Fire Roasted Caprese Chicken Spaghetti

Fire Roasted Caprese Chicken Spaghetti

This pasta is a healthy, fresh family pleaser.  It’s got whole grain pasta, a fresh tomato basil sauce, juicy grilled chicken breast, and tiny pearls of fresh mozzarella.  It’s an adult meal that kids will love, too!  This recipe uses my standard Grilled Chicken Breast Recipe, but if you’re making this in the winter (or it’s raining, etc), you can also make this with Basic Baked Chicken.  Or!  If you want to go lighter, leave the chicken out, and go vegetarian for the night!  Either way, it’s a dinner everyone will be on board with.

Using fire roasted canned tomatoes give the sauce a little smokiness, and the basil keeps it nice and fresh.  Except for the chicken (which you can either make in advance or while you’re making the pasta –just remember to marinate it for 12 hours), you can have the whole thing done in 30 minutes. 


Total Time:  30 Minutes (not including the chicken)

Yield:  6-8 servings

Difficulty Level:  Easy5



1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

8 cloves fresh garlic, sliced thinly

2- 14.5 ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper

1 cup freshly torn basil

6-8 ounces fresh mozzarella pearls

4 Grilled chicken breasts, sliced



  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat ¼ of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is heated (you’ll be able to smell it), add the sliced garlic, and cook for 3-4 minutes until lightly brown –watch carefully so you don’t burn it.
  3. Add the fired roasted tomatoes to the garlic. Bring up to a gentle boil for one minute.  Bring down to medium-low heat, and continue to cook for 10 minutes (while the pasta cooks and drains).
  4. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Off the heat, add the freshly torn basil.
  5. Toss the sauce with the spaghetti.
  6. Top the spaghetti with the sliced grilled chicken.
  7. Top with mozzarella pearls, and serve hot.


Penne alla Vodka

Penne alla Vodka

I remember seeing Ina make this years ago and being intrigued.  Vodka doesn’t seem at all Italian, and it seems like a weird thing to cook with.  Once the alcohol cooks off, you can actually taste a vodka flavor, but it gives it a deep spiciness.  That plus the Calabrian chili paste give this sauce a ton of flavor.  If you don’t want to get Calabrian chili paste, just use red pepper flakes.

I am not a fan of Alfredo sauce, only because it’s so heavy.  This is definitely not a “light” sauce, but I like the combination of tomato and cream together.  I used whole wheat penne because I’ve been in the habit of using whole wheat pasta for so long now, it’s all I ever get (except for bucatini). 

When you’re cooking off the vodka, the fumes will knock you down if you’re not careful. The alcohol vaporizes so the sauce isn’t going to get anyone drunk, but it super strong as it burns off.  Of course, always be careful when you’re cooking with liquor especially in you have a gas range or open flame.  

Because this dish is pretty simple and has only a few ingredients, it’s important not to skimp on anything or take shortcuts.  Cooking the sauce in the oven for 90 minutes really intensifies the tomato flavor. 


Total Time:  2 ½ hours (Hands-On Time:  1 hour)

Serves:  8-10

Difficulty Level:  Intermediate



Olive oil

1 yellow onion, small diced

3 cloves garlic, very roughly chopped4

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 tablespoons Calabrian chili paste (or crushed red pepper flakes)

1 cup vodka

28-30 ounces canned diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound whole wheat penne

1 cup heavy cream

5 ounces freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

8-10 fresh basil leaves, torn



  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. To an oven safe pan with a fitted lid, add several tablespoons of olive oil, and heat over medium heat on the stove.
  3. Once the oil is hot, add the onion, and sauté for 4-5 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, oregano, and chili paste (or red pepper flakes), and sauté for another 4-5 minutes. Watch carefully to not burn the garlic, and add more olive oil as needed.
  5. Add the vodka, and bring to a boil. Cook uncovered over medium for another 4-5 minutes until most of the fumes from the vodka have evaporated.
  6. Add the canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil briefly before bringing down to a simmer, and cook for another 6-8 minutes.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Cover the pot, and put it in the oven for 90 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package instructions, and set aside.
  9. Remove the tomato sauce from the oven. Ladle the sauce into a blender, and puree until smooth.
  10. Add the sauce back to a saucepan over low heat. Add the heavy cream and half of the parmesan cheese.  Stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is heated through.  Stir in the torn basil.
  11. Mix pasta and sauce together. Serve hot topped with more parmesan cheese.


[adapted from Nick and Toni’s restaurant via Ina Garten]

Spring Vegetable Pasta with Ham + Creamy White Bean Sauce

Spring Vegetable Pasta with Ham + Creamy White Bean Sauce

There are so many other ways to make pasta than traditional spaghetti and meat sauce (although I love that, too!).  This pasta is a great way to use any leftover ham you may have from the holidays.  If you’re doing this in winter, you can change up the vegetables any way you want, but I like that the peas and greens cook right in the pot in only a minute or 2. 

Making this creamy sauce from white beans is something I saw in one of my frozen dinners (very sophisticated inspiration, I know).  But I thought that was a pretty cool idea.  I decided to use cannellini beans because this dinner is semi-Italian.  But if you don’t want to make the sauce from scratch, you can always use store-bought hummus!  Even easier.  And since this sauce recipe makes a little more than what you need (about 2 cups, and you’ll only need 1 ½), you can eat this just like hummus.  It’s really good! 


Total Time:  45 minutes

Serves:  8

Difficulty Level:  Easy


For the White Bean Sauce

2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons garlic powder

½ cup freshly grated asiago cheese

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oila

Salt and pepper

For the Pasta

1 pound whole wheat rotini

1 pound pre-sliced smoked ham

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup arugula or other baby lettuce

2 cups white bean sauce

1 ½ – 2 cups reserved pasta water

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of ½ lemon

Salt and pepper


  1. Make the creamy white bean sauce by adding the drained cannellini beans, Dijon mustard, garlic powder, and asiago cheese to a food processor. Pulse until it has begun to turn into a paste.  Then with the processor running, stream in the olive oil until the sauce is the consistency of hummus.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper.  Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, trim the skin and fat off the ham, and slice into strips about the same size as the pasta.
  4. When the pasta is done, but before you drain it, use a liquid measuring cup to pull out about 2 cups of pasta water. Set aside.
  5. Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  6. To the same hot pot, add the ham, and heat through. Add the peas, arugula, white bean sauce, and cooked pasta.  Stir slowly to wilt the greens and heat the peas and sauce.
  7. Add pasta water as need to thin out the sauce until it has the right consistency. (I used exactly 1 ½ cups).
  8. Add the lemon zest and juice. Mix, and taste.  Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve hot.

Cheesy Baked Penne Bolognese

Cheese Baked Penne Bolognese

These are my favorite kinds of family dinners:  cheesy, baked, and made ahead.  Comfort food.  But!  It’s technically a lightened up version because it uses reduced fat cheese, whole wheat pasta, and ground turkey instead of beef.  If you aren’t in the habit of buying these lightened up items, it really does get easy once you’re used to it.  Almost anything you make with beef can be made with turkey or chicken:  lasagna, meatloaf, chili, stuffed peppers, tacos!  Jon and the kids don’t even notice anymore, and I think we all prefer it that way.  I still like beef from time to time, and sometimes you just need a nice steak or beef burger.  But since poultry is healthier and cheaper, why not use it as a substitute when you can? 

You can exchange the cream cheese or mascarpone for ricotta if you want, all in equal proportions—just use 12 ounces all together of whichever kind you like.  I had leftover mascarpone from making Jon’s birthday cake, and I didn’t want it to go to waste.  You can also leave out the turkey altogether and make this a vegetarian meal, or you could substitute the turkey with cooked lentils. 

This baked pasta, like pretty much all my casseroles, makes a LOT!  I can fill one 9×13 Pyrex dish plus a what I call a half-size casserole dish (side dish-sized).  You could fit all this in one large, but it will be packed in pretty tight, and I think it looks and tastes better if it’s packed more loosely.  


Total Time:  2 hours

Serves:  8 large portions

Difficulty Level:  Easy



Extra virgin olive oil

1 onion, small diced

1 ½ pounds lean ground turkey

1 pound whole wheat penne

2 tbsp dried oregano

1 ½ tbsp granulated garlic

1 tbsp dried fennel seeds

30-36 ounces of your favorite marinara sauce

8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese

4 ounces mascarpone cheese

16 ounces freshly grated low moisture, part skim mozzarella, divided in half

Salt and pepper

4 ounces freshly grated parmesan

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

Dried parsley



  1. Add olive oil to a large sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onion, and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the turkey, and brown thoroughly.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne, and cook until done, about 10 minutes.  Drain the pasta, and set aside.
  4. Add the oregano, garlic, fennel seed, and marinara sauce to the turkey mixture.
  5. Let the sauce come to a boil. Reduce heat to a low simmer, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the cooked pasta, turkey sauce mixture, cream cheese, mascarpone, and 8 ounces of the grated mozzarella to a large mixing bowl. Fold everything together, letting the hot pasta and sauce melt the cheese.
  7. When everything is incorporated, taste, and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Add pasta to a large casserole dish, and spread it out evenly. (see cook’s note)**
  9. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle the parmesan over the pasta.  Sprinkle the panko breadcrumbs and the parsley on top.
  11. Cover the pasta with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes.  Turn the oven up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, remove the foil, and finish cooking for an additional 10-20 minutes, or until the top is brown and crunchy, and the cheese is bubbling. (see cook’s note)***
  12. Allow the pasta to rest for 20 minutes before serving.

**Cook’s Note:  If you are making this in advance to bake later, stop after this step.  Add the cheese and breadcrumbs right before baking so the topping doesn’t get soggy.

***Cook’s Note:  If you are making this in advance and putting the pasta straight from the refrigerator to the oven, you will need to adjust the cooking time.  I’d add about 15 minutes to the covered cooking time, and about 5 minutes to the uncovered cooking time.

Pasta Amatriciana

Pasta Amatriciana

When I worked at Carrabba’s in my early 20s, we served a dish called cavatappi all’amatriciana.  The customers loved it.  It looks like a basic tomato sauce, but it’s made with bacon and white wine.  It’s a nice change from traditional marinara.

This recipe includes deglazing the pan.  I’m keeping a glossary of cooking terms here.  All that means is that you use an acid (usually citrus juice, alcohol, or broth) to scrape the bits off the bottom of the pan.  Deglazing adds flavor to the dish, and all the alcohol cooks out of the wine.  Just make sure you leave the pan uncovered.

The whole thing takes about 30 minutes to cook, and it’s a budget-friendly meal.  It’s also a good way for kids to step outside their comfort zone a little, but still familiar enough for them to try.  If you are making it for kids, I’d recommend using half  the amount of Calabria chili paste.  And if you don’t have Calabria chili paste, you can get it here or just use red pepper flakes.

Total Time:  30 minutes

Serves: 6

Difficulty Level:  Easy


1 pound of thick cut bacongood-a

1 pound of your favorite pasta shape (I used whole wheat penne)

1 medium sized onion

4 garlic cloves

1 ½ cup dry white wine

One 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes

3-4 tablespoons of Calabria chili paste


  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Leaving the bacon stuck together, slice it into about 1/3 inch slices.  Chop the onion, and chop the garlic cloves.
  2. In a large stock pot, cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s done, about 12-15 minutes. Once the water is boiling, add the pasta, and cook according to the package instructions.
  3. When the bacon is done, remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to soak up the grease. You want to reserve about half of the bacon fat in the pan.  The rest you can discard.
  4. Cook the onion in the bacon fat over medium for about 6-8 minutes or until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, and be sure to scrape off the bits from the bottom of the pan.
  6. Add the tomatoes and Calabria chili paste (or red pepper flakes). Add the bacon back to the pan.  Continue to cook for about 10 minutes until the sauce has thickened back up.
  7. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.
  8. Serve with black pepper, freshly grated cheese, and some fresh basil.

[originally posted 10/22/2016]

[updated recipe and pictures 4/6/2017]

Whole Wheat Turkey Lasagna

Whole Wheat Turkey Lasagna

There was a time in my life, not long ago, when I actually said I would never make lasagna when you can just buy perfectly good Stouffer’s.  It was something that seemed very daunting.  But really, it’s one of those recipes that you can use once and remember by heart.  It’s not hard, but it just takes some time, and it dirties a lot of dishes.  It’s the perfect Sunday dinner, just like y Classic Chicken Parmesan (another easy dish that just takes time). 

For this, I basically found a standard dish and used the proportions and cooking time.  Then I changed up the ingredients to my liking.  I love using ground turkey because it’s leaner, and I am so used to using whole wheat pasta now that it’s not even a question of “if.”

Some recipes call for “no-boil” noodles, and some say you should boil before using.  I don’t use no-boil, and I don’t boil them either.  I put them in hard, and I add water to the dish before baking.  It works just fine and saves a step.

This is also a good make-ahead dish.  You can prep the entire thing, and keep in the fridge until you’re ready to cook it– even 3 or 4 days if you need to!

This whole dish takes a while from start to finish, but I bet after you make it once, you will never need to look at the recipe again.


Total Time:  2 ½ hours1aa

Serves:  6-8

Difficulty Level:  Easy


20-24 ounce package of lean ground turkey

1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce

1 tablespoon of fennel seed

24 ounce ricotta cheese

1 egg

1 pound of freshly grated mozzarella, divided in half

4 ounces of freshly grated parmesan, divided in half

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 ½ teaspoon dried basil

1 ½ teaspoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon garlic powder

12 whole wheat lasagna noodles, uncooked.

About 1 cup of water (but as needed)

  1. In a medium pan, brown the turkey.  Add the marinara sauce and fennel, and let simmer on low for 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, mix the ricotta, egg, half the mozzarella, half the parmesan, onion powder, basil, parsley, oregano, and garlic powder in a bowl until combined. Set aside.
  3. Let the meat sauce cool for 20 minutes.
  4. In a casserole dish, start your first layer. Spread the meat sauce.  Then add 4 lasagna noodles on top.  For the third layer, spread a good amount of the ricotta mixture.  Keep layering the ingredients in that order until your casserole dish is full.  The last layer should be a layer of meat sauce.
  5. Now top the lasagna with the rest of the mozzarella, parmesan, and some more dried parsley.
  6. Add the water. Use a measuring cup and carefully pour it in on the side so you don’t mess up the top.  You should use about one cup, but keep pouring slowly until water has seeped into the crevices.
  7. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Uncover and cook for another 20 minutes.  Let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

Chicken Salsa Spaghetti


Chicken Salsa Spaghetti

If you are bored of taco nights and spaghetti nights, but you always keep the stuff on hand (like me), try this pasta.  The chicken cooks in the slow cooker all day, and from there, it’s less than 45 minutes until dinner time.  This was literally a “hmm, I bet this would taste good together” recipe.  And it does!  It’s all the typical flavors kids are used to, but switched up for a little bit of interest.  Of course if you don’t have salsa verde, you can always use red salsa.  


Total Time: 6 hours (hands on time, 30 minutes)a.jpg

Serves:  8

Difficulty Level:  Easy



2 onions

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

36 ounces salsa verde

24 ounces water

2 tablespoons chicken powder

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

2 teaspoons coriander

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti

1 can whole kernel corn

1 red bell pepper or 3-4 roma tomatoes

fresh cilantro

your favorite cheese (optional)



  1.  Slice the onions very thinly, and add them to the bottom of a 6 quart slow cooker.
  2. Add the chicken breasts on top of the onions.
  3. Cover the chicken with the salsa verde, water, chicken powder, cumin, garlic, and coriander.
  4. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6 to 8 hours.
  5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  6. Meanwhile, remove the chicken from liquid.  Use a fork and tongs to shred the chicken, and add it back to the liquid.
  7. Boil the spaghetti according to package instructions (about 8-10 minutes).
  8. Drain the pasta.
  9. Add the chicken and the liquid from the slow cooker to the empty pasta pot.  Add the corn (plus the liquid), and bring it to a boil.
  10. Let it reduce until thickened to a saucy consistency, about 10 minutes.
  11. Meanwhile, finely dice the bell peppers (or seed and dice the roma tomatoes).  Chop the cilantro.
  12. Turn the heat off, and add the pasta back to the pot with the chicken. Toss together with tongs.
  13. Serve the pasta hot, and top with bell peppers or tomatoes and freshly chopped cilantro.  (Some people will ask for cheese…like everyone in my house.)