kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.

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This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

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This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS

To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.

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NOTES:

  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.

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Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.

Blue Apron · Recipes

Tomato Zucchini Quiche

Boy, do I love quiche. Too bad it isn’t the healthiest thing around! What it lacks in fiber it makes up for in protein, however, and for vegetarians this can be a very good thing. Not to mention it’s a simple meal to throw together on a hot night, and if you toss a light salad alongside, you can make it a balanced dinner that’s budget- and family-friendly. I use pre-bought pie crusts when I’m crunched for time, and zucchini and tomatoes from my garden when they’re abundant. Combine that with some ricotta, eggs, and cheese, and you’re only 20 minutes away from yum.

QUICHE (1)

Zucchini & Tomato Quiche

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 large, pre-baked pie crust (or 2 mini), store bought or home made
  • 1 zucchini, diced small
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup fontina cheese, grated or chopped small
  • salt, pepper & olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425. Set the pie crust(s) out on a non-stick baking sheet to come to room temperature.

Small dice the zucchini and quarter the tomatoes. Dice or shred the cheese if it comes in a block. Peel and mince the garlic and smash into a paste using either the side of a knife, a mortar and pestle, or a zester.

In a medium non-stick pan, heat olive oil over medium-high until hot, then add the zucchini and cook, seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook for 5 minutes or until browned and soft, then add the tomatoes and garlic paste. Stir for a couple minutes or until fragrant, then remove from the heat.

In a medium sized bowl, crack the two eggs and whisk; add the ricotta and whisk again, the add the cooked zucchini and tomatoes, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper.

Pour the mixture into the pie crust(s) and evenly top with cheese.

Bake the quiches in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the fillings are set. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes.

Serve warm, at room temp, or even cold straight from the refrigerator!

Notes: 1/4 cup cheese is about one ounce, or 4 TBSP; you can also just eyeball the amount you’d like based on how heavy you want the dish to be. Add more or less to your health and taste needs, and vary the cheese type if you like something else better. You can also add a little more garlic; I did. Don’t want to overdo it, though.

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This recipe came to me in my Blue Apron delivery. Unlike some of their meals, this featured no hard-to-find ingredients or complex preparation steps, so it was easy for us to replicate. I’ve also made more than a few quiche in my day, but even for newbies it’s a pretty hard dish to mess up! Enjoy and stay cool in this drought-level heat wave.

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Holidays · Recipes

5 Great Pies for Pi Day!

It’s Pi Day (in the U.S., anyway) and what better way to celebrate 3.14.15(92653…) than with a roundup of my favorite PIE recipes, starting with one I just saw yesterday that I haven’t made yet but cannot WAIT to try, courtesy of Smitten Kitchen:

Black Bottom Oatmeal Pie from Smitten Kitchen

That’s zooming to the top of my must-make list!

Next up comes my Key Lime Pie, which I often make for Easter. Either that, or Strawberry Shortcake, which is also inside that key lime post, because one year I made both and my lucky relatives got to eat it all up.

Then there’s the classic Raw Pecan Love Pie from Kimberly Snyder, which I just love.

And who can resist this go-to Chocolate Pie by Pioneer Woman, so easy and so good. Mark just eats this up.

Next is something a little bit different: a Pumpkin Pie Smoothie!

Which can’t hold a candle to my Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp filling, which can be used just as easily to make a pie, as I have done and will continue to do every year.

And what’s a post about pie without some savory options?

Like Shepherd’s Pie, or Roasted Zucchini & Tomato Ricotta Pie, just to name a couple of examples.

But here’s the embarrassing part.

My favorite pies — pumpkin and apple — are two that, believe it or not, I DON’T have recipes for on this blog yet! So I am hereby setting a goal to rectify that this year.

Maybe I can get my mom to guest blog about her famous lemon meringue pie, and then eventually I’ll have to share my family’s recipe for Swedish Apple Pie, too. And come to think of it, what about Ricotta Pie??

Clearly, I have a lot of catching up to do! Stay tuned, and hopefully there will be some new desserts coming your way in short order.

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What about you? What are YOUR favorite pies? Tell me in the comments 🙂 And have a great weekend.

Recipes

Baked Ziti

Heads up — this is a Weight Watchers recipe! I wish I could say it’s because I’m finally losing my last 5 baby pounds, but (typical) it’s because Mark booked a role for the summer that involves several shirtless scenes, so he ran right out and bought a FitBit and is now on a health crusade.

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(I’ll just point out that those crescent roll biscuits you see in the background are not part of the health-food diet.)

This is an easy pasta dish, made more healthful with reduced fat ricotta and mozzarella. You can use ziti, penne or any other tubular pasta that stands up well to being baked. I always undercook the pasta when it’s boiling so that it doesn’t get too soft in the oven. And I find that using canned tomato sauce is just fine as long as it’s a quality brand and ideally organic as well.

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INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound pasta
  • cooking spray for the baking dish
  • 3/4 pound part-skim ricotta
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 cups marinara sauce, divided (you could also use diced tomatoes)
  • 1/2 pound shredded part skim mozzarella cheese
  • red pepper flakes (add more or less to your taste)
  • fresh basil for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350. Prep a casserole dish or any oven-safe baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook pasta according to package directions, taking off the heat a bit early so the pasta doesn’t overcook; drain and rinse under cold water.

While pasta is cooking, combine ricotta, 3 TBSP Parmesan, red pepper flakes (if using; I just added a dash) and 1/3 C marinara sauce in a medium bowl.

To assemble, spoon 1/2 C sauce on the bottom of the casserole dish, add half the cooked pasta, spoon the ricotta mixture over, then spoon remaining sauce on top.

Top with remaining pasta, spoon the rest of the sauce on top, then sprinkle with mozzarella and remaining Parmesan.

Bake until cheese melts and is bubbly, about 20 to 30 minutes. Allow dish to sit for another 10 or 15 minutes before plating.

Optional: garnish with fresh basil ribbons.

If portioned into 12 servings, each one will have a 7 points value for those on Weight Watchers.

We had this with extra sauce on the side, plus some meatballs and Italian sausage and also those yummy biscuits and organic corn from Trader Joe’s. You could also add lean ground beef to the sauce (real or imitation) to make it meatier but still healthful. Simple and satisfying, perfect for Sunday dinner with family.

 Did you like this recipe? Share it! 

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Recipes

Bowties with Ham, Peas & Ricotta

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I threw this together to use up the leftovers from our Christmas spiral ham. Any time you have leftover ham, just pick up a box of farfalle (aka bowtie) pasta, a bag of frozen peas and ricotta, and you’ve got a meal.

BOWTIE PASTA WITH HAM, PEAS & RICOTTA

Ingredients

  • Leftover spiral ham slices, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 bag of frozen peas
  • 1 container of ricotta cheese, preferably low fat/part skim
  • Milk, cream or water to taste for loosening the sauce
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Optional: a dash of brown mustard

Directions

Set the pasta on to boil. Halfway through cooking, add in the entire bag of frozen peas.

Drain pasta and peas, reserving a bit of the cooking water. The starches will help make a sauce when you add the ricotta.

In the original pot over the lowest heat setting, add the ham pieces to the pasta and peas; add the entire container of ricotta. Stirring, add the reserved pasta water back in (1-2 cups should do it) plus a splash of any kind of milk, cream or water to loosen the sauce.

Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve warm.

I also added a squirt of brown mustard to the sauce to add a different flavor, and it really tasted good!

Makes great leftovers, just add a pat of butter and/or some water to re-loosen the sauce before microwaving.

This could be made vegetarian very easily by using Morningstar (or similar) “meats,” which I’ve tried and liked.

Just to be festive, I threw in half a cup of leftover eggnog to make this an extra creamy sauce. We ate it for dinner on New Year’s Day as a snowstorm starting swirling into New England. Cozy and delicious!

And now, my baby at 4.5 months 🙂

Recipes

Roasted Tomato & Zucchini Ricotta Pie

Ricotta is one of my favorite things, edible or otherwise. Light, fluffy and creamy, it never lets me down. Am I a walking stereotype with all the garlic, pasta and cheese on this blog? Probably. Do I care? Not in the slightest. (It’s not my fault Italian food fits naturally into the vegetarian diet).

This serves as an excellent side dish, or a standalone brunch/breakfast option. You can roast the vegetables ahead of time and then assemble & cook later on, or the next day, to save time. If you keep a home garden and are abounding in tomatoes and zucchini in later summer/early fall, then this comes together in a snap with only a few more ingredients: ricotta, 1 egg and fresh-grated parmesan cheese.

This is becoming a theme: Tasha photo bombs me just as I’m about to finally get the shot I need. This one’s actually a double-whammy if you count the whiskers coming in from the top left AND the reflection of her snout in the spoon. Appetizing?

To start, slice the zucchini into quarter-inch thick strips, discarding the ends. Slice the tomatoes into medum-thickness rounds, discarding the stems and ends. I mixed a couple varieties from my garden, including roma and beefsteak.

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray; pre-heat the oven to 375. Adding zucchini to one tray and the tomatoes to the other, drizzle each with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Put in the zucchini first for 10 minutes, setting a timer; at 10 minutes, turn the zucchini and place the tray of tomatoes in the oven to roast as well. Cook both for 10 more minutes, or until the zucchini are really browning and the tomatoes are starting to sizzle at the edges. Depending on your oven and how thinly you sliced them, you may have to leave the zucchini in a tad longer. I kept my tomatoes in for 15 minutes total and my zucchini in for just over 20 minutes.

Let both cool for 10 minutes. Keep the oven at 375.

Meanwhile, mix together one egg, lightly beaten, with the ricotta and parmesan cheese, and stir by hand to blend. Season with pepper and torn fresh basil (half a dozen leaves).

Once the veggies are cool, spray a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray and get ready to assemble the savory pie.

Add the zucchini in one layer on the bottom, then top with half the ricotta mixture and spread evenly.

Add the tomatoes next, layering the rest of the ricotta on top and spreading out so it covers completely. If you have a deep pie plate or you cooked an extra large quantity of zucchini and tomatoes, you can repeat these layers; just make sure you end on a ricotta layer.

Before popping in the oven, add the rest of the parmesan cheese plus one minced garlic clove to the top of the pie. Cook for 20 minutes or until it starts browning.

Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving, so the pie sets up.

Voila! Creamy-cheesy-veggie goodness. Enjoy, friends.

Roasted Zucchini & Tomato Ricotta Pie

Ingredients

  • 1 zucchini, ends discarded and sliced into quarter-inch wide strips
  • 3-4 tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • a couple handfuls of parmesan  cheese (either bagged or fresh grated)
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced in a press
  • about half a dozen torn fresh basil leaves
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Slice the zucchini and tomatoes, discarding any stems and ends. Set aside.

Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Pre-heat the oven to 375.

Adding zucchini to one tray and the tomatoes to the other, drizzle each with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Put in the zucchini first for 10 minutes, setting a timer; at 10 minutes, turn the zucchini and place the tray of tomatoes in the oven to roast as well. Cook both for 10 more minutes, or until the zucchini are really browning and the tomatoes are starting to sizzle at the edges.

Let both cool for 10 minutes. Keep the oven at 375.

Meanwhile, mix together one large egg, lightly beaten, with the ricotta and parmesan cheese, and stir by hand to blend. Season with pepper and torn fresh basil (half a dozen leaves).

Once the veggies are cool, spray a 9-inch pie plate with non-stick cooking spray and get ready to assemble the savory pie.

Add the zucchini in one layer on the bottom, topping with half the ricotta mixture and spreading out evenly.

Add the tomatoes next, layering the rest of the ricotta on top and spreading out so it covers completely. If you have a deep pie plate or you cooked an extra large quantity of zucchini and tomatoes, you can repeat these layers, taking care to end on a ricotta layer.

Before placing in the oven, add the rest of the parmesan cheese plus one minced garlic clove (quickly mix together in a small bowl) to the top of the pie.

Cook for 20 minutes or until it starts browning.

Let sit for at least 30 minutes before serving, so the pie sets up and becomes firm for you to slice.

Between the zucchini, tomatoes and basil, this can really highlight the very last fruits of a summer garden before autumn begins and the frost claims the rest.

This recipe inspired by the Washington Post healthy recipe section.

And speaking of great zucchini recipes, have you ever heard of making hummus with a zucchini base instead of chickpeas? According to Kimberly Snyder, un-sprouted chickpeas can be difficult to digest because they are starchy & protein-laden. So instead of blending chickpeas into hummus, she starts with zucchini and adds tahini plus a few other organic raw ingredients to make a tasty dip. Here’s her raw hummus recipe, which makes 6-8 servings and lasts up to a week in the fridge (and yes, for those of you keeping track, I totally lied about not posting any more zucchini recipes).

Photo Credit: Kimberly Snyder (kimberlysnyder.net)

No-Chickpea Hummus

  • 2 organic zucchini, chopped
  • ¾ cup tahini (raw if you can find it)
  • 2 Tbs. nutritional yeast
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  •  2 medium or 3 small garlic cloves, minced
  • High quality sea salt, to taste.

Process ingredients in blender until smooth. Enjoy as a dip or sandwich spread!

Recipes

Spinach Ricotta Enchiladas

I love making enchiladas because they are so quick & easy. You can customize them however you like  — meat? veggies? green sauce, or red? — and you can experiment with almost any type of filling. Best of all, they’re hearty and you’ll almost certainly have leftovers. These vegetarian enchiladas feature spinach and ricotta cheese, with a mild heat that you can amp up if you’re not married to a spice-averse guy like my husband 🙂

I served these once with rice, sour cream and tortilla chips (healthy, I know…) and then again a couple days later as leftovers with a side salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 package of large flour tortillas (you can also use the smaller 6-inch size, but I prefer to make mine a bit larger)
  • 1 package (10 oz.) frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream (I buy one small container and reserve the rest to serve alongside the enchiladas)
  • 1 can enchilada sauce (I used green)
  • 1 package shredded monterey jack cheese (2 cups)
  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 a cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • butter, for cooking
  • optional: 1 small can of green chilis or a sprinkle of hot sauce

Directions

Start by preheating the oven to 375.

Prepare the spinach (thaw, rinse and squeeze dry), and set aside.

Next, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and then the garlic (so it doesn’t burn), cooking until fragrant but not browned.

Stir in the spinach. Cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring, then remove from heat.

Mix in the ricotta cheese, sour cream, and half the monterey jack cheese.

Prepare the bottom of a glass baking dish by pouring about a third of the enchilada sauce in the bottom, making sure you spread it around to coat the bottom of the baking dish evenly.

Now, assemble the enchiladas. Take a tortilla, spoon some of the warm spinach mixture into the center and fold into thirds, placing the rolled-up enchilada face down in your baking dish.

Repeat, laying each enchilada side by side until the dish is filled.

Pour the remaining enchilada sauce on top, spooning it evenly over each tortilla and making sure it gets down in between the seams to nothing sticks while cooking.

Sprinkle the remaining monterey jack on top of the enchiladas.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the whole thing looks browned and bubbly.

Serve with your choice of sides — sour cream, rice, guacamole, salsa, refried beans, salad, tortilla chips, you name it!

Tips

  • You can also use cooked fresh spinach instead of frozen.
  • I always use low-fat/part skim ricotta and sour cream, and never notice a taste difference. Other ways to cut the fat include sauteeing your onions & garlic in olive oil instead of butter, reducing the overall amount of monterey jack used, and substituting cottage cheese for ricotta.
  • When I make this again, I am going to amp up the heat a little and probably add red bell peppers to the spinach mixture. I really liked the dash of hot sauce I threw in, but I imagine a chopped jalapeno (no seeds) and a can of green chilis would give it even more oomph and flavor.
  • If the filling is too bland, excellent seasonings to consider would be cumin, black pepper, garlic salt, red pepper flakes or chili powder.
  • Red enchilada sauce will work just as well as green here, as will green onions or sweet onions in place of a regular yellow onion.

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Recipes

Christmas Recipe #2: Vegetarian Stuffed Shells

These are great for feeding a crowd, and they make excellent leftovers the next day, when the last thing you want to think about is cooking. I make them meat-free and will often throw in different veggies to vary the sauce — think spinach or kale, sauteed in the pan with the onion and garlic — before I mix in the tomato sauce. You can also add sauteed mushrooms, or crumbled cooked veggie-burger patties, to mimic the feeling of ground meat. If you decide to add beef or sausage, you’ll need about half a pound, and you want to go lean or it gets too greasy. The possibilities with these are endless!

Ingredients

  • 1/2 a package jumbo shells (one package = 12 oz. They only sell this size, so you’ll either need to make a double batch and freeze one pan, or count out about 20 shells to fill one 9×13 glass baking dish).
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1 jar of pasta sauce (honestly, I seldom make my own sauce for this dish — it just turns an easy recipe into something time-consuming. My preferred sauce for stuffed shells is Classico, the Florentine variety).
  • 1 package shredded mozzarella cheese (about 2 cups)
  • 1 container ricotta cheese (about 15 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I grate myself — one of my kitchen rules is to never use packaged parm. There’s a huge taste difference).

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Set a large pot of water on to boil. I find it’s easier to use a large stock pot for this, even though the shells with probably fit into a saucepan, because in a bigger pot they don’t stick inside of each other. Plus, you can easily fish them out of the bigger pot with a slotted spoon, which prevents them from breaking apart like they do when you drain them in a colander.

In a small skillet, combine the chopped onion & garlic with some butter and olive oil (because using a little bit of both, as I always say on this blog, helps prevent the other from burning). I add the garlic after the onion has softened for a minute or two by itself, so the garlic doesn’t scorch.

If you are adding meat, this would be the place to add it — use a bigger skillet than the one I have here, and make sure you drain the fat once it’s browned.

Pour your jarred tomato sauce into a mixing bowl, and add the cooked onion and garlic. Stir. If you are making the meat version, it makes more sense to add the tomato sauce directly into the larger skillet instead of dirtying a bowl.

Next, you want to mix your cheeses.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, half the mozzarella, (1 cup), the Parmesan and the egg and mix well.

By now, your shells should be done cooking. One by one, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon; place them on a paper towel, face up, so they fall open. You only need to let them cool for a couple minutes, so you can handle them.

Now comes the fun part: stuffing the shells!

Before you stuff the shells, pour half your tomato sauce mixture into the bottom of your baking pan and spread evenly. To start stuffing the shells, use a spoon to scoop up about a tablespoon of the ricotta mixture. Line them up in the pan:

Aren’t they beautiful?

Next, pour the remaining sauce over the top, cover, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until hot and bubbling. Uncover; top with remaining 1 cup of mozzarella and bake for another 5 minutes.

This makes at least six servings. Serve with a nice salad and you’ve got a delicious Italian dinner! This is a potluck favorite of mine, and added to any holiday spread it gives a tasty option for vegetarians who won’t be having the ham or turkey that’s typically the focus of the meal.

Happy New Year!