Tag Archives: pasta

Noodles Spring (Asparagus) Dishes

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Last week, I got an email in my inbox offering me to try one of Noodles and Company‘s Limited Time Spring {read: asparagus} Dishes for free. I absolutely love Noodles and company. I adore asparagus. And I just couldn’t pass up FREE, so I went for lunch. My choices from the Limited Time Spring Menu included:

  • Springtime Flatbread“Crispy flatbread appetizer topped with fresh asparagus, mushrooms, melted parmesan cheese and bacon.”
  • Garden Pesto Sauté “Fresh spring asparagus in a light lemon Genovese pesto tossed with our delicious gluten-free fusilli noodles, red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, pecans, feta and spinach.”
  • Asparagus Stack“Side of fresh asparagus spears, feta cheese, bacon crumbles and a wedge of fresh lemon.”

I chose the Garden Pesto Sauté. The Noodles employee asked if I wanted the small or regular-sized bowl. I think either would have been free; there wasn’t a size restriction on the voucher. However, I thought better and chose the small. I knew if I chose the large, I’d probably eat the entire large serving, walking away stuffed. I also added some Parmesan-Crusted Chicken and a small drink. With those additions, my meal came just over $2.

Noodles & Company sauté with Parmesan Crusted Chicken

Noodles & Company –  Garden Pesto Sauté with Parmesan Crusted Chicken (Small)

I was also asked if I wanted the fusilli noodles or the penne. I chose penne, not knowing that the reason why she asked was that the fusilli noodles are gluten-free. I don’t follow a gluten-free diet, but it’s good to know that options exist for my friends that do!

I find that most Noodles dishes are skimpy on the veg. I totally get it. The pasta is where they make their money. But this dish was actually heavy on the veggies! You can’t tell by my photo above, with the parmesan-crusted chicken plopped on top and sprinkled with feta. So I cut up the chicken and mixed up my bowl for you:

Veggies in this dish included red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach.

Veggies in this dish included asparagus as well as red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and spinach.

It was a great combo of veggies. And while the pecans and feta were a nice touch, the pesto was pretty light in flavor. I am glad I added the chicken.

The Verdict? It was good, but not great. I have other dishes I love at Noodles and company, that I’d rather order. But here are a few pluses to this dish’s appearance:

  • Awareness of gluten-free pasta at Noodles & Company. (You can sub any dish with this pasta.)
  • Asparagus served at Noodles & Company while in season. (You can add or sub asparagus in any dish!)

What is your favorite pasta dish and why?

Recipe-sharing encouraged!

Cheers~
Carrie

Our Absolute Favorite Wines

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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!

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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.

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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)

opolo

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!

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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!

Dievole

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?

Cheers~
Carrie

Restaurant Wine: Best Priced Bottles in the Twin Cities Metro

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Sure, you can usually find a $20 – $25 {or even less} bottle of wine at a local restaurant that really isn’t known for wine. These sorts of places have wine on hand only for the occasional request, but wine generally isn’t their focus. Furthermore, the wine isn’t of high quality and it is quite often just cheap – meaning probably around $7 retail.

Wine markup is high in most restaurants though – between 100% and 200% per bottle. And oftentimes, it’s much more per glass. You may even find that the most expensive wines on the menu have the least amount of markup. We’ve found that restaurant wines in the $40 – $45 range are usually pretty decent. However, when we can afford it, wines in the $50 – $60 range are worth the splurge. Still, it’s tough to justify paying that for one bottle of wine. That’s when it’s best to take advantage of half-priced bottle of wine nights!

But what if you could find a high quality wine in a restaurant at an affordable price?

Well, if you live in the Twin Cities metro area, you can! Just head yourself down to Historic Main Street Minneapolis to Vic’s Dining, a restaurant overlooking the Mississippi River.

The cobblestone streets of St. Anthony Main offer riverfront dining from a selection of restaurants. My friend Jen and I popped into one for some gelato when walking in the area a couple of summers ago. And Pracna was on her list of restaurants to try when it was her turn to pick where to dine one month. But another restaurant won out.

And as per the usual, it took us a Groupon to get our butts down there!

We made reservations, but there were very few people when we arrived. We took seats at the bar and asked for a wine menu. We had already perused it online, but knew that it changed often. The Vic’s Dining website advertises a “fabulous 99 bottle wine menu where all bottles are priced dangerously lower then anywhere around town”. I completely agree with this statement! Check out the wine menu the night we dined there:

Vic's Dining Wine Menu: February 15, 2013

Vic’s Dining Wine Menu: February 15, 2013

Have you seen such prices for 90 and 91 point wines or those from specific appelations?! These prices are insane! It almost made me feel a little bit guilty using a Groupon. Now the trouble was choosing a bottle. I had no idea what I was going to eat and there were so many unique wines that caught my eye. I don’t like going with well-known wines when I order off of a wine menu. Variety is the spice of life, so why not try some new wines? We did find a bottle that the two of us could agree on and it wasn’t one I’d had before:

2010

2010 The Federal Visionary ZinfandelDry Creak Valley, California – $19.00

We love a big, bold spicy Zin. {For those of you who are still drinking White Zin, this is nothing like it. I’ll post about the difference on a future Wine Wednesday!} I find that it’s hard to find a good one that isn’t overpowered by vanilla these days. You usually have to pay a bit more for a good quality one. And we found an excellent one here for just $19 – at a restaurant!

What I’m about to tell you next reminds me of an episode of Frasier. Do you remember the episode where Niles realizes that he never rebelled as a teenager? When he thinks he’s eaten a pot brownie and decides now is the time he’s going to rebel he exclaims: “I’m thinking of pairing this Chilean Sea bass with an aggressive Zinfandel!”

Haha. Yes, while I’ll always stand by my mantra that you should pair any wine with whatever food YOU like it with; generally big, bold red wines don’t go with seafood. And that’s just what I ordered!

Scallop Pappardelleseared scallops, pine nut basil pesto with grapetomatoes, roasted peppers & Parmesan..........................22

Scallop Pappardelle
Seared scallops, pine nut basil pesto with grape
tomatoes, roasted peppers & Parmesan$22

Doesn’t that dish just scream my name? I adore scallops and one of the best scallop dishes I ever had was one with a pesto sauce at a Minneapolis restaurant that has since closed. I hadn’t been able to find anything like it since, so there was no way I was going to pass this dish up, even if it meant pairing it with an aggressive Zinfandel!

It didn’t disappoint. However, after a while the dish became a little too heavy. Maybe it was just the sheer amount of food, or the fact that I’m getting used to eating normal-sized portions? In any case, it was worth ordering it.

Rob, the burger guru, really wanted to give theirs a try. It’s also a more appropriate pairing with an aggressive Zinfandel!

burger

“V” Burger
8 oz U.S.D.A. choice ground chuck, basted in a rich Demi Glace – $15

Guru Verdict? It was okay – just an average burger with average fries. It won’t make the Top 10 Twin Cities Burgers or Fries list, nor will he order it again. But this isn’t really a burger joint, anyway.

There are so many places to discover along the St. Anthony Main Mississippi riverfront {we did stop for an aperitif and a digestif at two of them!}, that we’d come to Vic’s for a bottle of wine and an appetizer next time. It definitely wins my vote for best-priced quality wines in the Twin Cities!

What’s the best wine you’ve ever had in a restaurant (regardless of price)?

Cheers~
Carrie

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The Pelican… and Kitchen Round 2

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After our lunch at Kitchen, our room was ready at The Pelican. We went back to get situated and take a nap before checking out the beach and heading out to dinner later that evening.

We found The Pelican on a whim. When we learned we going on this cruise, I knew I wanted to stay in Miami for night since we had never been. However, knowing that I didn’t want to rent a car, I got recommendations from friends to stay right on Miami Beach so that we’d be in walking distance of things to do.

The lesser expensive hotels were going for $300+ for just one night. To me, that is CRAZY! So I checked out Hotwire and found a boutique hotel on Miami Beach with great ratings and snatched it up. After all was said and done, we paid $182, including all taxes. While that is still more than we ever tend to spend, I thought it was reasonable for what we wanted to do.

And the hotel was fantastic. It was quirky and eclectic. Each room has different theme and decor. And the hotel’s location put us just across the street from the beach! When we checked in, the gal told us that when we got to the room, we would find a fridge with a big bottle of water and a bottle of sparkling water – these were complimentary. “But here’s the best part…” she said. “There is a free Happy Hour for guests from 4pm to 6pm. Just come down to the bar and show your key card!” Wha… What?

Truthfully, after the lunch we had, I really didn’t need any more alcohol. In fact, while Rob napped, I somehow got a second wind. Still, by 4:30, we were down at the bar ready to mingle and have some drinks. But we were the only people at the bar. There were plenty of people dining out on the patio… but we were the only one taking advantage of Happy Hour!

The Pelican Open Bar menu

The Pelican Open Bar menu

And just like our experience at Kitchen, these drinks weren’t weak either! We were expecting some watered down gin and tonics or Captain and Cokes, or a couple of glasses of house wine. But this wasn’t the case. They were all specialty drinks. And they were not only unique and tasty, but also strong!

We each had only two drinks. But it was more than enough. On our way to dinner, we stopped to check out the beach before the sun set completely.

We checked out the beach just across the street from our hotel on Ocean Drive before the sun went down...

We checked out the beach just across the street from our hotel on Ocean Drive before the sun went down…

It was the perfect hotel in terms of character, location and price for us. Their restaurant menu looked phenomenal, too. I just knew that the Caprese Omelette would be right up my alley.

I tried, oh how I tried, but I couldn’t get out of bed that next morning. I had had way too much to drink! It was another beautiful day on Miami Beach and I was spending it in the hotel. Ugh. By 10am, I got up and showered, but I had to go back to bed for a bit. It wasn’t until noon (check-out time) that I made it out the door. I am not proud. I wanted to see so  much more of Miami. At this point, it was lunch time, but I still wasn’t sure I was ready to stomach any food.

Rob was on a mission to go back to Ktichen for the the best Carbonara he’s ever had. How could I argue? He had spent the last four hours sitting in the hotel room while I nursed my hangover instead of enjoying the beautiful Miami weather. Besides, as much as I wanted to try the food at The Pelican, I wasn’t sure I what I could keep down just yet. I told him that it was up to him if he wanted to return to Kitchen. We just needed to be back around 1pm so that we could catch a cab to the cruise port.

Of course, Miami’s ceviche was something else I really wanted to try while we were there. But this wasn’t the time to put that in my stomach. Instead, I went with the chicken quesadillas.

Chicken Quesadillas

Chicken Quesadillas

Doesn’t it look like someone took a little swipe out of my guacamole? This photo was taken before I even touched it.

Miami-Guac

The flavors in the dish were excellent. I mean, they were quesadillas, so it’s rare that they could be done wrong. Still, the ratio of ingredients in these quesadillas was perfect and they were well seasoned. In fact, I noticed that there were only salt shakers on all the tables in the restaurant. No shakers for pepper were to be seen. Maybe that’s because everything is seasoned with pepper? Look closely at the guacamole above and the chicken in my quesadillas below. See the specks of pepper?

Miami-Chx

The only reason I was picking at this dish {I only ate on piece of this quesadilla} was that I wasn’t quite ready to get the food down. I took little bites as I sipped water.

And though we came back to Kitchen for Rob’s best Carbonara ever, at the last moment, he ordered the:

Penne ara

Penne Arrabiata

The Verdict? It was very, very good. However Rob still regretted that he did not order the Best Carbonara Ever. He wondered why he suddenly got the urge to try something new. Still the pasta was cooked perfectly al dente and the spice was very nice.

And while I sipped on my water, Rob was ready for a pre-cruise cocktail. Although both of decided that we never needed a $45 drink experience again, he ordered a medium-sized pineapple concoction.

Miami-Kitchen Medium

A medium drink at Kitchen. Again, use the salt shaker for size reference.

The medium was still $30. And it was also buy-one-get-one free. He had to get his free one to-go.

Our twenty-four hours in Miami were sun and fun-filled, but also full of alcohol and good food. I now know to lay off the booze and enjoy the food and the weather the next time we visit. There is so much more to see, too. So there are plenty of reasons to return.

What is the best hotel you’ve ever stayed in and in what city?

Cheers~
Carrie

P.S. For the record, Rob ordered a late night pizza at The Pelican and said it was excellent. I got stuck with the crusts. 😉

I Nonni – Lilydale

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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:

CLOSED

FOR

PRIVATE EVENT

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:

asdfad

VECCHIONE nonno nick’s Milwaukee style old fashion

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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!

DOH!

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:

buratta

BURRATA

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!

sausage

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.

sausage

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.

asdjf;laf

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:

RIGATONCINI alla NORCINA
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?

Cheers~
Carrie

San Marzano Pasta – A Recipe

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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.

Why?

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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Method:

  • 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!

Salute~
Carrie