Dinner

Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

I am a human being, and therefore, I LOVE PIZZA! I love it all; round pizza and oblong pizza, thick crust and thin crust, plain cheese and the works, and so and so on.

eat pray love pizza

However, I have a particular pro-potency for rustic, artisanal pizzas; pizzas whose dough has been rustically rolled and topped with quality toppings in unique and artistically flavorful ways. I have a few artisan style pizzas that I make at home when I haven’t had pizza in a minute and will die if I do not get some in my system, and this Butternut, Brussles, and Bacon Pizza is quite possibly the best of them!

Butternut Brussels Bacon Pizza 2

BAM! Look at that!

Roasted butternut squash and Brussels sprouts, crispy bacon, caramelized onions, balsamic reduction, and mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses all come together to create a fully-loaded and totally delectable pizza. Sweet balsamic reduction, caramelized onions, and tender butternut squash are contrasted by smoky, salty, and earthy bacon bits and Brussels sprouts which are married by mild gooey mozzarella and of course the ever distinctive Parmesan. It’s crispy, crunchy, and hearty all at once. Honestly, this is a pizza that could be served at a high-end restaurant off the “fancy” (boogie) pizza menu for a pretty penny, but you can make this in your home for under $15 for 4 people.

Ever since making this pizza this past winter, it has become an instant go-to for pizza night because it so deeply enjoyable! Serve with a nice salad and a glass of wine, and you are in for the perfect pizza experience!

Butternut, Brussels, and Bacon Pizza

  • Servings: 3-4 people
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound your favorite pizza dough (I use Trader Joe’s Whole Wheat Dough)
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups Brussels Sprouts, quartered
  • 1 ½ cups butternut squash cut into small cubes
  • 4-5 strips bacon
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced thin
  • 1 ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic glaze (I use Trader Joe’s)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Prep work on the toppings for the pizza –

Preheat the oven to 425̊F. Place the Brussels sprouts and butternut squash on a baking sheet, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Toss together, roast for 25-30 minutes until the squash is tender and the Brussels sprouts are crispy.

Cook the bacon your favorite way until crisp. Cool and break into ½ inch bits. (I cook my bacon on a baking rack in the oven, so much easier!)

In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions. Sprinkle with a pinch of both salt and pepper. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are caramelized. (Tip: Add a tablespoon of water if the pan starts to get too sticky)

Assembling the pizza –

Turn up the heat to 450̊F. Roll out the dough into a 12-14 inch long rectangle or oblong shape, making the thickness about ¼ inch thick (that’s quite thin).Place on a baking sheet that has been sprayed or rubbed with a bit of oil and sprinkled with a couple tablespoons of cornmeal.

Drizzle the remaining 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the surface of the crust followed by the balsamic glaze. Using the back of a spoon, spread the oil and glaze all over the crust evenly.

Sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella and ½ of the parmesan. Spread the caramelized onions over the cheese. Spread the butternut squash and Brussels sprouts over the onions. Sprinkle the bacon bits over the vegetables. Top with the remaining cheeses.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly and the outer rim of the crust is golden brown.

Remove to a cutting board, slice into rustic squares, and serve!

 

Meatloaf Calabrese

The word “Meatloaf” often harkens traumatic images of your mom’s signature recipe for the nights where she literally didn’t give a _________ and threw some protein, carbs, and other questionable fixings into a bowl, baked it, and called it dinner.

ewwww

She’s making meatloaf again???

And so, sadly, meatloaf often gets a bad rap. I, however, can assure that not all meatloafs are created equal. I grew up on my mom’s meatloaf and always jumped for joy when I found out that she was cooking it. But of course, my mother is Italian so the meatloaf was undeniable phenomenal. Well, now you can have phenomenal meatloaf too because I am gifting the recipe to you!

Meatloaf 9

Italians do everything better.

Yummm

This is Meatloaf Calabrese. My Italian family is from Calabria in Italy (things from Calabria are called Calabrese) and this recipe comes from there. Actually, the base of this recipe is for our Stuffed Bell Peppers which are a tad more elegant. Of course, when they came to America, they created a meatloaf incarnation of the dish that was more convenient for busy American weeknights. You will notice that this recipe calls for raisins in addition to beef, red pepper flakes, and other such ingredients; so you are probably thinking, “What in the damn hell?”

raisins and beef

Raisins and beef!?

Trust me, it is delicious. Savory beef and herbs, spicy red pepper and onion, and sweet raisins and tomato all work to complement, contrast, and balance each other PERFECTLY. This meatloaf could honestly be fed to royalty and they would knight the cook.

Now, about the “recipe”. Remember when I started this blog and I told you that not all my recipes provide precise measurements because of the Italian tendency to just feel the dish out as you go? Yeah, well that applies here. This is a recipe that you just have to touch and feel, adjusting as you go. I’ve never been able to get a straight answer about measurements for this dish.

just feel it

Just touch it…

I ask, “How much tomato sauce?” The response I get is, “I don’t know, you just have to touch it and you will figure it out!” So that is what I do and so I have never found myself able to fully break down the recipe. Sometimes I find it needs a touch more this or that. I look, I touch, I feel, I sense, I am guided by my great nonna Isabella. So this recipe is for those who feel pretty confident in the kitchen and are open to a little experimenting with out provided precise measurements.

Here’s the trick though, you’ve got to cook it with love for the people you are cooking for and passion for the quality ingredients you are using to nourish your body and satisfy your soul. If you infuse the food with this love and positive energy, it’s going to turn out great no matter.

cheers.gif

Let me know it goes! Buona Fortuna and Buon Appettito!

Meatloaf Calabrese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound grass-fed, organic ground beef
  • About ½ cup diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • ½ large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • About ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices of bread
  • Splash red wine
  • ½ cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 zucchini shredded or 1 Portobello mushroom thinly sliced
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375̊ F.

Put the beef, tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the marinara, onion, garlic, parsley, Italian seasonion, red pepper flakes, a ¼ teaspoon of both salt and pepper, 1/3 cup of the parmesan cheese, the wine, and the egg in a large bowl.

Toast the bread, lightly wet with water from the sink. Remove the crusts and squeeze the liquid out until you are left with a mushy crumble. Throw in the bowl with the other ingredients.

Mix by hand until ingredients are well combined. Add the raisins and mix again until the raisins are well distributed.

Grease a meatloaf dish with olive oil. Add ½ of the meat mixture. Layer on the zucchini or mushrooms over the meat. Sprinkle with half of the mozzarella cheese over the vegetables. Add the rest of the meat mixture. Over with ¼ cup of the marinara. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese

Bake for 1 hour until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with additional marinara sauce as desired. Enjoy!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

As an avid supporter of Meatless Monday and the concept that we can eat less meat and also go about the cultivation of the meat that we do eat in a more sustainable way, I am constantly looking to try new and exciting vegetarian and vegan dishes. I love eating at vegan restaurants and seeing what they’ve come up with and I myself really enjoy making vegan and vegetarian dishes; in fact, some of my most popular recipes are vegan like Johnny’s Tomato Soup.  I do, however, often get stuck in a rut when it comes to cooking vegan for myself. I usually rely on another cook’s book or blog to tell me what to do. One day, however, I decided to be adventurous and experiment in the kitchen using ingredients that I love and crossed my fingers that a great vegan dish would be born from all of it. Lo and behold this chili happened!

What I love about this chili is that it is incredibly hearty in texture, flavor, and feel when in all reality; it is an extremely light and nutritious veggie packed dish. Chunks of Portobello mushrooms mimic chunks of beef that you might find in one chili. Finely chopped cauliflower emulates ground meat that you might find in another chili. Other veggies and spices give the stew a rich and warming flavor profile. The result is a chili that is thick and filling while also bringing the nutrition without any animal products.

I loved this chili so much; I made it two weeks in a row and knew that I had to share it with you! I hope you enjoy this new vegan friendly dish from yours truly. Buon Appetito!

Vegan Cauliflower, Mushroom, and Red Bean Chili

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • ½ a green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • 1 large Portobello mushroom, big diced
  • 3 cups cauliflower, chopped into tiny pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
  • 1 ½ tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 cups vegetable stock
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Heat the olive in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and bell pepper with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms, cook until tender, another 3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and sage, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the chili powder, paprika, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Coat the veggies in the spices and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes, and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and allow to simmer for 30-40 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

 

Easy Bolognese

I don’t know about you, but I don’t find anything as comforting as a bowl of pasta with a rich, hearty meat sauce (sorry vegetarians, I practice Meatless Monday and yoga, but I am Italian thru and thru). When I was growing up my mom often made pasta with Bolognese sauce when it was chilly outside. Curling up with that bowl of pasta and watching a good movie was simply the best…and it still is! Bolognese is something I now make on the regular during Fall and Winter. It’s inexpensive, simple, rustic, hearty, and it can actually be decently nutritious if you use grass-fed organic meat and control your portions.

Now, there are lots of Bolognese sauce recipes in the world and some of them can be slightly complicated and require hours of cooking, but my recipe for Bolognese is fantastically easy and rather quick! Serve with your favorite shape of pasta, on spaghetti squash, or even by itself in a bowl with some crusty bread. My Easy Bolognese will quickly make you feel like you’re dining in Tuscany! Buon Appetito!

Easy Bolognese

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large carrot, chopped
  • 1 large celery stalk, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • ½ lb ground beef (preferably grass-fed organic) (or substitute 1 lb Beyond Meat Beef Chunks!)
  • ½ lb ground pork (preferably grass-fed organic) (or skip if you use 1 lb Beyong Meat Beef Chunks!)
  • ½ cup red wine (preferably a chianti or darker)
  • 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ¼ cup fresh flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • ¼ Pecorino Romano Cheese

Directions:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions, season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the carrots, celery, and 1 tablespoon of the crushed garlic, season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes longer. Add the beef and pork. Using the back of a wooden spoon, break the meat up into small chunks, cook until the meat is browned and slightly caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Pour in the red wine and cook until the meat absorbs the wine completely. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining 1 tablespoon of garlic, half the parsley, the basil, the bay leaf, the red pepper flakes, a pinch more salt and pepper, and half of the pecorino cheese. Stir together. Allow to come to a simmer. Reduce the heat the medium-low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour until sauce is slightly thickened. Serve with the remaining pecorino and parsley. Enjoy!

Pro-tip: If you make pasta or spaghetti squash, toss the pasta or shredded squash with additional pecorino cheese and olive oil, then place into pasta bowls, and serve the Bolognese sauce over the top. Allow the guests to mix the sauce into the noodles or squash as they like on their own.

 

Johnny’s Tomato Soup

Ciao all! Johnny here with my inexpensive, unbelievably simple, super healthy, and incredibly delish recipe for my Tomato Soup! There is no way around it; tomato soup is one of the most comforting dishes you can enjoy. A bowl of tomato soup comforts you when you’re feeling under the weather or helps you to cozy up with a good movie or book on a chilly evening in at home. And my tomato soup will be your new favorite! With budget friendly ingredients and requiring minimal effort to prepare, this soup is vegan and healthy while also being warming and hearty. Cannellini beans within the soup pureed after cooking give the soup a creamy texture without the need for cream or dairy. Rosemary, red pepper, and bay leaf give the soup earthy and warming notes. This soup makes a great quick weeknight dinner and is perfect to take  a left over cup to work or school; hell, it’s even perfect for a Friday night with a good movie and bottle of wine! I make this soup almost every other week during Fall and Winter and anyone who has ever had it has always been thoroughly pleased. Hope you enjoy!

Johnny's Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: absurdly easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic
  • 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15 ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 ½ teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • ¼ -1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Optional Toppings: Olive oil drizzle, cracked black pepper, light sour cream, Greek yogurt, parmesan cheese, goat cheese

Directions:

Heat the olive oil in a pot over medium-high heat until hot. Add the onions and carrots, sprinkle with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes until tender. Add the crushed garlic, mix together, and sauté an additional 2 minutes.

Add the cannellini beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vegetable stock, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Season with salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to a boil over the medium-high heat. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Uncover and fish out the bay leaf, discard. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth and creamy with no chunks of veggies left. You can also puree in a food processor, but be very careful! Ladle into bowls and add your desired toppings. I personally like to do an artsy drizzle of olive oil and add some crushed black pepper to keep it light but tasty. Enjoy!

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

Ciao! Johnny here with one of my most simple recipes that will quickly become a weeknight staple in your home: Garlic Rosemary Chicken. This dish is great for any time of year really, but I think it is most perfect for Fall and Winter on weeknights when you need something quick, simple, and inexpensive. Woodsy and earthy rosemary, pungent garlic, and fresh lemon flavor this easy chicken dinner in a way that is warming and hearty but also light. I love serving this throughout the cooler seasons with roasted butternut and acorn squashes, Brussels Sprouts, and steamed green beans. Hope you enjoy this easy weeknight classic!

Note: You can easy double and triple the recipe to accommodate how many people you are cooking for. I am providing directions to serve 2 people as I normally cook for 2 these days and know that many of you do as well.

Garlic Rosemary Chicken

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts or thighs, bone-in and skin-on
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F.

Place the chicken on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Top each piece with half the rosemary, half the garlic, and half the lemon zest. Using your hands, rub the ingredients all over the chicken making sure to get underneath the skin, stop when all looks well distributed. Drizzle with the lemon juice and actually place the lemon pieces you used for the juice near the chicken on the pan; it will help to perfume the dish and provide additional moisture.

Roast for 35-40 minutes until the chicken is golden brown. Serve with your favorite sides and enjoy!

Stuffed Acorn Squash

A few years ago, my best friend Kayleigh had me and a few of our other friends over for dinner during the Fall season. She was cooking up a storm in the kitchen with all sorts of ingredients: onions, apples, sausage, sage – all things I love. I asked, “What are you making?” Her response was very in character; nonchalantly she answered, “I’m not sure. Some sort of stuffed acorn squash. We’ll see what happens.” I laughed because this was very like her to just whip something up and go with the flow with confidence that all would be well; and all was well indeed! The Stuffed Acorn Squash turned out truly and utterly phenomenal and from that point on it became a traditional Fall and Winter dish between us and our families.

I have since made this dish many times throughout the Fall and Winter seasons because it is truly these seasons in one exquisite meal. The sweet squash is stuffed and balanced by spicy Italian chicken sausage, savory onions, tart green apple, fresh celery, woodsy sage, and pungent garlic; each component balancing and complimenting the other perfectly. A bit of bread crumbs provides a nice crunch to contrast the softness of the squash and sausage, and melted Havarti cheese seals and completes with a buttery finish. Honestly, this is one of my favorite meals to make during the cooler seasons. It is relatively simple to prepare, decently inexpensive, festive, comforting, and downright delicious. I truly hope you enjoy this recipe in your own home with loved ones.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Ingredients:

  • 2 acorn squashes
  • 1 pound hot Italian chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large celery stick, chopped
  • 1 large granny smith apple, diced
  • 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
  • ¼ cup white wine
  • 4 sage leaves, julienned
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 block Havarti cheese, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 425̊F.

Cut the acorn squash down the center length wise. With a spoon, remove the seeds and dig the cavity till it would be able to hold ¾ cup of water. Drizzle the insides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with about ¼ teaspoon of salt and pepper each. Place on a greased baking sheet with the inside facing down. Drizzle the skin with an additional tablespoon of olive oil and season with an additional pinch of salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes until the skin is easily pierced with a knife.

In the meantime, heat the remaining olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, celery, and green apple. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute for 5-7 minutes until tender. Add the sausage and break into small chunks using the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until the sausage is browned. Add the garlic, sage, and red pepper flakes. Add the wine and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs until well mixed. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

Remove the acorn squash from the oven and flip over so that the cavity side facing up. Stuff each cavity with the mixture from the pan until filled and slightly doming over. Top completely with the cheese slices. Place back in the oven for 5-10 more minutes until the cheese is melted, bubbling, and browned.

Remove, allow to cool a few minutes, and serve – 1 half of a squash per person! This is best served with a simple green salad and some wine. Hope you enjoy!

Note: The images below are from when I cut the recipe in half to just serve 2, but the steps are the same.

What’s your favorite Fall/Winter dish to make at home?