Category Archives: Italian

Quick Shrimp Alfredo Bake

Here’s a bit of a change of pace. I actually remembered to take pictures this time!20160930_1515411


I usually get into a sort of creative trance when I cook.


It’d be pretentious to call myself an artist, but the trance is similar to that of a musician really getting into a song, or a writer really when the story is flowing.

sautée turns into braise
Add cream

I just don’t really see the world outside of my saucepan. Grabbing a camera, even if it occurred to me (I’m not a visual person), would be an unwelcome intrusion.

add pasta
Stir in pasta

This is my apology to you for the paucity of photographs in my normal blog entries.

add cheese
Ready for the oven

This time around, I was visiting my parents. They have attractively matched cookware and a better-lighted kitchen than I do; so I took a handful of pictures.

Ready to serve
Ready to serve

Please pardon the quality– this was a mobile phone.

Alfredo is a lot simpler than most people think. This version is not terribly genuine (roux and mozzarella) but it is quick and simple. If I were cooking for date night I’d’ve gone for the full traditional recipe, but this was a quick dinner with my parents and a chance to try out a new recipe.

The recipe comes from Delish, a site that Mattfood dreams of being when it grows up. It’s called Garlicky Shrimp Alfredo Bake. I used the recipe as inspiration, changing a few things because I like garlic (and I forgot to buy tomatoes).

  • 1 lb penne
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. medium  shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
  • 3 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 1/4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella plus 1/2 cup saved aside
  • 1/4 c. shredded Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons saved
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1.    Cook pasta to al dente, which is just a bit firmer than most folks prefer to eat it. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2.    Melt one tablespoon of butter in an oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter stops foaming, add the shrimp, garlic and two tablespoons of parsley. Sautée until shrimp is pink, about two minutes per side, then remove the shrimp with a slotted spoon and save them. Leave the rest in the pan.
  3.    Add the rest of the butter. When it has melted and stopped foaming, whisk in the flour. Keep stirring until the mixture has darkened a bit (about like coffee with a lot of cream), then add the milk and chicken broth. Mix well and bring to a simmer.
  4.    Add cheeses (saving out the extra 1/2 cup of mozzarella) and stir. Once the cheeses are well melted and combined, return the shrimp to the mix and add the cooked pasta. Stir well (but gently) and spread the mixture evenly around the pan.
  5.    Sprinkle the reserved cheeses on top of the pasta mix and bake for 5-7 minutes.
  6.    Set oven to broil, and broil the mix for 2-3 minutes. Check often, because there is a fairly short period of time between ‘nicely browned’ and ‘looks like a lava rock.’

Serve with something green and bold- broccoli is a traditional alfredo favorite but a salad with spinach or mustard greens would work too.

The tragic aftermath
The tragic aftermath

Low Carb Antipasto

I’m an Italian-American. I’m also a diabetic. Pasta calls me sweetly, but tries to kill me. It’s a dilemma.

Some foods are just not in my healthy future. Fettuccine Alfredo, my luscious tasty friend, is right out. I’ve looked at alternatives but a poor substitute is worse than no fettuccine at all, so I just wish. But there are other families of food that I can modify.

Antipasto is a perfect summer food. In western Texas where I live, the temperatures amble up into the low hundreds in June- that’s above 38 degrees Celsius, for the civilized folks out there. The idea of roasting a chicken for dinner has all the appeal of getting dental work performed by one’s bitter ex-wife.

My family has several favorite recipes for antipasto (all from my mother, who is a wonderful cook). Alas, they all pretty much start with a pound of pasta. So I was looking for a pasta-free antipasto. What could fill the role of the pasta: a good, mild, filling base for the rest of the salad?

I’ve heard of various miracle noodles- shiritake, for instance- but could not find any in my local stores. I could use rice, but getting away from carbs is the idea. I have made antipastos and simply left out the noodles but they were dense, gloopy, and unbalanced.

I used to have a ‘recipe’ for pasta salad which was more of an algorithm- take one from this group, two from that group, etc. I’ll see if I can unearth it if there’s any interest- it was good because no matter what was on sale that week, a decent pasta salad could be made without worry.

A local supermarket had a good sale on cucumbers, which seemed like a good match to the job. They certainly won’t distract from the leading flavors, am I right? They lack the chew of pasta, but they have next to no carbs, so I grabbed four.

Peppers were cheap too, so I grabbed three healthy orange ones. Bell peppers tend to be sweeter as they get brighter- green peppers have little sweetness unless you caramelize them, and purple ones, while pretty, are a chore to eat.

I’ve recently been experimenting with different recipes of ranch dressing, so I have plenty of it in the fridge. I used two cups in this recipe. European antipastos frequently are moistened with oil and vinegar, but I was working from the memory of a recipe with a yogurt/mayo moistening, so ranch wins for today.

Cucumbers are not pasta. They made that obvious in my first attempt, which was more like a chunky summer soup than a salad- I had only drained the briefly, and they released a dismaying amount of water. The second batch worked my better, with more draining, but still left a fair puddle in the bottom of the bowl. I’ll try salting and pressing them next time.

  • 4 cucumbers
  • 3 bell peppers, colorful (orange, red or yellow)
  • 1.5 lbs flank steak, thin sliced
  • 2 cups ranch dressing
  • 4 oz capers
  • 1 onion, minced
  1.    Peel the cucumbers and halve them lengthwise. Use a spoon to remove the seeds, then slice each half in half again, and cut the spears into about 1/2″ sections.
  2.    Put the cut cucumbers into a gallon Ziploc bag. Cut one corner off (smaller than the pieces so that only water can get out) and suspend it over your sink. Let them drain for an hour or so. If you own a salad spinner, you might well use it instead.
  3.    Grill the steak over a hot fire until rare or medium but well-marked. let cool, then slice across the grain.
  4.    Core, seed and cut the peppers in 1/2″ or slightly larger cubes.
  5.    Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix.

Some possible add-ins would be crisp crumbled bacon, banana peppers, black olives, or cherry tomatoes.

UPDATE   Drop the steak, add in 1.5 lbs of chicken breast (cooked and rough chopped) and crumble a pound of bacon in. Chicken Bacon Ranch Antipasto.


Some days, I know just what I want for dinner. My wife (who is, regrettably, not Italian) thinks that is a weird Italian thing. But whatever the reason, some days, I just know.

Most days, though, it’s a bit of an interactive process to figure out what to make for dinner. I have a picky teenager, a spice–averse wife, and a limited budget; these are the challenges.

The weather is an influencing factor too. Cold rainy days call for chili or soup; hot summer days call for barbecue, or pasta salad, or heck–with–it we’re eating ice cream today. Today’s weather is mild, not really pushing for any particular cuisine.

I generally start out my planning process by looking at ingredients. Unless I have a serious yen for one dish, or I’m going shopping anyway, I prefer to make dinner out of what I have in the house.
The fridge has smoked sausage, hamburger, and frozen drumsticks. None of them looks too exciting on its own. But it has been a while since I’ve made either meatballs or meatloaf.

Meatballs and meatloaf are quite similar. Hamburg, plus some stuff to make it not quite so dense. Today, since the weather is warm, I would rather not run the oven for long, so meatballs win out.

My meatball recipe, like many of my recipes, traces its roots through my mother, my grandmother, and back to the island of Sicily. This recipe is quick, simple, and American. Like all of my recipes it should be modified to suit your taste.

Let’s meet the ingredients:
  • Ground beef. Ideally, about 85% ground chuck. Ground chuck has a beefier flavor than generic ground beef, and 85% is just about right to be moist, but not greasy.
    • Meatloaf mix is a mixture of ground beef, ground pork and ground veal. It turns out paler, softer meatballs than ground chuck. Tasty, but significantly more expensive for not much advantage.
  • Sandwich bread, with the crust removed. If your favorite bread has nuts and twigs, you may find disconcerting gritty bits in your meatballs. This may be the one time I recommend plain cheap white bread.
  • Garlic! I like the convenience of minced garlic from a bottle, but garlic powder will do. If all you have are cloves of garlic, you should mince them quite finely.
  • Parmesan cheese. The shaker-bottle stuff is fine. You can use nine dollar a pound artisanal cheese, but it won’t taste any better than the prepackaged stuff. If you want me to build a recipe for really fancy meatballs, tell me in a comment!
  • Spices. With the reasonably slow cooking and moist environment of a meatball, dried spices do just fine. If your parsley is brownish or dusty, toss it and buy new; it usually has about a six month shelf life.
In a large mixing bowl, drop three slices of bread (with crusts removed and discarded) and half cup of milk. Once the bread soaks up the milk, shred it. Add the egg, Parmesan, garlic and spices. Mix it into a gloopy mess. Add the ground chuck, remove your rings, and use your hands to mix and smoosh the beef and gloop together until they’re fully mixed. Try not to over mix, as this leads to tougher meatballs.

Next, you need to make an important decision. Meatballs in Italy tend to be much smaller than American meatballs (in fact most things in Italy tend to be much smaller than their American counterpart!). Depending on your audience, family tradition, and mouth size, you may prefer meatballs ranging from a tablespoon of meat mixture up to about three quarters of a cup. Whatever size you choose, make sure all of the meatballs are pretty close to the same size.

One trick to make meatballs quickly, used in most restaurants, is to grab an ice cream scoop, or a melon baller or if small meatballs are your preference.

Wash your hands and leave them wet. The meat mixture won’t stick to wet hands as much as it will to dry ones.

In any case, scoop up a measured portion of the meat mixture and drop it into your hand. Roll the proto-meatball between your hands until it is round, then set it on a plate, not quite touching any of the other meatballs. If the meatballs stick to your hands, make sure your hands are quite wet.

Lather, rinse, repeat until you are out of meat mix. The temptation to grow to bigger meatballs as you get tired of rolling them is strong; don’t give in.

Now, you have choices. You can fry, grill, broil, or bake the meatballs. Or you can use a Nuwave oven, if you have one- it is the easiest method here and turns out quite decent meatballs.

All the time shown below assume 2 ounce meatballs, such as you would get from a common ice cream scoop. If your meatballs are much smaller, adjust the time down accordingly. If you like tremendous meatballs, adjust the time up significantly.

Frying: set up a frying pan (preferably cast-iron 9 inch) with oil over medium heat. When the oil reaches 350° gently insert 4 to 6 meatballs and keep them moving. When the meatballs have a decent crust all around, remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towels, and start frying the next batch.

Grilling: much like frying, only with a lot less oil. Get a nonstick frying pan, heat it for a minute over medium heat, and add about a dozen meatballs (if they’re small; large meatballs will have smaller batches). Leave them in the pan for about three minutes, then stir them to start cooking another surface. Once you have three or four surfaces of each meatball crispy, set those meatballs aside and start on the next batch.

Broiling: best for large meatballs, because small ones will go from raw to scorched in no time. Put all the meatballs on a broiler safe tray with a grease drain. If you don’t have a broiler tray with a grease drain, a broiler tray with a cooling rack can substitute. Broil under 500° for about four minutes (assuming large meatballs: small meatballs will cook more quickly). Turn the meatballs, broil for the same amount of time.

Baking: my least favorite method. Baked meatballs don’t get as much of the interesting crust and flavor that the other methods give you, but this method does work; and for big batches, it is one of the most efficient methods. Put the meatballs on a cookie sheet not quite touching, and bake at 425° for 10 minutes. Turn the meatballs, bake for another 6.

Nuwave Oven: the easiest of the methods I’ve shown here. Lay out the meatballs on the 4 inch rack, not quite touching. Bake for 5 minutes, then flip, then bake for 5 more.

Now, if you’re planning to serve these on spaghetti with sauce, your meatballs will benefit from an hour simmering in the sauce. If you’re planning to serve them without a simmer, it’s time for the meat thermometer. The USDA says cook to an internal temp of 160°F for ground meats. If you’re simmering the meatballs for an hour, they’ll certainly reach that internal temperature. If you’re not simmering them, jab a few of the larger and/or paler meatballs with your meat thermometer and cook them until they’re safely at 160°F (71°C).

I’ll come back with a few recipes for sauces in a few days.

Basic Italian Meatballs:
3 slices white bread, crusts removed and discarded
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tsp dried parsley
1 large egg, beaten
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 lb 85% ground chuck
  1. In a large mixing bowl, soak the bread in the milk, then shred the sopping bread.
  2. Add the egg, cheese, spices, salt and pepper, and mix well.
  3. Add the ground chuck and mix with your hands. Mix just until it is well blended; overmixing leads to tough meatballs.
  4. Scoop out a measured portion (an ice cream scoop works well for large meatballs; a melon baller works well for smaller ones). Use your hands to form the meatball, roll it briefly to round, and set aside on a cookie tray or plate.
  5. When you’ve formed all the meatballs, choose your cooking method:
    •     Nuwave oven: The easiest.
      •      Lay out the meatballs on the 4″ rack
      •      Cook for five minutes, flip the meatballs, cook for five more.
    •      Frying.
      •     In a cast-iron frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it is shimmering hot (around 350°).
      •      Working in small batches, fry the meatballs for about five minutes on a side, then stir, and fry for five more.
      •      When the meatballs have three or four crispy sides, remove them with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
    •      Broiling.
      •      Broiling is best for larger meatballs. If your meatballs are less than 2 ounces each, broiling is likely to result in overcooked, tough meatballs.
      •      Lay out the meatballs on a broiler pan with a grease drain.
      •      Broil at 500° for four minutes, flip the meatballs, cook for four more minutes.
    •      Baking.
      • Get a cookie sheet with walls and place a cooling rack in it.
      • Lay the meatballs so that they don’t quite touch
      •      Bake at 425° for 10 minutes, flip the meatballs, cook for 5 more minutes.
      • Be careful- the grease from the meatballs will be quite hot, so when you move the cookie tray, don’t burn yourself!
    • The long slow simmer.
      •      Best for smaller meatballs.
      •      Using a slow cooker will most likely not give you meatballs, but a bolognese sauce with meat evenly distributed. Tasty, but we’re making meatballs today.
      •      If you’re making a Ragu sauce or a soup which will simmer for more than an hour, you can simply add the raw meatballs to the sauce and let them cook in it. You won’t get the tasty crust, though, so this is not my favorite method.
      •      Add the meatballs to the already–simmering pot. Continue to simmer for one hour, then check a meatball for doneness.
  6. At the end of any of these cooking methods, check one of the larger or paler meatballs for doneness. Your meat thermometer should show 160°F/71°C. If the internal temperature is not up to code, cook the whole batch until it is.