Tag Archives: Italian

Italian Done Right: Meatballs in Tomato Sauce


Sounds simple, right? Maybe even boring.

To be honest, I never really made meatballs before those Award Winning Poker Meatballs… you know, the ones stuffed with cheese? What, I may have made some another time a while back when we had friends over and did a holiday potluck… If I remember correctly, they were really big.

In any case, at our last Cooking Class at Saga Hill, the theme was Italian Done Right. The premise was that although it can be satisfying, places like Buca di Beppo and Cossetta’s aren’t truly Italian. So one of the things we learned was to make meatballs in tomato sauce.

This dinner is one of those high-protein, minimally processed ones you can be proud of.

At Saga Hill, Chef Marianne likes to teach the “method” rather than a recipe. She sends the recipes out after the class via email. After following the pretty easy approach in class, I was determined to action those meatballs again right away for Rob. I pulled up the recipe she sent and realized that it was actually quite different from what we did in class!

This made me realize that it was more important that I learned the method… and that there was room to improvise. I could take that method, along with her tips and tricks that I learned in class and use the recipe as a guide. Then I just used what was in my pantry… and followed my gut.


Here is the Rob-Approved-Keeper-Recipe that I created. He didn’t want me to change a thing for next time, so I thought I’d make an account of exactly what I did so that I don’t improvise next time!

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

(Makes 4 servings)


  • olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • garlic, minced
  • pinch crushed red pepper
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained {I used the kind with onions and garlic.}
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c panko (or bread crumbs)
  • 8 oz lean ground beef
  • 8 oz ground pork
  • finely chopped fresh rosemary and thyme (about 1-2 Tbsp)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1/4 c grated parmesan
  • shredded parmesan for garnish (optional)


  • Heat large skillet with olive oil.
  • Add diced onion and garlic and saute until onion is translucent.
  • Add crushed red pepper and stir in quartered cherry tomatoes.
  • Stir in canned tomatoes (with juices!)
  • Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low to simmer.
  • In a medium bowl, beat one egg.
  • Mix panko into beaten egg mixture.
  • Add meat, fresh herbs, salt, pepper and parmesan.
  • Mix well with hands so that seasonings are well-distributed. Add water if needed to get desired texture.
  • Form into about one-inch diameter balls (maybe a little less). I yielded exactly 30 balls.
  • Stir the sauce before adding balls because you won’t be able to stir it for a while.
  • Add balls directly to simmering sauce and increase the heat.
  • Turn balls often and continue to until cooked through. (You may have to sacrifice a ball or two to check!)
Keep turning those balls!

Keep turning those balls!

When meatballs are just about cooked, you can stir the sauce with the intact balls to keep the sauce from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Serve alone or atop pasta or spaghetti squash. Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese. (Optional)

Ta da!

Get in my tummy!

Some tips I learned from class:

  • Traditional Italian meatballs call for a combination of beef, pork (sausage) and veal, but you can work with whatever you have.
  • It’s best to use a combination of raw and canned tomatoes.
  • Use whatever herbs you’d like – oregano, thyme, rosemary, basil, parsley, etc.
  • Use 1 egg per lb of meat.
  • If you are tearing bread to create breadcrumbs, soak them in a little bit of milk.
  • Don’t make your meatballs too big. Make an “O” with your thumb and forefinger. That should be about right.

I like that I usually have these kinds of ingredients on hand, so it’ll be an easy go-to “recipe” that Rob will love!

What is your favorite meat combo for meatballs?

What herbs do you like to use?



Old Town Temecula


We arrived in Temecula on a late Monday afternoon and checked into our suite at South Coast Winery. It was too late to begin Wine Tasting. Most wineries close at 5pm. So we took the time to pick up a few provisions at Baron’s Market {We love this place and wish we had one near us!} and then headed down to Old Town for some dinner. We had originally planned to drive down to Escondido to visit Stone Brewery and try out some recommended Carne Asada there, but we were just too beat from the L.A. traffic to drive anywhere further. We liked feeling settled at home base.

I don’t know why I never thought of Temecula as reminding me of the Old Southwest. But, duh, we were in the Southwestern part of the U.S.

And I definitely got that vibe when we ventured into Old Town. While I doubt (m)any of the buildings date back to those days, the architecture of the quarter still retains that character.

And because all of my California vacation posts are going to be out of order, you won’t mind if I tell you about the end of our evening in Old Town first, right? As we were driving away in the night, I noticed a building on the hill, that was lit up, almost glowing, in a pink hue.

“That must be something an important!” I said. I made a detour to drive past it. It was such a grand building. We came to learn that it was the Temecula City Hall/Civic Center and the pink was lit up for October Breast Cancer Awareness month. It was absolutely beautiful. {And I don’t even like pink!} 

Here is a photo from the City of Temecula’s Facebook page:

In Old Town, there is an assortment of independently owned shops and restaurants to discover. That night, we had a hankering for some Italian. But we weren’t yielding the results that suited us on Trip Advisor and Yelp. So we found a place to park and walked Front Street. We happened upon…

Crush & Brew

Crush & Brew is bar/restaurant specializing in local wine and beer. Everything on their beverage menu hails from Southern California! This place was right up our alley. Because I didn’t know what to choose, I started with a Wine Flight. It was delivered to me in this little wine tree!


The wines I tried:

037The bartender didn’t put them in the order that they should be tasted. {All wines should be tasted white to red, lightest bodied to fullest bodied, dry to sweet.} So I tasted them in the order I thought they might go. The favorite of the bunch for both of us was hands down the Leoness Zin. It was then that we decided that we should probably put that on our winery list for the next day.

The beer list was incredible. While I sipped my wines, Rob enjoyed a couple of brews from this list, one which included the Aftershock Jess Y James:


Rob really enjoyed talking with our bartender about the brews. He noticed Rob’s interest and pulled out a map for us in which he started to mark up the nearby breweries! This is how we started to plan for our own Temecula Brewery Self-Tour.

While we were at it… “Could you please recommend some wineries!? We are tasting tomorrow and are too overwhelmed by all of the options.”

And so began the process for mapping out our wine route, too. 😉

We had fully intended to dine here as well, until we took a look at the food menu. Nothing was speaking to us. So I did another little Smartphone search to see if there were some other options in Old Town. I found a couple and told Rob to hang tight and enjoy his brew while I walked around the block. Palumbo’s, the Italian place, was closed on Monday nights. But Blackbird Tavern sure looked inviting! There was no menu outside the door, so when I returned to Crush & Brew, Rob and I pulled the menu up on our Smartphones.


The only problem? We walked right in. Their door was literally openIt was a beautiful night.

“Uh. Sorry. We have a private party only tonight,” I was told as I pulled a seat up to the bar.

Boo hoo.

So we walked to the corner and stepped into…

The Edge

At The Edge, we took a seat at the rounded bar and ordered some great local beers on tap – the Wiens Type 3 IPA and Refuge Blood Orange Wit, not knowing that we would be visiting those breweries not too far down the road within two day’s time! Because it was still Happy Hour for the Monday Night Football game, we ordered a few apps to split.

As we waited for our food, an older gentleman (who I thought was the owner) saw that we had a map and promptly came over to give us advice on where to stop for wine tastings the following day. This is the man who asked:

“What kind of wines do you like?”

“We tend to like big Cabs and Zins,” Rob told him.

This question, I learned, was key. At first, while I appreciated his suggestions, I wondered if he was just giving us names of those people who were his friends and telling us to steer clear of people he didn’t like. Some of his recommendations were the same as those from the younger server at Crush & Brew. But he also told us to skip a couple that were recommended. Truth be told, he was spot on with his recommendations!

Then our Happy Hour apps arrived:


Black n Blue Sliders, Garlic Fries and Fried Pickles

Those just aren’t any sliders there! They are two beautiful medium-rare, perfectly-seasoned mini burgers with a special melty blue cheese sauce, and topped with shoestring onions with julienned beets and carrots on the side as additional toppings. They were so good that I don’t remember much about the fries (except that I ate them), that I ate one pickle and passed on the rest and that we put in a second order for sliders!

The funny thing is, that we weren’t the only ones! Our bartender said a couple on the patio did the same thing after trying their first round.

The menu online doesn’t seem to be up-to-date because none of the items we ordered appear on the menu. But I will tell you, that Rob and I agree that these are…

The best sliders we ever had!


Truth be told, we did get our Italian fix at Palumbo’s on Wednesday night, post-brewery tour. However, I’d consider it more of an Italian family joint. The food was good, but nothing too refined. We were so tired and in need of nourishment that it didn’t even occur to me to take photos there. And we ordered an excellent bottle of local Sangiovese (Renzoni) for only $28. That’s a steal for a great bottle at a restaurant!

There’s one more place I want to talk about in Old Town, but you’ll have to wait until next week…

To learn where we tasted wine, click here.

To learn which breweries we visited, click here.

Is there a place near you that only serves local beer, wine or food?

If so, what do you like best about it?


Pastries, Gangsters & Steel Toes


Have you been to Cossetta’s lately?

For those of you not from the Twin Cities Metro area, let’s just say that this place is sort of an institution in St. Paul. Cossetta’s is an Italian Pizzeria & Market where food is served cafeteria-style and has been in business for decades. However, the place was recently closed for some time for a multimillion dollar renovation and expansion. I really didn’t have any expectations on how it would be changed, but the new space is incredible!

The reason we went?

My parents were in town. My mom hadn’t visited in at least three years and we never got to take her to Pardon My French to indulge in pastries. I went in search of a new place and one that work in conjunction with our plans for the weekend. Part of Cossetta’s renovation-expansion included the addition of Louis Ristorante & Bar {now on my must try list of restaurants!} and a Pasticceria. And let me tell you, this place is absolutely gorgeous. Not only did I blow my parents away with how big and grand this entire place was, but I was blown away myself.

The pastry case feels like it is a mile long!

The pastry case feels like it is a mile long!

Luckily, when we arrived, there were no other patrons {although that quickly changed}, so we were able to walk the length of the case and check out everything before making our selections. The plan was to settle in to have pastries and coffees before our Gangster Tour of St. Paul. {Highly recommended!} We may have gone a little overboard…

The ladies chose…

These two pastries are sort of Italian cousins. The one of the left is a Sfogliatelle which is a flaky pastry filled with a sweet ricotta filling. The one on the right is a Lobster Tail. The filling is more similar to that of French cream or custard.

The guys selected…

chocolate covered cannoli

Chocolate-Covered Cannoli

Run, don’t walk to get one of these right now! I didn’t know that cannoli could taste this good! {Then you will need to run back to burn the thing off. It’s huge!}

Then we had to get a couple of other items just to try:

PB & J & Nutella stuffed cream puff

Nutella Stuffed Cream Puff and PB & J Tarte {not sure if those are the official names, but just go with it}

I would say that they enjoyed it…

I Woudl say they enjoyed it.

Also in the display case were other Italian favorites, such as Biscotti & Gelato:


When every last crumb was eaten and our coffees were empty, we had some extra time. So we spent it wandering around the new market. This place is huge! There is such incredible selection – much, much more than before. The first thing we caught a whiff of was the freshly baked bread. But the cases of meats, cheeses, olives and rows and rows of Italian products would keep any foodie occupied and happy.


I promised my mom that we’d go back after the Gangster Tour to pick up some of the fresh foccacia that we didn’t think would keep well in the car. But after this fun and incredible historical tour…

Did you know that the Volstead Act (Prohibition) was signed in St. Paul, MN?

…We completely forgot all about going back to the Italian Market. Instead, we made a trek all the way across the cities to try some special samples of Steel Toe Brewery‘s Scotch and Barrel Aged sudsy beverages. On tap were the Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, the Lunker Barleywine, the Steel Toe Size 11 DIPA and the Dissent Imperial Stout. Steel Toe Brewery became one of our favorites in the Twin Cities after we were introduced to them on a Beer Trolley Tour. We wanted to make sure my dad had a chance to try their brews, too.


As usual, the beer tasted, oh, so good! But because these particular batches were just limited editions, we couldn’t get a growler to go. Some people ask why you’d visit a brewery if you can get the beer on tap around town. This is exactly why – for the specialty stuff! {I may have won out on a Steel Toe sweatshirt, too, from Rob for carting everyone around town.} While we were there, there was some sort of Amazing (Bike) Race going on because serious bikers were stopping by, running in, getting a slip of paper signed and scurrying back out. They didn’t even stop for a beer! So sad.

While, I probably normally wouldn’t do all of these things in one day, we managed to fit it all in and take my parents out to dinner to Sul Lago. Everything just seemed to fall into place. And I think Cossetta’s Pasticceria just might become our new PMF.

What activities do you plan for out-of-town guests?

Let me know what’s fun in your neighborhood!


Our Absolute Favorite Wines


Today is our 3rd anniversary – Rob’s and mine, that is. Of course, we’ll be celebrating at one our favorite special occasion restaurants – Perron’s Sul Lago. I just may order a steak – they have the best filet mignon in the entire Twin Cities {and, yes, I have been to Manny’s and Murray’s}.

But it’s Wine Wednesday, so I thought I’d share our absolute favorite wines! These are wines that are so pleasing to us that we will never turn them down. They are ones that are more expensive than you average wine, so we don’t drink them every day. They are not in order of love, but in order of discovery. Enjoy!


In 2005, I earned my first trip with The Traveling Vineyard. It was to the wine country of Sonoma and I remember thinking about all the times I had been to Europe, but this was my fist ever to California! On this trip, we made a visit the Davis Family Vineyards tasting room. Guy Davis was one of the winemakers and collaborators of many TTV wines. It was in his tasting room that I first fell in love with Pinot Noir. I hadn’t liked the varietal prior to that. And this was also before the big Sideways anit-Merlot and pro-Pinot Noir craze.

Davis Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

(Approx. $40 – $45/bottle)

Davis Pino

At that tasting, I learned why I adored this Pinot Noir more than any other I tasted. Pinot Noir is a thin-skinned grape. It’s fickle and a hard grape to grow. It’s hard to do it right. Guy has 5 rules to crafting a great Pinot… and I love # 3. So what makes it so great? The best way for me to describe it?

It tastes like velvet.

It has just the right balance of tannins and acidity to feel like velvet on your tongue. That is, a velvet made of fruit and warm spices!

Now, Rob likes to describe Pinot Noir as having a waxy characteristic. Well, for me, that would be the cheap-cheap Pinot Noirs. {In fact, I still have a tough time with some South African red wines that taste like lipstick to me.} I like to describe Guy’s Pinots as dusty. Just the perfect amount of dry. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I truly believe that this wine has made me a Pinot Noir snob.

Guy makes fantastic other wines, but in my opinion, his Pinot Noirs outshine them all. He wins awards year after year after year. And rightly so. But the wines don’t come cheap. That’s the price you pay for expert craftsmanship. Would you pay an Ikea price for a handmade mahogany chest? I walked away from the tasting room that day having joined the Davis Family Vineyards Friends of the Family Wine Club. A year later, I had to cancel because we needed to save all the money we could to buy a house. Sometimes you just have to make those sacrifices!

But, Rob, if you are reading this… A membership to the Davis Family Vineyards Friends and Family club again would make a perfect anniversary, birthday or Christmas gift any year. You know that you will reap the benefits of that gift as well! 😉

P.S. You can’t find this one in stores, so you’ll have to order them from their website.


Another wine I discovered with my fellow Traveling Vineyard friend, Madeline from Colorado, who was visiting family in town with her husband. We met up at a wine bar and they treated me to this phenomenal wine.

Opolo Mountain Zinfandel – Paso Robles, California

(Approx $25 – $30/bottle)


Months later my friend Sally took me out to dinner. When I saw this wine on the menu, I pointed it out. The main reason? My friend Sally is the one who got me into Zinfandel! {This ain’t the pink stuff, folks! It’s a hard core red.} I finally found it in a store across the street from the wine bar where Madeline and I had tried it. I just had to introduce it to Rob. I knew he’d fall in love. And I was right.

Months later, Rob and I were invited to Sally and her husband Ryan’s place for dinner. On the way, we stopped at the liquor store to pick up a bottle of the Opolo Mountain Zinfandel as a gift. The clerk there said, “You are lucky this! A lady came in here a day to buy a case, so this is our last bottle!” Whew. Upon presenting the bottle to Sally, she giggled. She was the one who had just bought the case at the wine shop. Yeah. That’s how good this stuff is.

This wine is big, bold and a bit spicy. You’d think it’d hit you in the face with its high alcohol content; but it really is just complex. I love the jamminess, followed by warm spices. It’s exactly how I like my zins. And while the “Summit” version of the Opolo Sin is still good, it’s just not as good at the Mountain!


And Lastly, is a wine that is very dear to our hearts:

Dievole Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

(Approx. $20/bottle)

This wine hails from the Vineyard where Rob proposed in 2008, thus very appropriate for our anniversary. It was another trip I earned through The Traveling Vineyard and, actually, Rob’s first trip abroad. I was completely clueless about his proposal. It was the ultimate surprise.

And even for Rob, this trip was Un. For. Get. Able. and In. Cred. Ible. Barbara MacDonald, who orchestrated the entire trip, could not have done any better. We are forever in her debt. I mean, LOOK at this place! That’s just where we stayed…

In any case, Rob never liked Italian wines before arriving in Tuscany and now he is a life-long fan. I will say that we ultimately agreed that the Italians keep the good stuff for themselves and send the leftovers abroad. 😉

Here’s a bottle we enjoyed at Sul Lago. We can’t find Dievole wines anywhere. So it was a treat that the very first time we happened upon Sul Lago, it was on their menu! Currently, they have this baby Chianti, but the Classico is even better!


Yeah, these are some of the higher end wines we drink, but because tonight is a special night, we found it important to share.

What is your absolute favorite go-to wine when celebrating a special occasion?


I Nonni – Lilydale


I chose I Nonni as the restaurant for my birthday dinner two years ago. It was our first time there. Besides having won awards for some of the best Italian in the Twin Cities, I was intrigued by their extensive wine list. We were going to Italy for our honeymoon just a month later and they had obscure wines from the Amalfi Coast on the menu. You won’t find Falanghina or Aglianico wines on 95% of Italian restaurant menus in the U.S.!

We enjoyed our meals thoroughly that evening {especially the fresh, handmade pasta} and we talked about going back, even if just for Happy Hour in the bar. But with so many dining options in the Twin Cities, it took a Groupon to get us back there. Actually, we had two of them to use.

Furthermore, this summer we had so many Groupons to use that we had them scheduled on our calendars so that we would redeem them before they expired. I Nonni was slotted for a Monday after our Summer Couples Golf League.

But we couldn’t get in.

We tried on two different Mondays. On both occasions the sign read:




I had been perusing their menu online that day to narrow down what I wanted to order. On the website, there was no mention that there was a private event, nor that their restaurant would be closed. It was so frustrating! And what are the chances that the restaurant would be closed on the two specific Mondays that we chose to dine there? Sure, I could have made reservations, but I never knew what time we could get there after golf. Besides, we just wanted to eat in the bar.

On the third attempt, I called ahead. Would there be a private event that night? No. Whew. We were in luck.

Upon arrival, we entered the restaurant through the door next to their sister shop Buon Giorno Italian Market. The market carries fine Italian foods as well as offers sandwiches, pastas and salads in a casual deli-like setting where you can eat-in or take to-go. They also offer catering and Holiday Gift Baskets. We’ve walked through the place a few times, but have never bought anything. I now have a sudden urge to go back. Maybe I can find the Blood Orange San Pellegrino that Rob so adores.

Anyway, entering I Nonni through the door near the Market leads you to the wine room. The wine list is extensive and impressive at I Nonni and consists of, I believe, only Italian wines. They claim that it’s one of the finest lists in the U.S. And while I can’t vouch for that personally, I have no reason to argue that! I can’t find it anywhere on their website, but I seem to recall that you can purchase any wine in this room for service at your table. Don’t quote me on that. Just ask instead. In addition, an Italian Wine Club is offered where they bring in Italian wine makers for tastings and to meet you!

We walked through the wine room into the bar and found a place to sit.

We ordered some beverages:


VECCHIONE nonno nick’s Milwaukee style old fashion


APEROL SPRITZprosecco, aperol, orange

Fun drinks, but nothing to write home (or on a blog) about…

While we were skimming the bar menu, I also looked around the room. Two people walked in. I did a double take. Wait, they came in a side door… Wha What? OMG – through a different entrance! Maybe the restaurant wasn’t closed those other two times. Maybe we just tried to enter through the wine room – which was closed for a private event!


Yes, they often host private events in their wine room. I resolved to use the correct entrance on our next visit.

But, we did enjoy our food while we were there:



Good Burrata, with fresh tomatoes, basil and olive oil. But not the best I’ve had. It didn’t stop me from finishing it, though!


House-made pasta, spicy sausage fennel pollen ragu

Rob loved this dish and would not only order it again, but would recommend it to anyone.

When we returned to use our second Groupon, we did use the correct door. To do so, just use the long corridor on the left side of the building under the Osteria I Nonni arch. We saw another party walking in that direction. This whole time, I thought that walkway was only for those who wanted to dine outside. WRONG, I was. This is where you enter the bar.

Of course, the restaurant was open. To this day, I feel like a complete idiot. On this trip, we wanted to try some of the pizzas on the bar menu.


Pizza Salasiccia

We were not impressed with the pizzas. Sausage is one of our favorites and this one was pretty much flavorless. We asked them for some red pepper flakes and the bartender had to fish a bowl of it out of the kitchen for us.


Half Pizza Salsiccia Half Pizza Margherita

I couldn’t decide if I wanted the Pizza Calabrese or the Pizza Margherita, so the bartender suggested that I get half and half. He made it sound like it was a big favor he’d be doing to ask the kitchen to do this for me. However, it came out half sausage / half margherita instead. No matter, I was hungry. Still, I received it after Rob received his pizza and we knew the sausage pizza was pretty flavorless. We could not believe when we tasted the Margherita how much better it was!

Our notes: Go to I Nonni for the fresh pasta – not the pizza. If you are really craving pizza, stick with a simple margherita.

Maybe we were just spoiled by the pizza in Italy, but to us, this wasn’t really Italian. It was I Nonni’s own take on Italian, which basically, is any pizza in America.

I Nonni’s menu is seasonal, which I love. Looking at the menu today, we are anxious to try the:

house-made spicy sausage with black truffle, fennel pollen, crema and pecorino romano

For that reason, we may be going back soon…

What is your favorite place to dine for pizza or pasta where you live?


San Marzano Pasta – A Recipe


Last summer, I took a cooking class at Kitchen Window in Uptown on How to Cook from Your CSA Box with my friend Jared.

While the instructor was a former chef and owner of a local CSA that neither of us subscribed to, it didn’t matter. The class was more about using seasonal produce and becoming more confident in our own cooking. The young instructor’s experience and expertise was impressive. The #1 thing I learned from that class:

NEVER apologize for your cooking.

I’m a novice cook. So I’m always afraid of how something new is going to turn out. When I plop something in front of my husband, I start out by telling him why I’m not sure this or that worked or if I under or overcooked something.

This is wrong!

Repeating these words and apologizing only reinforces our cooking insecurities, creating the fear to try something again. Instead, our instructor said, if someone has anything to complain about our cooking, they can do the cooking next time. Gotta love that.

When I made the San Marzano Pasta that was demonstrated in that class, my husband was so impressed that he said I could take cooking classes any time because I just keep getting better.

Note: My husband does not cook nor does he have any interest in ever cooking. Furthermore, he’d rather go out to dinner any night of the week. So this comment is a huge step – in both his willingness to eat at home and my cooking ability.

While there were many different dishes demonstrated (and eaten) in this class, the one that stood out most to me was this San Marzano Pasta.

Rob and I spent our Honeymoon on the Amalfi Coast, where we discovered what just may be the best tomatoes in the world! I am a huge lover of tomatoes. When I embarked on an adventure to a healthier lifestyle over a year ago, I started adding more fruit and vegetables to my diet. It was then that I was reminded how much I love tomatoes… so much that I wondered why I didn’t have them in my kitchen at all times. If I love them so much and they are a healthy addition to my diet, there is no reason why they shouldn’t have a permanent place in my home!

On the other hand, Rob is not a fan of my adored fruit. But, over the years, he’s actually grown to appreciate them in certain contexts.

Still, he enjoyed every single tomato and tomato sauce on our Honeymoon like it was something sacred.

He, too, fell in love with San Marzano tomatoes.

What makes them different? Well, in my opinion, the flavor is just better. But that is not a good enough description for you, I’m sure. Some say that the flavor is sweeter. However, the reason I don’t like that description is that I absolutely hate sweet marinara sauces in restaurants. {These are generally made by adding sugar to the sauce, but when someone describes tomatoes as sweet, that’s the flavor I think of.} They are also said to be less acidic.

And while the San Marzano tomato variety can be grown here in the U.S., the best tomatoes come from Italy. Why?

Because they are grown in volcanic soil – near Mount Vesuvius in the Campania region! This is the reason I believe that these tomatoes taste so much better. While on our Honeymoon, every tomato and tomato sauce we tried was divine. There, they didn’t even label their tomatoes as San Marzano. They didn’t have to. They were just the local tomatoes, and I believe the volcanic soil they were grown in had something to do with the difference.

But you can buy canned San Marzanos here in the States! And yes, they still taste phenomenal.

San Marzano tomatoes

You can get canned San Marzanos in your regular grocery store! Sometimes they are near the other canned tomatoes and tomato sauces. Other times you’ll find them in the ethnic and specialty foods aisle. There are many brands out there and it really doesn’t matter which one you get. Just make sure that they not only say “San Marzano” on the label, but that they also state they are from Italy.  There is often a map on the back of the can highlighting the San Marzano region in Italy they come from. 😉 A 28-ounce can runs around $3.50 to $4.50 per can. Yes, they are a bit more than your average can of tomatoes.

But they are so worth it.

A couple of times, my grocery store has been out of them, so when I see there are more than a few cans on the shelf, I stock up! A few times, I found them cheaper at a all-natural specialty food store than my regular local Cub Foods or SuperTarget. And most recently, I got a steal on a three-pack of them at Costco. Of course, we bought two of those three-packs… just in case.

To make the San Marzano pasta, you will need the following ingredients:

Clockwise, from top left: extra virgin olive oil, pasta, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh garlic, fresh mozzarella, cilantro. Not pictured: salt.

With these ingredients, you may have to play around with the ratios to see what’s right for you. It took me a while to find how we like it best. I usually just grab what I have on hand and improvise. For those of you who know me, this is a big deal! I’m more of a recipe follower, so it’s a big step for me to just wing it. I’ve given some suggested quantities in the recipe at the end of this post. But use it as a guide, taste often, and decide how you like it best.

San Marzano Pasta

Start by pre-heating your oven and bringing a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Then heat the olive oil in an oven-safe skillet on medium high heat. Put a small piece of chopped garlic in the pan. Once it starts to sizzle, the pan is ready and you can add the rest of the garlic. Cook it for a few minutes, but watch so that it doesn’t burn.

After it starts to brown a bit, to stop the garlic from cooking, add your can of San Marzano tomatoes, juices and all. Your can may come with a lone basil leaf in it! It is up to you whether you want to leave it in your sauce or take it out.

Break up the tomatoes with a spatula so that they are no longer whole. This way, it’ll become more of a sauce. Once it becomes bubbly, turn the heat down a bit and let it simmer until the pasta is almost ready.

TIP #1: Do not cook your pasta all the way!

Any kind of pasta will do. I believe our cooking class instructor used penne. However, my husband’s favorite is angel hair pasta, so I use that whenever possible. {Although I find shorter styles easier to serve!} Cook the pasta according to package directions, only just shy of al dente. For example, if the package says 7 minutes for al dente, I cook it for 5 minutes.


You are going to finish cooking the pasta in the sauce! If the pasta is cooked completely, by the time you let it mix with the sauce, it will become mushy. And who likes mushy pasta?

TIP #2: Do not add all of the pasta to the sauce at once!

You want to make sure that you have the correct pasta to sauce ratio for you. I once added a whole box of pasta and was left with very little sauce. Add your pasta a little bit at a time until you have the right ratio. Any leftover cooked pasta can be used to make a pasta salad or used for another dinner. I’ve found that my pasta to sauce ratio is a 28-ounce can of tomatoes to just shy of 8 ounces of uncooked pasta.

Salt the sauce with the pasta in it to taste. Keeping tasting for seasoning (salt) and to be sure the pasta cooks just to al dente. Remove from heat and add slices of fresh mozzarella cheese.

Put the skillet in the oven and bake for about ten minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted.

Meanwhile, roughly chop about half of a bunch of cilantro and put it into a food processor with a bit of olive oil. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in more olive oil until you get a pesto-like consistency. Taste and salt. Add more cilantro, olive oil or salt until it comes out the way you like it.

Of course, you can use something else like basil, which is seemingly more Italian.. Our instructor just used cilantro because there was so much in the box that week and he wanted to show that you could still use it in Italian cooking!

When the cheese is melted, pull the baked pasta out of the oven.

Use a spoon to drizzle your cilantro pesto onto your mozzarella. You’ll have a beautiful red, white and green dish – the colors of the Italian flag!

You don’t need a lot. Now, just dish up and enjoy!

You can put the rest of your pesto in a jar and store it in the fridge for a few days. Mix it with your leftover cooked pasta that you didn’t add to the sauce, perhaps. Or stir it into scrambled eggs. Really. Just try it.

Ask me a few years ago if I ever thought Rob would eat a pasta sans meat with red sauce like this and I’d say, “NO WAY!” My man is a meat-eater at heart. He turns his nose up at vegetarian pizzas. The less vegetables the better… and pile on the meat, please.

But this is a dish he ASKS for.

Thank you, Italy!

Thank you, San Marzano tomatoes!

Here’s the recipe in case you want to copy, paste and print without photos:

San Marzano Pasta


  • Extra virgin olive oil (I use Italian, either expeller or cold-pressed)
  • Chopped garlic – 3 cloves or so should do, but lately I’ve been wanting more!
  • 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • 8 ounces of uncooked pasta of your choice
  • 8 ounces of fresh mozzarella – the kind in the ball, not the shredded stuff!
  • Cilantro (or other fresh herb to make a pesto, such as basil)


  • Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Boil a pot of water for your pasta of choice. Once it comes to a boil, salt the water and bring it to a boil again before adding the pasta. Cook one or two minutes shy of the al dente directions on the package.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1 to 2 Tbsp olive oil in an oven-safe skillet on medium-high heat. Put a small piece of chopped garlic in the pan. Once it starts to sizzle, the pan is ready and you can add the rest of the garlic. Cook the garlic for a few minutes, but watch so that it doesn’t burn.
  • Add your can of San Marzano tomatoes (juices and all) to the pan to stop the cooking of the garlic.
  • Break up the tomatoes with a spatula so that they are no longer whole.
  • Once it starts bubbling, lower the heat a bit and simmer while you are waiting for the pasta.
  • When the pasta is a minute or two shy of al dente, drain the water and slowly add the pasta, a little at a time, to the tomato sauce to finish cooking. If the pasta was cooked completely prior to adding it to the sauce, it will overcook and get mushy.
  • Remember, add the pasta a little at a time. I’ve added too much pasta before and had very little sauce. By adding a little at a time, you can control the ratio and never add too much.
  • Salt the sauce with the pasta in it to taste. Keeping tasting for seasoning (salt) and to be sure the pasta cooks just to al dente.
  • Remove from heat and add slices of fresh mozzarella cheese on top.
  • Put the skillet in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until the mozzarella has melted.
  • Meanwhile, roughly chop about half of a bunch of cilantro (or some basil) and put it into a food processor with a bit of olive oil. Turn on the food processor and slowly stream in more olive oil until you get a pesto-like consistency.  Taste and salt. Add more cilantro, olive oil or salt until it comes out the way you’d like it.
  • When you pull the baked pasta out of the oven, use a spoon to drizzle your cilantro pesto onto your mozzarella. You’ll have a beautiful red white and green dish – the colors of the Italian flag!
  • Dish up and enjoy – especially with a nice bottle of Chianti Classico.

What’s your favorite Italian dish?

A link to a recipe is encouraged!


Arezzo Ristorante – Edina


Two years ago, my husband and I were married on Pensacola Beach.

He proposed in Tuscany. We honeymooned on the Almalfi Coast.

It’s only appropriate that on our anniversary, we give you an impression of an Italian restaurant!

It had been a few years since we’d been to Arezzo Ristorante. I guess it’s technically located in {south} Minneapolis, but I like to say Edina, because that’s what I think of when I think of 50th and France.

The last time we were at Arezzo, we went with my friend Bridget and her husband. This time, after we parked, Rob said, “Hey, we should have invited Bridget and Digits!” It made me laugh. Rob gave Bridget’s husband the Poker moniker “Digits” because he works with numbers. Isn’t it funny how certain places, foods and wines remind you of people, places and experiences?

Well, we had a couple of Groupons to Arezzo. So that’s what brought us back. On our first return visit, we were in search of a good affordable bottle of Chianti Classico. Rob never liked Italian wine until our trip to Tuscany, a trip I earned doing Wine Tastings with The Traveling Vineyard. We decided on that trip that the Italians kept all the good stuff for themselves and sent the crap to the U.S. {Or maybe we just weren’t spending enough money when we bought Italian wines.}

In any case, we found one that lived up to our standards:

Tenuta La Gabbiola Chianti Classico

We liked it so much that we ordered it on Groupon Visit #2. It gets better as you give it time to evolve and open up in the glass. 😉 And at $39, it’s a pretty decent price for a restaurant.

A small part of the extensive wine list...

After you place your order, this will be brought to your table:

Rosemary Flatbread

I also like the fact that they use real candles, rather than the stinky oil kind:

Real Candle

Rob said that if we hadn’t gone to the Lexington {post coming soon!} a few months back, he would have given this his seal of approval that it was the best spaghetti carbonara he’s had in the Twin Cities. However, he did order it again on Groupon Visit #2 and said that it does come in second place as the Twin Cities’ best spaghetti carbonara and will order it again and again and again…

Spaghetti Carbonara - sautéed pancetta in extra virgin olive oil and parmesan cheese, tossed with egg over spaghetti

Rob was also intrigued by a side item to another entrée and asked if he could order it à la carte:

Truffle Mash

The Verdict: Meh. They smelled of truffle oil, but the flavor was lost. To be fair, maybe they would best accompany the steak they were supposed to on the menu. Nonetheless, we were glad we gave them a try.

I ordered different entrées on the two visits:

Fettucine Verdi with Sausage

I saw this item on the menu and they had me at San Marzano tomatoes and sausage. I don’t normally order red sauces at restaurants because, more often than not, they end up being too sweet. But when it comes to San Marzanos, it’s another story. The spinach {verdi} pasta was cooked perfectly al dente, the sausage spicy and I loved me the San Marzano sauce. 😉

On Groupon Visit #2, I was intrigued by the advertisement of “Neapolitan Pizzas”. I’ll be the judge of that, I thought. A nice margherita pizza sounded good anyway.

Margherita Pizza

The Verdict: It was good. The first bites were really yummy. However, as I kept eating, I wondered why I was… It wasn’t great. In true Italian fashion, they served a whole pizza. And somehow, I ate the whole thing. My complaints about the pizza were that they should have used San Marzano tomatoes {if they did, I couldn’t tell} and there should have been more cheese {just a personal preference from a Wisconsin girl!}. I would have liked basil leaves rather than chiffonade pieces, too. {Boy, do I sound like a food snob right now or what?} Would I get it again? Probably not. There are too many other things on the menu I’d like to try!

Still, Arezzo Ristorante is certainly an authentic Italian restaurant in the Twin Cities. You’ll find simple Tuscan ingredients and flavors, interesting combinations and portions that are much more reasonable than you’ll find at your local Italian chain restaurant. It’s a great place to enjoy good wine, good food and good company.

What’s your favorite Italian Restaurant where you live?