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What's for Dinner? 7 Quick & Easy Italian Recipes

Here are some quick and easy weeknight Italian recipes guaranteed to have everyone saying Mamma Mia!

Click here and learn how to make 15-minute Chicken Parmesan.

Quick & Easy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta

How do you get everyone to say 'Mamma Mia' with each bite? Simply whip up this quick and easy Roasted Red Pepper Pasta, fusilli coated in a creamy (yet cream-free) pesto-like sauce of roasted red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, almonds and olive oil. Mixed with fresh green peas and topped with ricotta and basil, who could resist?

Ingredients

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped
¼ cup ground almonds
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, chopped
1 tbsp chopped shallot
¾ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ cup olive oil

1 lb fusilli
1 cup fresh peas
½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish

Directions

1) For the roasted red pepper sauce, in a food processor or blender, combine roasted red peppers, ground almonds, red wine vinegar, Parmesan cheese, sundried tomatoes, shallot, salt and pepper. Blend until well chopped. Add olive oil and blend until smooth. Cover and let stand until ready to dress pasta.

2) For the pasta, in a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook fusilli until tender. In the last 2 minutes of cooking the pasta, add fresh peas and cook until both are tender. Drain well and place pasta and peas in a large serving bowl. While pasta is still warm toss with prepared sauce. Top pasta with crumbled ricotta cheese and garnish with basil leaves.

Serves 6-8

Spicy Spaghetti & Meatballs

How do you turn tender meatballs into great balls of fire? Simple...just stop, drop and roll. As in, stop what you're doing, drop the grocery bags and start rolling out these marvellous homemade meatballs. Paired with this robust and spicy spaghetti sauce, this easy dinner is going to get everyone fired up!

Ingredients

Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 small garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 (28oz) tins San Marzano whole tomatoes
1 small bunch fresh basil, tied together
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Meatballs

2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ lbs lean ground beef
½ lb ground veal

1 cup olive oil, for browning meatballs

Directions

1) For the tomato sauce, in a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook for 3 minutes, until softened. Add tomato paste, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon to create smaller chunks. Once sauce comes to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer. Add basil, salt and pepper and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove basil and set sauce aside until meatballs are ready.

2) For the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine panko crumbs, parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix well to combine. Add ground beef and veal, mixing thoroughly by hand until well combined. Shape into 2-inch meatballs.

3) In a large skillet, heat 1 cup olive oil over medium-high heat. Brown meatballs in batches, being sure not to overcrowd the pan, about 4-5 minutes per side until both sides are browned. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel. Place meatballs into simmering tomato sauce and cook covered for 15-20 minutes more.

Yield: 30-32 meatballs

Easy Ricotta Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce

These small dumplings are harder to pronounce—NOK-ee? NYO-ke? NEE-okee?—than to make from scratch. Using basic ingredients such as ricotta, eggs, flour and Parmesan cheese we've created the lightest, most tender-textured gnocchi. Or, is that NYAW-kee?

Ingredients

Gnocchi Dough

4 cups ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
4 cups flour

Tomato Sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small red onion, chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 (28oz/796ml) cans diced tomatoes, with liquid
2 tbsp tomato paste
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

1) Dust 2 baking sheets with flour. Set aside.

2) For the dough, in a large bowl, using your hands or a wooden spoon, combine ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Add flour 1 cup at a time to form a soft dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead gently for 2 minutes.

3) Divide the dough into 6 pieces and roll each into a ball. Roll out each ball into 1/2-inch thick ropes. Cut each rope into 1-inch slices and gently place on prepared baking sheets. If not cooking right away, cover and place in refrigerator until ready to use.

4) For the sauce, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add carrot and onion, stirring for 3-5 minutes or until tender. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, tomato paste and crushed red pepper flakes, bringing to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and use a hand held or countertop blender to process until smooth. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

5) To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Drop pieces into boiling water and cook until gnocchi rise to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Remove gnocchi using a slotted spoon and place in a serving bowl. Top with tomato sauce and serve.

Serves 8-10, yielding approximately 120 gnocchi

Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad

Basil is known as the "King of Herbs." But garlic, the so-called "Stinking Rose," is a lowly clove. Who'd ever think the two would get along so well? My Cuisinart, that's who. This Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad is a family favorite, the perfect combination of basil, garlic and pine nuts.

Ingredients

1 lb fusilli pasta
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tbsp olive oil

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
1 large garlic clove
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

Directions

1) For the pasta, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and pasta, cooking until pasta is tender. Drain well and toss with olive oil. Cool to room temperature while preparing the pesto.

2) For the pesto, wash the basil, discard the stems and dry thoroughly. Set aside.

3) Place the garlic, pine nuts, salt and pepper in a food processor. Process 10 seconds to chop garlic. Add basil leaves and pulse 4-5 times to shred basil. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture is smooth, about 20 seconds. Add the Parmesan, mayonnaise and lemon juice, processing just until incorporated.

4) Transfer pesto to a large serving bowl and toss with cooled pasta. Serve with additional Parmesan if desired.

Serves 8

Bottomless Bowl Chicken Lasagna

When cravings strike, and I don't have the time or patience for layering, this cheese-topped pasta delivers quick-fix happiness in a bowl of tender noodles, succulent chicken and sweet vegetables.

Ingredients

1 tbsp olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cups chicken broth
1 (28oz/796ml) can diced tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper

6 oven-ready lasagna noodles, broken

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1 cup ricotta cheese, for topping
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, for topping
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for topping

Directions

1) Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Sauté chicken for 4 minutes until lightly browned. Stir in carrots, mushrooms and onions, cooking an additional 4-5 minutes.

2) Add broth, diced tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, oregano, basil, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook covered for 5 minutes. Turn heat to high and return to a boil. Add lasagna noodles and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes or until tender.

3) In a small bowl, combine cornstarch and a ladle of liquid from the soup pot. Mix to combine and stir into pot, thickening the broth.

4) Spoon the stew into bowls and top each serving with ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan.

Serves 6

Turkey Bolognese Lasagna

This Turkey Bolognese Lasagna is some seriously hearty (yet, somewhat light) comfort food. Start with the flavorful turkey bolognese (complete with tomatoes, herbs and white wine) sauce, spoon on the creamy Béchamel and pile up the chopped spinach and you've got one luscious lasagna.

Ingredients

Turkey Bolognese

1 large red onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 rosemary stem, leaves removed, chopped
¼ cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp dried red pepper flakes
2 lb. ground turkey
1½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine
1 (5.5oz) tin tomato paste
2 (28oz) tins diced tomatoes

Bechamel Sauce

¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups whole milk
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 (300g) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed with water and squeezed very dry

1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese

12 oven-ready lasagna noodles

Directions

1) For the Turkey Bolognese sauce, combine the red onion, celery, carrots, garlic, rosemary, parsley, oregano and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Pulse 4 to 5 times, scraping down the sides of the bowl until vegetables are chopped well. Place chopped vegetables in a large pot and combine with ground turkey. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the turkey as it cooks. Once turkey mixture comes to a boil, season with salt and pepper and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Increase heat to high and add milk. Reduce for 8 minutes, stirring constantly until most of the milk is absorbed. Add wine and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and diced tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and cooking until thickened.

2) For the Béchamel, using a small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour a small amount at a time, whisking quickly and constantly. Add milk, increase heat to medium and whisk constantly until sauce has thickened and is smooth. Season the béchamel with salt and pepper.

3) To assemble the lasagna, preheat oven to 375ºF and coat a 13x9-inch baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Spread 1½ cups Turkey Bolognese on the bottom of the baking dish. Top with 4 lasagna noodles, 2 cups Bolognese, ¾ cup béchamel sauce, ½ cup parmesan cheese and ½ of spinach. Top with 4 more noodles, another 2 cups Bolognese, ¾ cup béchamel sauce, ½ cup Parmesan cheese and remaining spinach. Finish with remaining 4 lasagna noodles and cover with 2 cups Bolognese, remaining béchamel and ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.

Serves 8

Baked Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches

We've ditched the deep-fryer and firing up the over for these Nonna-approved baked Eggplant Parmesan Sandwiches. Real crowd-pleasers, these sandwiches are layers of crusty bread smothered in homemade tomato sauce, golden baked tender eggplant, peppery arugula and melted mozzarella cheese.

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp tomato paste
1(28oz) can diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Eggplant Parmesan

3 medium eggplants, cut into 30 (½-inch thick) slices
1 tbsp kosher salt
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup breadcrumbs
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

10 crusty sandwich buns
Baby arugula
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions

1) For the tomato sauce, in a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-low heat. Add onion, stirring 2-3 minutes until tender. Stir in garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and using a handheld immersion blender, process slightly, leaving the sauce somewhat chunky. Season with sugar, salt and pepper.

2) For the eggplant, place the slices in a large strainer, sprinkle with 1 tbsp of salt, toss to coat and let sit for 30 minutes. Rinse the eggplant and dry well with paper towel.

3) Preheat oven to 425ºF and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place flour, salt and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Add eggplant slices and toss to coat. Place eggs in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese. Dip each slice of eggplant in the eggs and then in the breadcrumb mixture, coating both sides well. Place in a single layer on prepared baking sheets and spray the tops with non-stick cooking spray. Bake 12-13 minutes, flip the slices and continue baking for 12-13 minutes more, until eggplant is golden. Remove from oven and set broiler to high.

4) To assemble sandwiches, spread 2 tbsp of tomato sauce on the bottom of one sandwich bun, place a small portion of arugula over the sauce. Layer on 3 eggplant slices, 2 tbsp of tomato sauce and 3 tbsp of mozzarella cheese over the sauce. Heat under broiler until bubbly and golden. Remove from oven and add the top of the bun. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

Yield: 10 sandwiches

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