sliced baby Portobello mushrooms (use white if they aren’t available)
1/2 cup white wine or chicken broth
1 15-oz. jar roasted garlic alfredo sauce
2 oz. parmesan cheese, grated

Start boiling the water for the pasta and cook as directed on the box. Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and grate the cheese, then set aside. Remove the sausage casings by cutting the links in half lengthwise (butterfly them), then turning the sausage over and peeling the casings away.

In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and cook 3-4 minutes, stirring to crumble the meat, until browned and no longer pink. Remove to a bowl and add remaining tablespoon of oil to the same pan, then add mushrooms and leeks. Cook and stir 3-4 minutes or until tender.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the wine or broth; simmer 2-3 minutes or until reduced by half.

Stir in alfredo sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Stir in pasta and sausage and stir 1 minute. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

The recipe is adapted from one I found at Publix.

Egg Fried Rice

This recipe requires day-old cooked rice, preferably steamed, so it’s a great way to use any rice left over from Chinese take-out. That’s what I used the other day, along with some long-grain rice I happened to have in the fridge. I chopped a couple of carrots and threw them in, along with a handful of frozen peas and some canned water chestnuts. You can add whatever vegetables you like, whether chopped or sliced. Scale the recipe according to how much rice you have.

1 Tbsp. peanut oil (substitute canola/rapeseed oil if you need to)
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups cold steamed white rice
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions
1-2 tsp. sesame oil
Vegetables as above

Heat a wok or large pan over high heat until a drop of water vaporizes instantly upon contact. Add peanut oil, swirling to coat wok evenly, and heat until hot and just smoking. Add eggs, tilting wok and swirling eggs to form a thin, even layer on cooking surface, and cook 30 seconds, then add rice and salt and stir-fry, breaking up eggs and letting rice rest several seconds between stirs, until rice is hot, 2-3 minutes. Add scallions, sesame oil, and vegetables and stir-fry until combined well and heated through.

Couscous with Spinach, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts

Here is another wonderfully easy and delicious dish, with bursts of sweet, crunchy, and savory. It would taste wonderful alongside seasoned sausages, chicken with a creamy sauce, or crispy baked fish — which is how we had it tonight, together with broccoli.

IMAG2259Serves 4

200g (7 oz.) fresh spinach
2 Tbsp. golden raisins (sultanas)
1/2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. pine nuts (pine kernels)
1/2 chicken stock cube
200g (7 oz.) couscous
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Wash the spinach and place it immediately in a large pot over high heat. Remove from heat when the spinach is just wilted. (The water from washing it is all you need to wilt the leaves.)

Separately, heat 1 1/2 cups water and stir in the golden raisins. Stir and leave for a few minutes.

Heat the canola oil in a pan and stir-fry the pine nuts for 30 seconds to 1 minute, or until golden. Remove the pine nuts with a slotted spoon, then set aside.

Boil 1 cup of water and drop the bouillon cube in to dissolve. Place the couscous, raisins, and pine nuts in a bowl, stir in the stock, and add the olive oil and lemon juice. Stir well and cover, then leave for 10 to 15 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.

While you are waiting, finely chop the wilted spinach. When the couscous is done, mix in the spinach and add salt and pepper, if you feel it needs it. Serve right away.


One of my favorite food memories of Italy are arancini, fried rice balls made with risotto and filled with a tomato-meat mixture. They’re from the south of Italy, and the first time I had one was in the Sicilian city of Siracusa, hot from a street stall. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — what’s not to love?


These are typically deep-fried. I don’t do deep frying, but I tried that method once and it was delicious. This time, to cut down on fat and have the arancini all ready at once, I decided to bake them. They turned out great, and just as delicious as the fried version, in my opinion, even if it’s not the authentic way to do it. I lay out both methods below.

Arancini have their name because they look like oranges (“arancini” means “little oranges” in Italian). In Siracusa, these rice balls were shaped like cones, served in paper so they were easy to eat by hand. I was told that’s because they were an ancient votive offering at the Greek temples, and the cone shape, with its flat bottom, made them easy to leave on the steps.

The recipe requires a lot of cooking ahead of time, so make sure to plan for that. But it’s easy to put together at the end. I served these as an entree alongside vegetables and a salad, with leftover filling on the side. Serve them with a tomato sauce if you find that too plain. Enjoy!

Makes about 15

5 cups water
2 tsp. salt
2 cups risotto
6 eggs — 3 whole, 3 beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 lb. (110g) butter (one stick)
Pinch of white pepper and salt
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 lb. (110g) ground/minced beef or turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 lb. (110g) white or button mushrooms, chopped fine
1/2 cup crushed tomatoes
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 Tbsp. white wine
1/2 cup canned peas, well drained
2 cups breadcrumbs
48 oz. (1.4 liters) vegetable oil (use only if frying the arancini)

A few hours ahead of cooking, make the risotto. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, then add the salt and the risotto. Stir well, cover, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes or until al dente.

When rice is done cooking, drain very, very well. Return to the pot and add the 3 whole eggs, cheese, butter, a pinch of salt and white pepper. Mix well and set aside to cool. Rice should stand firm; if it is too moist, it will be difficult to handle.

When you’re ready to cook, make the filling. (If baking the arancini, set the oven now to 425F/220C degrees.) Place a large skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and allow to warm. Add garlic and onion and cook until translucent. Add meat, salt, and pepper; break up meat and let brown. Add chopped mushrooms and mix well.

Add tomatoes, allspice, and wine. Lower heat and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the mixture glops together and shows no real trace of liquid. Add peas and mix.


Now make an assembly line. Next to the rice, have the meat mixture, then the bowl with the beaten eggs, then the bowl with breadcrumbs. If baking, have two ungreased baking sheets ready. If frying, lay out some plates.

Place about 3 Tbsp. rice in the palm of your hand. Press with your thumb to make a dent, being careful not to press all the way through. Fill the dent with about a teaspoon of meat mixture.


Cover the filling with additional rice to make a ball, then press firmly so no filling shows. (Tip: Add the additional rice in a ring around the filling, then cover the top. This helps prevent the meat mixture from spilling out.)

Dip the balls in beaten eggs, then roll in breadcrumbs. Lay the balls on either the cookie sheets, slightly spaced apart, or plates.


If baking, put the arancini in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until just browned.

If frying, place a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium heat, then add enough oil to cover the arancini. Heat the oil and drop the arancini in the hot oil. Do not allow them to touch. Fry until golden brown, then remove and allow to drain on a paper towel. Serve hot.

Spicy Southern Rice with Beans and Sausage

IMAG1949This is easy and delicious comfort food that you can make as mild or spicy as you like. I got this recipe years ago from a food company brochure — the kind where they call for their own brand ingredients even though you can use any brand.

I didn’t know what to call this recipe. The brochure called it “Spicy Cuban Stir-Fry,” but I don’t know enough about Cuban food to know whether it qualifies, and I didn’t want to offend anyone. Rice with beans is pretty Southern anyway, so there you go.

This would be a good way to use up leftover rice. And it’s ready in only 30 minutes.

2 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 lb. sausage meat (I used mild Italian sausage, but use a spicier kind if you want more heat. I also used packaged ground sausage meat. If you can only find regular sausages, remove the casings and crumble the meat with your fingers.)
1 1.25 oz. packet taco seasoning mix*
The juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus more for sauteeing
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (omit if you want a milder dish)
1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-oz. can corn kernels, drained
2 cups firmly packed fresh spinach, torn in rough pieces

In a medium saucepan, combine water and salt. Bring to a boil, then stir in rice and cover. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 15 minutes or until rice is cooked. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix the sausage meat, taco seasoning mix, lime juice, 1 Tbsp. oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes.

In a large wok or 12-inch skillet, add a tablespoon or two of oil and heat over medium-high heat until hot. Add sausage mixture and cook about 5 minutes or until sausage is cooked through.

Stir in cooked rice, beans, and corn and cook for about 5 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Add spinach and cook until it just begins to wilt.

*For those overseas who may not find taco seasoning packets in the store, here’s a recipe I found so you can make your own.