Classic Pasta Salad

This one has been a long time coming, guys. Whenever I go to a cookout or gathering, this is my most requested dish to bring. And I can’t believe that I don’t have it here on the site yet. Friends are always asking for the recipe, and it will be great to have the link handy from now on!

At any rate, it’s the classic version. Tri-colored rotini, tomatoes, onions, cukes, black olives, cheese, and Italian dressing. But, there area few things that I’ve added it to it to the years that make it special…

First off, fresh herbs – chopped basil, parsley, and oregano bring a ton of freshness to the dish. I usually have an abundance of all of them in the summer, and it’s a great way to use them. Also, celery seed – the brightness and crunch it adds to the dish is on point.

I take a shortcut and use the powdered Italian dressing. I’ve made my own, and used bottled – but nothing compares to the Good Seasons Italian in this application. For someone who makes most of her dressings at home – I love the stuff. I’ve always got a packet in the pantry.

Sometimes I’ll add chopped up pepperoni or salami, or pepperocinis, or chopped bell peppers…but this is my standard. I could live off this stuff in the summertime, and many weeks – I do. It’s my favorite, and I know it will be one of yours too!

Classic Pasta Salad

1 lb tri-color rotini pasta
5 roma tomatoes, diced
2 cucumbers – peeled, seeded and diced
1 red onion, small diced
1 can black olives, drained and olives halved
1 tsp celery seed
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
16 oz shredded cheese (I like a blend of cheddar and mozzarella)
1 packet Good Seasons Italian Dressing (I like the Zesty kind!)
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Prepare salad dressing according to directions on packet.

Cook the pasta in salted water for 7-8 minutes until al dente, and drain.

Combine the veggies, olives and pasta in a large bowl. Add the salad dressing, and toss to coat everything.

Add in the celery seed, fresh herbs, the cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

Fridge it for an hour or so to let the flavors blend.

Source: adapted from my good friend Crystal’s mom, Ms. Ginny. We miss you, but rest assured your pasta salad lives on!

Garlic Oil

This is one that couldn’t be any easier. I use this garlic oil in everything, from frying eggs to salad dressings. Wonderful to start off a basic marinara sauce. It’s great with some dried or fresh herbs sprinkled in, and dipping chunks of crusty bread. Or, even as a finishing drizzle on some hot oven fries. Basically, anything you wish to impart a little extra garlic flavor into!

I like to use a good quality olive oil – don’t go spending a bunch of money on the fancy extra-virgin stuff, though. I just glug it right into a saucepan with a handful of garlic cloves, get them bubbling a bit, then turn down the heat to low to let the flavor infusion happen. Sometimes, if I’m feelin’ frisky, I’ll add a few sprigs of fresh herbs…but it’s not necessary.

Keeps forever (at least a month or so – if it lasts that long!) as well. I just keep it right on the counter with all my other oils, so it’s right at hand when I need it. It also makes a wonderful homemade gift when presented in a pretty oil dispenser with a ribbon! If you’re worried about it spoiling, it also keeps fine in the refrigerator. This is definitely one to have around, guys!

Soprano's Sunday Gravy

I’ve talked before about my love of all things mafioso. While I was always a fan of the classics like Goodfellas and The Godfather trilogy, it was really The Sopranos that really cemented that love. One of my favorite cookbooks is The Sopranos Family Cookbook. Every single recipe I’ve tried from it has been wonderful. The first one that I ever made from it’s pages is this recipe for Sunday gravy…

Italians call a meaty sauce that’s been simmered all day a “gravy”. This one is made with the addition of country pork ribs, sausage, and veal – which I leave out (I just can’t get past the baby cow thing). Now, if you’ve never added pork to your red sauce – with all due respect, but you’ve sorely been missing out. It adds such a wonderful richness and complexity that is unparalleled. Sausage is great, but the pork ribs are really where it’s at.

It’s wonderful simply tossed with pasta, or if you want to doll it up even more you can add mozzarella cheese and mini-meatballs to make Ziti al Forno. No matter what you do with it, you can’t go wrong with this sauce. It’s really a staple. Do yourself a favor and make it soon, you won’t regret it! Bada-bing.

Source: adapted from The Sopranos Family Cookbook

Hot Pepper Shooters

If I had to choose a favorite new food item of 2014, Pepper Shooters would be it. I first had them when I was in the hospital after having Nathan, from a sandwich chain called Primo’s

Their sandwiches are pretty much life-changing, as are these little bites of Heaven that they sell known as Pepper Shooters. From first bite I was hooked. So I thought it was only appropriate that I share this for my last recipe of the year!

Hot pickled cherry peppers that are hollowed out, then stuffed with chunks of sharp provolone cheese and proscuitto. You could also use other Italian deli meats – like capicola or thinly sliced salami. Whatever floats your boat! A little drizzle of good olive oil and a sprinkling of dried oregano and you’re good to go!

They’re the perfect party appetizer. Either served alone, or with other cured meats, olives, and cheeses for to make a lovely antipasto platter. And, the best part is they only take a few minutes to throw together – which always makes for a winner in my book!