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Sausage Minestrone


I’ve been making the most amazing soups this winter.  My secret? I finally gave up following recipes! I never thought I could cook without a recipe, as I’ve never been what I think of as a “natural cook” – someone who can just keep adding things to a dish or pot until it tastes amazing. But I decided to give it a shot, and have surprised myself with the results.

Sadly, a lot of the delicious things I’ve made, I didn’t measure anything and didn’t take notes, so I can’t share recipes or even make them exactly the same way again.  But this one turned out so good that I immediately wrote down exactly how I made it so I could duplicate and share it.  I’ve made it twice in the past month – we love it so much! It’s also quite nutritious and low in fat, which is a big bonus in my book, as many of my favorite meals are huge calorie bombs. Not this one. Enjoy the flavor, guilt-free. :)

Sausage Minestrone

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1 (8 oz) package baby portabella (“bella”) mushrooms, sliced
1 (20 oz) package Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
8 chicken bouillon cubes*
8 cups water
1 (15-16 oz) can white cannellini beans
1 (15-16 oz) can dark red kidney beans
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes with basil, garlic & oregano, undrained
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large zucchini, cut in half & sliced
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 cups kale, hard stems removed and chopped into small pieces

Cook the mushrooms in olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until they are cooked down and soft and a darker color. Scrape into a stock pot. In the same skillet, brown the turkey sausage, breaking it up as it cooks to make crumbles. Once cooked, add to the pot. Add the remaining ingredients except for the kale, and bring to a boil over high head. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, 15-30 minutes.  Add kale and cook another five minutes.

*Veronica’s notes: you want the smaller size bouillon cubes, the ones that need only one cup water each for broth. If using the bigger ones that need two cups, use only 4 cubes. You can use 8 cups chicken broth instead, omitting the water from the recipe, and add salt to taste.  The second time I made this, I added in 3 stalks of celery and a pound of fresh green beans. Feel free to add what you like, and just add more seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Last-Minute Lasagna


This isn’t the greatest lasagna of all time, but it’s really good (quality does depend on the products you use), and it’s really FAST!  And that makes it a winner in my book. I served this to company (Nana Donna, AKA Momma Donna), and she said she had no idea it wasn’t real lasagna and she really enjoyed it a lot! So if you ever need a meal in a hurry, this one’s a great one to try.

Last-Minute Lasagna

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1 (24-26 oz) jar pasta sauce
2 (16 oz) containers frozen large, cheese or beef ravioli
1 (10 oz) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and excess water squeezed dry
8 oz mozzarella, shredded
1/2 cup (2 oz) grated Parmesan
Fresh basil or parsley for garnish, if desired

Heat oven to 350° F.  Coat a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray, spread 1/3 of sauce to cover the bottom of dish. Cover with half of the ravioli, half of the cheeses, all of spinach, 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with another layer of ravioli (not all the ravioli may be needed), spread with remaining sauce and top with remaining cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30-40 minutes. Uncover and bake until bubbly, 5 to 10 minutes more. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe source: Real Simple, as seen on Nutmeg Notebook

Other Italian favorites…

Lasagna & Garlic Bread – really good stuff! Possibly my favorite lasagna recipe.

shrimp-scallop-scampi-4-6-10Shrimp & Scallop Scampi with Linguini – a restaurant-worthy meal.

Really Great Spaghetti & Meatballs – this is the easiest way to make spaghetti and meatballs, and it’s just fantastic!

Butternut Squash Lasagna

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My friend, Lynn, shared this recipe with me in the early fall when my grass was still green, and as you can see from the green in my photos, I made it immediately.  I’m so glad I’m finally getting around to sharing it before winter squash and hot comfort meals are forgotten in favor of salads and meals that can be cooked without turning the oven on.  This is definitely one to try before winter gives way to spring.

Lynn said she makes it every fall, and sometimes adds Italian sausage and caramelized onions to hers. Well, those additions didn’t sound optional to me and I’m so glad I found the time to add them.  This is a rather involved recipe but definitely worth the time. Utter deliciousness! Slightly sweet & creamy squash, gooey cheese, with layers of flavor from the onions and sausage…a big winner with our whole family.

Butternut Squash Lasagna

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3-5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 (1 1/2- to 2-pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water
1 lb. Italian sausage
1/4 cup butter
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
Pinch of nutmeg
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
2 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium heat. Add the cubed squash and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour the water into the skillet, cover, and simmer over medium heat until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the squash to a mixing bowl or food processor and mash. Season the squash purée to taste with more salt and pepper; set aside.

Heat 3-4 tablespoons oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring often, until the onions slowly turn brown and caramelized, adding additional oil if necessary, about 30-40 minutes. Stir into the squash.

Cook the Italian sausage in a skillet over medium heat, breaking it up and crumbling it with a spatula until cooked through. Drain and set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Gradually whisk in the milk. Bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Add the nutmeg. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly butter a 13×9 glass baking dish. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the prepared baking dish. Cover the bottom of pan with one layer of lasagna noodles. Spread half of the squash purée over the noodle, then half of the sausage. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese. Drizzle 1/2 cup of sauce over the cheese. Repeat layering once more, finishing with a layer of noodles covered only by white sauce.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna and continue baking until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, about 15 minutes longer. Let the lasagna stand for 15 minutes before serving. Serves 8.

Recipe source: Mother Earth News with adaptation by Lynn S.

More squashy favorites…

Sausage & Spaghetti Squash Breakfast Pie – yes, you can have your breakfast casserole without all the carbs! A creation of my own that I’m pretty proud of. Seriously yum.

Garlic Chicken & Bacon Spaghetti Squash Alfredo – I don’t like pasta alfredo, but this…is heaven.

Slow Cooker Moroccan Turkey Stew…seriously one of my top favorite things I’ve eaten in the history of ever.

Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

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This month for the Secret Recipe Club I was assigned to Kate is Cooking and while the girl doesn’t like sweets, but does  enjoy alcohol (opposite of me on both accounts), I had so much fun perusing her delicious recipes. A lot of them spelled comfort, and I’m all about comfort food, especially this time of year as the weather turns cooler.

I like that Kate creates a lot of her recipes by taking what she likes from several different ones and combining them, as I’ve done that quite a bit myself. And I hope she is honored I did the same with the recipe I chose from her blog: spaghetti carbonara.Classic Spaghetti Carbonara | veronicascornucopia.com

Have you heard of it? It’s basically the Italian way of having breakfast for dinner – mixing eggs and bacon (guanciale if you want to be really traditional) into your pasta. It’s so creamy & yummy! However, the authentic way to make it is with a raw egg yolk sitting on top that you mix in as you eat to create a silky sauce.  Now, I love a runny yolk in an over-easy or poached egg, but I really had to push myself outside my comfort zone to follow through and try it with the raw yolk on top. I’m not scared of salmonella, as I’ve eaten my weight in raw cookie dough, French Silk Pie, and tiramisu without a problem, but just the idea of eating a straight raw yolk. Heebie jeebies!

Turns out, I prefer it with the whole egg mixed into the pasta, and as you can see by the golden hue of my pasta, I did go ahead and do it the way I was comfortable with, then just added a yolk on top to go ahead and try it. It does add a rich silkiness to the dish, and I say go for it if you’ve never tried it and aren’t afraid to.  But I like it just as well with it all mixed in – you choose which way you’d like.  Thank you so much for sharing this recipe, Kate, and expanding my foodie adventure horizons!

Classic Spaghetti Carbonara

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3 tablespoons Kosher salt or 1 tablespoon table salt
1 lb dried spaghetti
1/2 lb bacon or guanciale
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
4 large eggs
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley

Bring 5 quarts of water and salt to a boil in a large pot. Cook the pasta about a minute less than the package directions, to al dente. You’ll want to reserve a cup of the cooking water before draining, but I will remind you of that later when the time comes. :)

While the pasta is cooking, cut the bacon crosswise into pieces about 1/2 inch wide, or dice the guanciale into small pieces. Cook in a large skillet over medium high heat, along with the garlic cloves, just until the bacon begins to crisp. Don’t make it too crispy or it won’t meld with the pasta. When it’s done, remove the garlic (makes a great pre-dinner snack – just delicious!), and drain off all but 2-3 tablespoons of the bacon grease.

While the bacon is cooking, break the eggs into a large bowl or pasta serving dish. If you prefer to serve with egg yolks on top, separate the eggs and set the unbroken yolks aside with the whites alone in the bowl. Beat the eggs or egg whites with a fork until frothy. Add some freshly ground pepper and the cheese.

Now, to put this together. Drain the finished pasta, reserving a cup of the cooking water. Stir a small amount of water into the eggs to temper them and prevent them from scrambling when you add the hot pasta. Add more water until you’ve reached about 1/4 cup, then quickly stir in the pasta with a pasta spoon. Add the bacon and grease to the pasta and stir well. The egg, bacon grease, Parmesan, and pasta water become your sauce! If it is too thick, add additional pasta water until it is your desired consistency.

Mound the pasta in pasta bowls or onto plates. Top each serving with a sprinkle of parsley and an egg yolk if you reserved them to serve this way. Enjoy!

Recipe source: adapted from Kate’s Kitchen & Ruth Reichl’s recipe in Garlic & Saphires.

Chocolate Italian Love Cake


I made this for our Valentine’s Day dessert because 1) it’s “Italian” (I put that in quotations because honestly, I think the only reason it’s called “Italian” is because there is ricotta cheese in it), so I thought it would go well with our Spaghetti & Meatballs, and 2) it’s a Love Cake, therefore perfect for Valentine’s Day. :)  However, I’m sharing this with you today, a regular non-Hallmark holiday day, because it’s simply a fantastic cake that should be enjoyed and made for those you love on any old day, not just days designated for celebrating your loved ones.

This cake is every bit as good as it looks.  I don’t like ricotta because of the texture, but it really works with this cake.  It’s not a heavy cake, which is dangerous, because it’s also addictive and the “lightness” makes it easier to trick yourself into thinking that eating half the pan by yourself isn’t all that obscene.  Not that I’ve done that or anything.

Chocolate Italian Love Cake

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1 package chocolate cake mix (I recommend using Betty Crocker brand), and the ingredients needed to make the cake according to the package directions

  • OR your favorite chocolate cake recipe that makes as much batter as a cake mix

2 lbs. ricotta cheese
4 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 (5.9 oz.) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 1/2 cups cold milk
1 (8 oz) container frozen whipped topping, defrosted

Preheat your oven to 350*F and spray a 9×13 inch pan with nonstick spray; set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together your cake mix according to the directions on the box or prepare your favorite chocolate cake.  Spread into prepared pan and set aside. In another bowl, beat together the ricotta cheese, eggs, sugar, and vanilla until smooth. Carefully pour the ricotta mixture over the cake batter, trying to get it evenly distributed, then spread it as best you can over the cake batter with a spatula. The layers will switch during baking!

Bake the cake for 1 hour. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

Once the cake is cool, whisk the pudding mix and milk together until smooth and slightly thickened. Gently fold the whipped topping into the pudding until incorporated. Spread the pudding mixture over the top of the cooled cake. Do not spread it over the cake if it’s even slightly warm or it will melt and ruin the topping. Cover the cake and refrigerate at least 6 hours before serving. It tastes even better the next day.

Veronica’s notes: 1) I do not recommend my favorite chocolate cake for this recipe as it makes a lot more batter than a box mix and your pan would probably overflow if you tried it. 2) I have a stack of 9×13 baking dishes because I use that size more than any other. My largest one is a Pyrex dish and I highly recommend you use your largest one too – preferrably a Pyrex dish because they seem to be the largest.  I know every 9×13 dish should measure 9×13 but apparently they do not…or maybe some companies measure from the inside and some from the outside.  This recipe fills it up to the top so you really need to use a large dish.  3) If you live in an area that sells 5.1 ounce pudding mixes, that’s fine – it’s the size called for in the original recipe. You only need a cup of milk if you have a 5.1 ounce box, according to the original recipe. 4) I know ricotta can be expensive so if you have an Aldi in your area – go see if they sell ricotta there. Mine sells it for $1.68 for a pound. It’s also good quality! And get some pumpkin puree while you’re there – it’s usually $1 (or less) for a can and is very good quality. :)

Recipe source: adapted from Chew Nibble Nosh

Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti Casserole

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I went through a comfort food phase last month  where, despite the heat, all I wanted were piping hot casseroles and soups.  Plain Chicken to the rescue, yet again!  This is one of the things which satisfied my craving for comfort food.  I resisted every temptation to change the recipe, except for using reduced fat cream cheese in place of regular, and while I will say there are some things I’d do different next time (as noted below), this was just so stinkin’ good.  Creamy pasta, topped with an easy meat sauce and Parmesan cheese. Just. so. good.

Baked Cream Cheese Spaghetti Casserole

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12 oz spaghetti
1 (28 oz) jar prepared spaghetti sauce
1 lb. lean ground beef
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 clove garlic, minced
8 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef until cooked through; drain fat and stir in spaghetti sauce. Set aside.

Cook spaghetti according to directions on packet. Drain and place cooked spaghetti in bowl. Add cream cheese, Italian Seasoning and minced garlic. Stir until cream cheese is melted and the spaghetti is thoroughly coated.

Lightly grease a 9×13″ pan. Spread a small amount of meat sauce in the bottom of the dish. Put spaghetti on top of sauce and top with remaining meat sauce. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

*Veronica’s note: I would suggest covering your dish with foil while baking to prevent the cheese and spaghetti drying out like mine did. Also, you might reserve some pasta water to add in when you mix in the cream cheese – it is quite thick and dry and I think some extra moisture would make it creamier. I also plan to use more sauce next time – maybe up to even two jars.  What can I say, I like the sauce. :)

Recipe source: Plain Chicken

Healthier Lasagna Soup

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If you haven’t seen recipes for lasagna soup all over the web for the last couple years, then you don’t follow as many blogs as I do-lol!  It is everywhere.  It’s taking over the blogging world.  If it wasn’t so delicious, it might scare me a little, but now that I’ve made it I totally get it.

Everyone has their own variation and I just took the one from Suzie’s blog and made it a little healthier.  I have to tell you that Biz is actually the reason I finally made this soup because I think she’s made it (and raved about it) 55.7 times since Suzie posted it and I just couldn’t resist any longer.

So glad I gave in–this soup is completely frabrilis!  I mean hello, lasagna in soup form?  Frabrilosity! 

P.S. A lot of things went wrong with my pictures and I do not care to explain the unattractive, cold plops of cheese and how thick this is because you would scoff at me and I’m not in the mood for your scoffing beyond the scoffing you’re doing at my cheese plops.  :D  Just follow my directions and you will have frabrilis soup that looks as delicious as it tastes.

Healthier Lasagna Soup

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2 teaspoons olive oil
1 (19.5 oz) package lean sweet Italian turkey sausage
1 cup chopped onions
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28 oz.) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
8 oz. broken up whole wheat lasagna noodles or other pasta of choice
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the cheesy goodness:
1 cup low-fat cottage cheese or ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese

Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Remove sausage from casings and add to skillet along with the onions and cook, breaking up into bite-size pieces, for 5-10 minutes, until meat is cooked through. Add garlic, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute.

Add tomato paste and stir well to incorporate. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until the tomato paste turns a rusty brown color.

Add diced tomatoes, bay leaves and chicken stock. Stir to combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add uncooked pasta and cook until al dente. Don’t over cook or let soup simmer too long, as the pasta will get mushy and absorb all the broth.*

While pasta is cooking, prepare the cheesy goodness by combining the cottage cheese or ricotta and Parmesan together in a small bowl. To serve, place a dollop of the cheesy goodness in each soup bowl, sprinkle some of the mozzarella on top and ladle the hot soup over the cheese.

*Note: If you are anticipating leftovers, it’s best to cook the noodles separately and add them to the bowl along with the soup, then store them separately, drizzled with olive oil so they don’t stick together.  They will become mushy if stored in the broth.

Recipe source: slightly adapted from Two Dogs in the Kitchen.

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