Pesto Pasta & Chicken in a Snap

4 chicken breasts 
1 lb pasta, any shape you like
1 7 oz package of Buitoni pesto

This dish could not be easier and it's good warm or cold. I made it about an hour before my guests arrived and just covered it and put it in my warming drawer on medium.  

Bake chicken breasts with a dash of Italian dressing on top.  30 minutes on 350 should do it.  Chop or shred the chicken onto bite size pieces and put aside to mix with the hot pasta and pesto.  Cook the pasta according to the package directions.  After straining and rinsing the pasta, put it back in the hot pot you used to boil it.  Add the whole container of pesto and chicken and stir to coat.

I like to add sun dried tomatoes to this dish, but put them on the side because my 
daughter doesn't like them.  And, obviously, you can leave out the chicken for a vegetarian version.  In the summer when herbs are cheaper and more 
abundant from the garden (or my vacationing neighbors garden) I like to make my 
own pesto...come summer I'll give you my recipe!  XO Martha
My version is not nearly as glamorous as Stephanie's, but it's fast, easy and something everyone at my house will eat.  It's also one of my go to last minute I can pull it together out of the freezer type meals!  XO  Martha
1 bag frozen Cavatelli pasta
1 bag frozen broccoli florets (or fresh chopped into bite size pieces)
3 t olive oil or butter (we prefer butter)
1 cup parmesan cheese

Boil a big pot of water and add the pasta.  Once it returns to a boil (about 3 minutes) add frozen broccoli.  Continue boiling for 5 minutes or until pasta has risen tot he top of the pot and the broccoli is al dente.  Drain in colander and return to big pot.  Add butter or oil and the parmesan cheese.  I let the kids doctor the dish themselves.  Some like more cheese, or lots of pepper or garlic salt...make it your own.
As many of you know, I nanny 2 small kids (boys, ages 2 & 6). Sometimes getting them to try new things can be like pulling teeth. Lasagna roll ups are kid friendly, easy to make, and oh so tasty! Here are two versions I've tried that are kid approved.

All you need are lasagna sheets, shredded mozzarella, and filling of choice. This time I used bolognese. Sometimes I use the spinach dip, with plain tomato sauce on top.
Lay out the cooked noodles, and top with filling and cheese. Roll up and place in dish, seem side down. Top with sauce and cheese. Bake in preheated 375 degree oven, for 15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

As I mentioned, these roll ups are also delicious with spinach dip. Leave a bit of room at the end of the lasagna sheet, so that when you roll it up, you can seal it shut.
     Baked ziti is not hard to do and I always make 2 or 3 times the recipe so I have some extra frozen zitis in my freezer. Try my recipe and think about making an extra pan for a friend or neighbor who could use a little love from your their angel.

XOXO Martha

To make one large pan you'll need:
1 pound of ziti noodles
3-4 Cups of shredded cheese(mozzarella or I like to use a mixed bag with 4 cheeses including cheddar)
AND  For the sauce:
1 onion diced
1 pepper diced
1 zucchini cut up
A little olive oil
1 pound of ground beef or turkey
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
Either 1 jar of store bought sauce or 2-3 cups of homemade sauce

Cook the ziti until aldente.  At the same time...
Brown the ground beef in a pan, drain fat, set aside.
In the bottom of a big pot sauté the veggies until they soften (5 minutes) add the beef, and tomato sauces and heat on a low flame.  When the pasta is done and the sauce is bubbly prepare the pan.  Spread half the ziti in the bottom of the pan and cover with half the sauce and top with half the cheese.  Repeat.  If you're baking right away cook 375 for 20-30 minutes.  If not, wrap and store in fridge until ready to bake, then bake 1 hour at 375.  If you freeze the ziti be sure to thaw completely before you bake.

A good friend of ours gave us this bottle of wine about two weeks ago. We ended up not drinking it for the occasion we were given it for, but tonight seemed like a perfect time. Now, onto dinner. I just want a simple, but most importantly DELICIOUS pasta with some veggies. And wine. I'm dancing around the kitchen to the Motown radio station, happy as a clam, making a delicious meal for my hubs who is on his way home.

Serves 4.

1 tablespoon butter
4 oz. green onions, white/light green parts cut into thin slices
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
salt and pepper
1/4 cup white wine 
1/4 cup vegetable broth (chicken would be fine)
3/4 lb. asparagus, cut into bite sized pieces
1 cup peas
8 oz. campanelle, or other medium pasta
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese - however you like it (I like shaved or shredded)

      Bring a large pot AND a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the large pot and cook as directed on original packaging. Cook the asparagus in the smaller pot until tender, 2-4 minutes. Remove the asparagus and transfer to and ice bath to stop the cooking process. 
While those are boiling, melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and shallot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté until tender, but do not brown, about 5 minutes. Add wine, and simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Add broth and bring to a simmer. 
      After removing the asparagus from the boiling water, add the peas and cook about 2 minutes or until just tender. Transfer to bowl with asparagus. Drain vegetables. Add veggies to broth/wine mixture and stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. 
      Add pasta and parmesan cheese to the veggie mixture. Stir to mix, adding pasta water in small increments if it seems dry. (I added the full cup to mine.) Taste, and re-season with salt and pepper to taste if you need to.      Divide among 4 bowls. It won't hurt if you add extra parmesan! Pour a glass of wine and get ready to tuck into a fabulous meal.
We eat and head back to the kitchen. Motown is still playing, and hubby asks me for a dance. 

Louis, Etta, Marvin, Stevie, Smokey, & Gladys keep us dancing and enjoying each other's company. Finally Sugar cuts in. Why should the humans be the only ones having fun? 
Too easy…
Mamma Giovanna’s Lasagna
1 Pack of fresh lasagne pasta, or if you can make your own then fantastico!
1 ball Mozzarella
1 tub of Ricotta Cheese
[Never too much] Parmesan Cheese grated (to taste)

Ingredients for Pasta Sauce:
500 or 750g Pork /Veal mince (or beef)
2 bottles of tomato puree ( I steal mine from Uncle Vittorio)
4 cans of peeled tomatoes (or 2 big cans)
1 onion
Garlic, salt and pepper
Pinch of Italian herbs
White wine (it must be a good dry white)

Mamma Giovanna says “no matter if you make lots of sauce cause you can keep some for doppo”
Prepare sauce by heating oil and onion. Then add 500g or 750g minced meat (beef, pork or pork and veal), season with salt and pepper, a little white wine, until meat is cooked through.

Add the tomatoes, tomato puree and simmer until you think it is cooked and tastes okay. Don’t reduce it too much as it will still cook more in the oven.

Cook pasta.  Spread a little sauce in the base of tray.  Place a layer of lasagne sheets, spread sauce and mince (catch more of sauce) place a layer of mozzarella cheese, sprinkle parmesan and ricotta (if using ricotta, mix it with a little sauce before spreading). Place another layer of lasagne pasta and repeat once or twice more (depending on the depth of your dish).

Finish with a layer of pasta.
Spread a little sauce on top to cover top layer and sprinkle with parmesan.
Cover with aluminium foil and place in a moderate oven (180 degrees centigrade) for 1-1½  hours and then just before serving remove foil to crisp top layer.

Flatbread- Alsatian, Provencal, etc from the kitchen of Little Red

Any of these can be served as a quick fireside snack or alongside a salad or soup for lunch or light dinner; also, I sometimes throw them in a butter crust in a tart pan for something “fancier”

Alsatian: Stir 4 oz of brie (rind and all) into béchamel, sprinkle generously with nutmeg,  and distribute 8 oz of fried bacon (seasoned with fresh grd pepper whilst frying)

Provencal: Top onions with sliced tomatoes & cover with Gruyere

Spring: Distribute parboiled asparagus, top with shaved high-quality parmesan & lemon zest

Winter: Deglaze onions with Marsala, top onions with mixed mushrooms seasoned with a T of fresh thyme, sprinkle Parm or pecarino on top

Broccoli: Deglaze onions with 1/2 bottle of beer (I use Guiness), add 1 T dijon mustard to Bechamel, top with parboiled broccoli florets & top with sharp cheddar cheese

Buy one of those Pillsbury Pizza doughs!! 

Preheat to 425

Cut up 2 vidalias or 3 yellow onions & cry your heart out!  Put sweat them with 2-3 T olive oil or butter in a heavy covered pan over a low heat.  Expect this stage to take upwards on 20 minutes.  Remember to stir every so often. 

Whilst onions are cooking, make a simple béchamel.  I generally use a 1 to 1 ratio—Don’t know if a real chef would agree, but—4T butter melted & whisk in 4 T flour.  Heat 1.5 c milk (I use whole) in the microwave until hot but not scalding.  In a slow stream whisk in milk until it comes together.  I rarely use all the milk as I want the consistency to be thick & spreadable; thicker than gravy & thinner than peanut butter.  Keep warm.
Check your onions!! When they begin to caramelize, remove lid & allow excess team & liquid to burn off.  Deglaze if the variety of flatbread you chose from above calls for it.

Flip over a cookie sheet & grease.  Unroll crust & split down the center, creating 2 long rectangles; Pinch the edges up around both crusts (failure to split into 2 will make for a soggy flatbread)

Spread béchamel on top of dough, top with onions, & top with additional toppings and cheese.  Bake according to directions—425 for 11-13 minutes & presto!

BTW it is very easy to make enough onions & béchamel to make a few different flatbreads at once which is what we love to do.

If you've got time to boil some pasta - you've got time to make this dish! It's a quick and easy (not to mention healthy and delicious) week night meal that can be put together in a flash. This recipe serves 2 - feel free to double or triple to your needs.


4 oz. penne pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
5 ounces baby spinach
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz. sliced mushrooms (any variety you prefer will work)
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons shredded parmesan
1/4 cup fresh mozzarella ( I used pearls, but any will do )

Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the pasta, and cook as directed on the package. While the pasta cooks, add the olive oil to a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and a heavy sprinkle of salt and pepper. The salt will help to bring the moisture out of the mushrooms and help you to create a "sauce." Once the mushrooms have softened slightly, add the garlic, and cook about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the spinach, and cover the skillet with a lid. After 1-2 minutes, remove the lid and stir the now-wilted spinach. Add the tomatoes to warm them through and re-season with salt and pepper to taste. If at any time you think your dish looks dry - feel free to add a little of the pasta water. You don't want it to be floating, but you want everything wet. (In the 3 times I've made this dish, I've never added more than a few tablespoons of the pasta water.)

By now the pasta is a perfect al dente! Drain the pasta, and toss it into the skillet with the vegetable mixture. Mix thoroughly, allowing the pasta to soak up the flavors in the skillet. Right before plating, add the fresh mozzarella to "knock the chill off," as I like to say. Plate the pasta between 2 bowls and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese. Dig in!
Lately I've spent many Saturday mornings at the farmer's market. When I spot a beautiful piece of fruit or a vegetable, I have to have it, even without a recipe in mind. "I'll figure that part out later," I always think to myself. Last weekend, I bought a gorgeous butternut squash. It's cold out and winter squashes are the perfect base for wonderful, hearty, comforting meals.

If you aren't familiar with making risotto, don't be afraid. I thought the task seemed daunting the first time I made it, but it's not nearly as complicated as people make it out to be! You just need a bit of time (about 45 minutes) and the results will be well worth the wait. 

This serves 4-6. 


2 cups butternut squash, diced (1 butternut squash will do)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
1-1/2 cups arborio rice
1/8 cup Calvados (regular brandy or white wine is fine if you prefer - don't run out and buy an expensive bottle of brandy!)**
6 cups vegetable broth (use chicken if you prefer)
salt and pepper
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

**I generally make risotto with white wine. I made this dish on the fly and realized half way in that I didn't have any. I don't use much, and as I was looking around my pantry, I saw the Calvados and thought the apple flavor might subtly give this dish a punch.**

Prepare your squash, garlic, and shallots. Meanwhile, in a large saucier, skillet, or Dutch oven if you have one, melt the butter over medium-high heat. In another pot, heat up the chicken stock to a simmer. You MUST have hot broth. 
Once the butter is melted, add the squash to the pot. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the squash is beginning to soften, approximately 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and shallots and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. 
Add the arborio rice to the softened squash and stir to coat with the butter and squash mixture, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the Calvados. Be careful - it will bubble up and sizzle - but that's exactly what you want. As you add it, be sure to scrape the bottom of your pot with a wooden spoon, deglazing the pan. All of the little "brown bits" you are scraping up are little bits of flavor that you want in your dish. When the liquid is gone, add 1 to 1-1/2 cups of broth and gently stir. Season again with salt and pepper. 

It is KEY to season along the way. This is one of the best pieces of advice to come from French cooking. If you only season upfront, it will get bland as you add more ingredients. If you only season at the end, it will be too much and not taste right. 

Gently stir the mixture and as the liquid is almost gone, add more broth. Continue adding broth, seasoning, and stirring until the rice is done, just past al dente. You should taste it along the way to make sure your seasonings are right and so that you know when the rice is done. You will notice that the squash gets even more and more broken down as you go, which helps to color the risotto and create texture. 

When the risotto is finished, you will see that it's thick, creamy, and a beautiful curry color. Plate the risotto and top with 2 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese. ENJOY! 

Basic Risotto Recipe
1 cup risotto rice (whichever type you prefer eg arborio, carnaroli, vialone nano)
2 Tblpns olive oil
1 Tblspn butter
1 onion finely chopped1/2 glass white wine
4 - 6 cups stock (vegetable, chicken)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus extra butter to finish
Salt and Pepper

Get your stock very gently boiling on the stove over a low heat with a ladle ready.
In a large heavy bottomed saucepan [or deep frypan] heat oil and butter and fry onion for about 5 minutes stirring often over a medium heat. 
As the rice starts to go golden and release starch [a very important part in this process} add the wine.  Cook until liquid is absorbed and then slowly add the stock 1 -2 ladles at a time.  Stir well after each addition of stock and continue for approximately  15 minutes.  You want the finished product to be firmish yet creamy.

Finally add in your chosen veges, meat etc (in this case steamed beans and 4 slices ham, chopped) and cook for a further 3-5 minutes.  You may need to add a bit more stock or boiling water if it is too dry.  Stir in grated parmesan and  butter and season.  Let sit with a lid on for 1 -2 minutes to absorb and serve immediately.
Sprinkle over fresh herbs eg Italian parley, thyme etc.