Studio 5 Dinner Party: Classic Italian Feast

Studio 5 Contributor Laura Wolford shares cooks up a classic Italian feast.

Minestrone Soup

• olive oil

• 2 cups finely chopped yellow onions (2 small onions)

• 1 cup small-diced celery (2 medium stalks)

• 1 cup small-diced carrots (2 to 3 medium carrots)

• 6 cups chicken broth
• 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary or thyme leaves

• 1 (14-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

• 1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes

• 4 cups small-diced zucchini
• 2 cups small-diced potato
• 1 cup small pasta, like a shell
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

• Garlic salt to taste
• 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Heat 2 Tbl olive oil in a large saucepan over high heat.

2. Add the onions, celery, and carrots.

3. Cook 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the chicken broth, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil.

5. Add remaining ingredients except the pasta and cheese, reduce the heat to simmer and cook until potatoes are half way cooked, add pasta and cook until pasta is cooked through and potatoes are tender.

6. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
7. Serve warm with Parmesan.

Homemade Pesto

2 cups loosely packed basil
1/3 cup olive oil
1 Tbl minced garlic or 2 cloves
1/4 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1/3 cup pinenuts or almonds
1/3 cup fresh Parmesan cheese

1. In a blender or food processor, puree the basil, oil, garlic.

2. Add salt and pepper along with the pinenuts and cheese.

3. Process briefly until the pestp is smooth.

4. Store in refrigerator for one week or freeze. Makes 1 ½ cups. Try adding different foods and seasonings to pesto, for example; sun dried tomatoes, parsley, hot peppers, chicken and other meats…..the possibilities are endless!

Laura’s Famous Spaghetti Sauce

2 cans Italian flavored stewed tomatoes, diced or crushed
2 Tbl olive oil for cooking
2 tsp minced garlic
1 onion, chopped
1 can tomato paste
1 can water
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
½ tsp oregano
1 lb pasta of choice, prepare according to package direction

At this point you can try a number of variations*:
• Mushroom, green peppers, even chopped spinach are fun vegetables to add.
• Ground beef, sausage, seafood or liver lend unique flavors.
*For any of the additions, stir fry along with garlic and onion. Cook meats until done.

1. Heat oil in large pot.

2. Add garlic and onion, stir fry 3 minutes.

3. Add tomatoes and simmer.
4. Add paste and water, and seasonings, simmer 30-45 minutes. The longer it simmers the better it tastes!

5. Toss pasta with sauce. Serves 4.

Spicy Fettuccine

1 fresh pack fettuccine
olive oil for cooking
1 white or yellow onion, chopped
1 Tbl minced garlic
1 small eggplant, cut into small pieces
4 oz Chirozio sausage
1 6 oz can tomato paste
2-3 tsp Italian seasoning or to taste
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne, if you want it extra spicy
1 green pepper, chopped
fresh shredded Parmesan cheese

1. Prepare pasta according to package direction.
2. Meanwhile, heat 2-3 Tbl olive oil in a large fry pan. Add onion and garlic, stir fry 45 seconds. Add eggplant. Add more oil if needed or small amounts of water to prevent burning. Stir fry 5-7 minutes or until eggplant is tender and browned.
3. Add sausage and cook until done. Add tomato paste along with two cans of water and seasonings. Stir to mix through. Add green pepper and stir just to warm through.
4. Remove pasta to large serving dish, spoon sauce over, sprinkle with cheese and serve. Serves 4.

‘Olive Garden Zuppa Soup’ (Laura’s version)

1 (12 oz) Jimmy Dean hot pork sausage
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
2 cups chopped collard greens
1 (49 oz) can chicken broth, plus 1 (14 oz ) can chicken broth
4 russet potatoes, chopped, skins left on
2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint heavy cream, milk can substitute

1. Heat wok or large soup pot. Add sausage, onion and garlic. Fry until sausage is cooked through and onions are tender. Break sausage into small pieces as it is cooking. Add chopped collard greens and stir fry 3 minutes.
2. Add chicken broth, potatoes and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer until potatoes are tender, aprox 20 minutes. Stir in cream and warm through. Adjust seasonings and serve. Serves 6-8 as a main dish.

Pasta Primavera

8 oz linguine

2 Tbl butter
2-3 tsp minced garlic
2 green onions, chopped, white separated from green chive

8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped broccoli florets
8 asparagus spears, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups snow peas
1 red bell pepper, sliced julienne
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (For a change, try 1 tsp dried tarragon to substitute basil)
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Cook linguine according to package direction.
2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet. Add garlic and white part of green onions; cook for 30 seconds. Add mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, asparagus, bell pepper, cream, basil and salt and pepper. Cook and stir until vegetables are tender-crisp.
3. Toss vegetables with linguine. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve. Serves 6.

Fresh Pasta (Pasta Fresca)

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
3 large eggs
1 Tbl olive oil or vegetable oil

1. In a large bowl, stir together flour and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture.
2. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with oil. Pour egg into the well of the flour mixture. Gradually draw in the flour from the inside of the well with a fork, beating in the same direction. Mix until the egg is well integrated with the flour.
3. Sprinkle kneading surface with small amount of flour. Place dough onto surface and knead until dough is smooth. Add more flour as needed to form a firm but pliable dough. Using the heels of your hands, flatten the dough ball and knead it from middle outward, folding it in half after working it each time. Do not let it rest during the kneading process. Knead for 8-10 minutes. Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest 15 minutes to 3 hours.

Rolling by hand:
After the dough has rested, remove it from the plastic wrap. Flatten into a disk aprox 4-5 inches in diameter and 2 inches thick. Place on lightly floured work surface. Place a long, narrow rolling pin across the center of the dough. Apply pressure and roll the pin away from you. You are pushing the dough not pushing down on the dough. Roll the pin back towards the center and repeat the same move 4 times. Turn the dough slightly and repeat the same moves until you have turned the dough in a full circle. The dough is now in a smooth circle aprox 1/4 inch thick. Now you can continue to roll the dough to reach the desired thinness – 1/8 inch is good, 1/16 inch is even better.

Lay a kitchen towel on the counter. Place the dough on the towel and let dry for 20 minutes. Turn once during that time.

Cutting dough by hand:
First of all, do not be fanatical about perfection! If you want to trim your dough to a rectangle, go ahead. Cut pasta into long strands with a long, thin knife.

Pasta shapes; dough cut 1/4 inch wide is tagliatelle, 1/8 inch wide is fettuccine, 1/16 inch wide is taglierini.

Drying the dough:
Spread the strands out across a kitchen towel so that the air hits as much of the surface area as possible. Let the dough dry for two hours or overnight. Turn occasionally. If you are going to store the long noodles for 2 weeks to 3 months, you can roll the strands around you fingers into nests. Let the nests dry for 24 hours. (Freeze pasta for up to 8 months)

Rolling Pasta by Machine:
Attach pasta machine to the work surface. Divide the dough into six equal portions. Use you hands to flatten one piece of dough to a 3 inch diameter circle; keep remaining dough covered. Dust dough lightly with flour. Adjust machine to widest setting. Pass dough through roller. Be careful as you hold the dough as it comes through the machine as not to puncture it.

Fold the dough strip into thirds, set the roller on the next notch and feed the dough through. Repeat the process of folding the dough into third and passing it through the second notch three times. Dust dough lightly with flour as needed. Feed the flattened piece of dough, narrow end first, through the machine at each of the remaining settings. For all shapes except fettuccine, pass the dough through every notch; for fettuccine, pass dough through to the next-to-last notch. Lay finished dough strips on kitchen towel to dry for 15 minutes.

Cutting by Machine:
Attach the cutting attachment to machine. Take a strip of pasta dough and pass through the attachment. Collect the noodles at the base of the cutting attachment. Lay noodles on dish towels and let dry 30 minutes or overnight. (Or make pasta nests, then dry)

Making Ravioli:
The dough strips do not have to go through the drying sequence after coming out of the machine to make ravioli. Although they can dry for 10-15 minutes and ravioli can still be made. Make long strips (aprox 20 inches) of pasta, the strips can be cut as wide as you desire; for small ravioli cut dough 2 inches wide; for large ravioli cut 4 inches wide. Work with two strips at a time. Cover the rest with a dry dish towel. Place 1 tsp filling (for small), and 1 Tbl filling (for large) in intervals along one strip of pasta. Brush the other pasta strip lightly with egg white or water. Cover the pasta with the filling on it with the other strip of dough. Using a pastry wheel or knife, cut pasta into squares. Press around each bundle to seal edges. Repeat with the remaining pasta strips.

Cooking Fresh Pasta:
It is impossible to say exactly how long to cook fresh pasta. The thickness, the flour used and the freshness all play a part in determining the cooking length. Check after two minutes of cooking time, taste constantly. All pasta should be dropped into a pot of rapidly boiling water, except stuffed pastas. These should be simmered gently as to not break the casing. Freshly made pasta is better tasting after drying 8 hours, some say after 24 hours. Pasta made with 100% semolina flour is at its best when freshly cut and cooked.

A few words about flour:
Tipo 00 is a highly refined Italian flour. 00 refers to the finest setting on the flour mill. When you work with Tipo 00, you’ll find the dough grainier at first than other pasta dough, but, after a few minutes of kneading, you’ll see that it becomes smoother than other dough.

Regular Unbleached Flour: This is a good all-around choice. The pasta it yields is firm, but not as resilient as with Tipo 00. This flour produces a pasta that is appropriate for a wide range of sauces, from light to heavy.

Semolina: This flour is made from hard durum wheat. Make sure you get semolina that has been finely milled. Semolina will yield a tough, chewy, more rustic pasta. This pasta will stand its own with a hearty meat sauce. This flour can be blended with other types of flour. Be creative. Adjustments might have to be made in the egg-flour ratio, as semolina requires a bit
more egg.

Flavored Pasta
Adding a small amount of pureed, cooked spinach or other vegetable to pasta dough to color it is a traditional Italian technique. Most of these additions add little flavor. Some strong-flavored spices, herbs, and other ingredients can give pasta a distinctive taste. Pasta sheets can contain whole herb leaves, the addition is primarily for appearance.

In most cases, add the flavoring to the flour and eggs at the beginning of the mixing period. Adjust flour and egg as needed. The whole herb leaves would be added at the time of rolling. Sandwich the leaves between two sheets of pasta, then pass again through the roller.

Pasta Fillings:
Filling 1:
6 oz baby spinach leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning, or fresh minced basil
salt and pepper to taste

1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Cook spinach leaves in small saucepan with ½ inch water. Cook until spinach is tender. Drain and run under cold water. When spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess water. Wrap in paper towel and squeeze again. Chop spinach.

While spinach is cooking; place pine nuts into a mortor and pestle, mash until smooth. Add seasonings and cheese, along with spinach and stir to mix through.

Filling 2:
1 lb ricotta cheese

2 eggs
1 Tbl chopped parsley
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl.

Filling 3:
1 cup cooked ground pork
2 eggs
1/4 cup lightly toasted bread crumbs
½ tsp dried basil or marjoram
½ tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced parsley
salt and pepper
enough heavy cream to help combine and make a paste

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl.


1 stick butter
1 quart cream, plus an additional ½ cup
1-2 cups grated parmesan cheese
grated nutmeg or pepper to taste

Melt butter in skillet, add cream. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add parmesan cheese and nutmeg, toss with pasta. Let set for several minutes and serve. Makes enough sauce for 2 lb pasta.

Cilantro Sauce
leaves from one bunch of fresh cilantro
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbl pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
salt and pepper to taste
2/3 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese

Place all ingredients, except cheese, into a food processor and work until smooth. Fold in grated cheese.

Tomato Basil Sauce

1 Tbl olive oil

1 small onion, chopped
13 oz canned chopped tomatoes, drained but juice reserved
1 Tbl chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a saucepan, add the onion, and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and half of their juice, bring to a boil, and simmer for 3 minutes. Stir in basil and season to taste.

Mushroom Butter Sauce

3 Tbl butter
1 ½ cup sliced mushrooms
1/4 cup flour
1 cup cream
1 Tbl tomato paste
salt and pepper

Melt butter in saucepan, add the mushrooms, and cook gently, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Add the flour and 1/3 cup water, stirring, for cook for aprox, 1 minute, until thickened.

Four Cheese Fettuccine

1 lb fettuccine, spinach or other flavored fettuccine is really good to use with this sauce
1 ½ cups whipping cream
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese
2/3 cup grated Provolone cheese
½ cup Mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup butter
½ tsp dried crushed red pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1. Cook pasta according to package direction , drain and stir in 2 tsp oil to prevent sticking.

2. Meanwhile, combine cream and next 6 ingredients in a large saucepan. Whisk over medium heat until mixture simmers and is smooth.
3. Add pasta, and Parmesan to cream sauce, toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve. Serves 8.

Artichoke Bruschetta

1 (6oz) jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
½ cup grated Romano cheese
1/3 cup finely chopped red onion
1/3 cup mayonnaise, add more if needed to create and smooth, yet thick, consistency

1 French bread baguette, cut into ½ inch thick rounds

1. Mix first 4 ingredients together in bowl. Top bread rounds with spread. Arrange bruschetta on baking sheet. Broil until spread is heated through and begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Makes aprox 15 rounds.

Italian Steak and Farfalle Pasta

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp minced garlic
pepper to taste
1 Tbl dijon mustard
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning

1 lb beef top round steak, 3/4 inch thick
1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 Tbl olive oil

2 small zucchini, chopped
8 oz sliced mushrooms
1 can (14 oz) diced Italian tomatoes
sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups Farfalle pasta (bow tie)
grated Parmesan cheese to taste
chopped fresh basil to taste

1. Combine marinade ingredients together and place into a large ziploc bag. Place beef in bag and seal securely. Marinate in refrigerator 6-8 hours. Turn to coat occasionally.
2. Remove steak from marinade; discard marinade. Press black pepper evenly into both sides of steak. Heat large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add steak, cook 11 minutes for medium rare, turning once. Remove steak. Season with salt.
3. In same skillet, heat oil and add zucchini and mushrooms; stir fry 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and red pepper. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile cook pasta according to package direction. When tender, drain and add pasta to zucchini mixture; stir to heat through.
4. Meanwhile, carve steak crosswise into thin slices. Toss beef with pasta, cheese and basil. Serves 4.

Herb Tomatoes

6 firm tomatoes, cored, halved horizontally, seeds and pulp removed
3 Tbl olive oil
2-3 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from French bread
1/4 cup assorted herbs (such as basil, sage, rosemary and mint)

1. Sprinkle cut side of tomatoes with salt. Place cut side down on rack; let tomatoes stand 15 minutes.
2. Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and fennel and saute 1 minute. Add breadcrumbs and saute until crisp (do not let brown) about 4 minutes. Mix herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, in single layer in large baking dish. Fill with breadcrumb mixture. Bake until tomatoes softened and crumbs are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to platter and serve. Serves 6.

Traditional Italian Tomato Sauce

4 (28 oz) can whole Italian plum tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine
1 Tbl dried oregano
8 leaves fresh basil
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Puree tomatoes. In a medium stockpot, heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic, and saute until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Add red pepper flakes. Add the pureed tomatoes and wine, stirring to combine. Reduce heat. Add oregano, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until sauce has thickened, 1 ½ to 2 hours.
2. Add basil, season with salt and pepper. Sauce may be stored in refrigerator up to 4 days or freeze for several months.

Panzanella (Italian Salad)

Toast Under The Broiler:
4 cups cubed day-old Italian bread, (1/2″ cubes)
Heat small saucepan with 1 tsp. Olive Oil and toast
1/3 cup pine nuts
Mix with Mortar and Pestle:
1 Tbl capers, drained
2 tsp minced garlic or 2 whole cloves
1 anchovy fillets, diced
Add to anchovy mixture and whisk together, set aside:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth

Combine in a large salad bowl:
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup cucumber, diced
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
2 cup mixed red and yellow bell peppers, diced
2 cup mozzarella cheese, cubed
1/4 cup kalamata olives, pitted and minced
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
freshly ground pepper, to taste

Top with bread and nuts, pour dressing over just before serving, toss by hand.
Delicious sprinkled with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 12 cups.

Tuscan Bean Soup

Heat 2 Tbl olive oil in a large soup pot, stir fry:
1 yellow onion, chopped>
2 tsp minced garlic>
2 cup diced celery>
1/4 cup diced carrots>
2 cans (14 oz) Great Northern Beans, drained>
8 cups chicken broth>
1 can (4.5 oz) diced green chiles>
3 Tbl chopped fresh parsley>

2 Tbl chopped fresh rosemary>
pepper to taste>

Cover and Simmer 1 hour

Add, stir and serve:
6 oz fresh baby spinach leaves, cleaned and stemmed
2 cup red bell pepper, diced

Garnish with toasted Italian bread slices and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 8.

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