Chef John knows Italian food. Over the years, he's covered all the Italian essentials -- simple sauces, lasagnas, minestrone soup -- and explored some exciting outliers -- Tuscan black pepper beef anyone? Mmm, we love them all! This Italian-inspired collection features some of our all-time favorite Chef John recipes.
Chicken cacciatore is Italian-style comfort food. Serve this simple, delicious one-pot chicken dish with pasta, polenta, rice, or even mashed potatoes. "This simple Italian dish is packed with chicken, peppers, mushrooms and herbs for a satisfying one pot meal," says Chef John.
"This Bolognese sauce is dedicated to the late great Marcella Hazan," says Chef John. "She was considered the Julia Child of Italian food, and at a time when most Americans thought 'Bolognese' was spaghetti sauce with chunks of hamburger, Marcella taught us just how magnificent this meat sauce could be. I like to toss it with some mezzi rigatoni and serve it with a little grated Parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of parsley."
"This is the type of dish I never make the same way twice," says Chef John. "To make minestrone soup precisely same way every time, using a very specific list of ingredients and amounts, is to trample on the soul of this Italian classic. Still, I hope you give this amazing minestrone recipe a try...but only once.
"This recipe produces one of the more uniquely flavored braised beef dishes I’ve ever had," says Chef John. "Beef shank is the traditional cut of meat to use, but short ribs worked really well. You could even use beef chuck, cut into two-inch pieces. Keep cooking until a fork goes in easily. The story goes that terracotta tile workers in Impruneta, Tuscany, would place this stew into clay pots and cook it in their still-hot kilns overnight where it would be ready in the morning."
"There are only two things you need for great lasagna: a thick, rich, super-meaty meat sauce and lots of it, and a ricotta filling where only the finest cheeses are welcomed," says Chef John. "For the sauce, I love a combination of half Italian sausage and half lean ground beef. I also like lots of sauce."
"In Italy, 'saltimbocca' means 'jumps in the mouth,'" explains Chef John. "This tender, juicy and delicious pork tenderloin is finished with a rich meaty sauce and will certainly please your palate. Feel free to use the more classic veal loin, but the pork tenderloin really works beautifully. It’s just as tender, and maybe even a bit more forgiving if slightly overcooked."
"This is stuffed, rolled beef that's cooked in a little bit of tomato sauce," says Chef John. "It is one of my all-time favorite Italian recipes, and a great dish to learn, since it can be varied in many delicious ways. So consider this video recipe a lesson in the technique of pounding, stuffing, and rolling the braciole - which will hopefully inspire you to fill it with your favorite dried fruit, nuts, herbs, cheese, etc."
"Agrodolce, a generic Italian term for any type of sweet and sour condiment, really shines when used for braising chunks of succulent pork shoulder," says Chef John. "This soul-warming comfort food is amazing served on rice, pasta, polenta, or, as seen here, a big pile of ricotta mashed potatoes. I'm not sure if Italians barbecue like we do here in the States, but the sauce very much reminded me of something we'd brush on a rack of ribs while sipping a cold beer."
"I spent a few days in Florence about 30 years ago, and while I don't remember much, I do recall my surprise at how delicious the Tuscan fish stew was," says Chef John. "What I found so interesting was how herbs like oregano, sage, and rosemary, which I'd only associated with meat, were also used with seafood. Also, FYI just in case any old-school Tuscans are coming over: I hear that for this to qualify as an official Italian fish stew you need use at least 5 different types of seafood, which is both insane and adorable. Serve with crusty bread."
"Spaghetti al tonno is one of my all-time favorite go-to pasta dishes," says Chef John. "I love a classic meat sauce as much as the next half-Italian, but when I want something quick and easy for a weeknight meal, I reach for the tuna. What if you don't like fish? Then this is perfect. The taste and texture is really closer to a veal sauce than one made with fish."
"I love chicken parm, especially when it's made with fresh mozzarella, which it almost never is in restaurants," says Chef John. "Of course, at home we can use the real stuff, but it can be pricey. So I tried something new--a cheese spread using ricotta fortified with sharp Cheddar. The creamy ricotta made a great base into which you could add any melting cheese. I really enjoyed the Cheddar, but I’d like to try this with other options, such as provolone, fontina, or even Gruyere. "
"Homemade meatballs are a very easy to make," says Chef John. "And since we skip the very messy step of pan-frying these before they hit the sauce, it becomes downright simple. Here I use a standard half-beef/half-pork mixture. You can substitute water or beef broth for the milk, if preferred. The other trick here is to soak the bread crumbs in milk for a moister, more tender meatball. This is one of those dishes that just get better -- more tender and flavorful-- the next day."
"This classic Italian-American comfort food works with any kind of sausage, but I like the fennel and anise flavors of sweet Italian sausage with the beans -- it's a hearty soup that's fast and easy to put together," says Chef John.
"The key to this panzanella is frying the bread cubes in loads of olive oil in a skillet, which obviously makes them crispy," says Chef John. "But the healthful fat also soaks into the bread cubes and renders them semi-waterproof, or dressing-proof. The same goes for the dusting of Parmesan cheese applied halfway through the crisping process."
"When the weather gets a little colder, this pork stew really hits the spot," says Chef John. "Pork shoulder meat is braised in a creme fraiche sauce until amazingly tender and delicious. Serve on polenta with crisp sage leaves for garnish."
"One of my earliest and most vivid food memories was when my uncle Bill would make his famous dried Italian sausage every Christmas Eve," says Chef John. "They'd be fried after Midnight Mass and served on bread with roasted red peppers. This fresh version was inspired by those. If you can manage not to eat them right away, letting them dry for a day or two really deepens the flavor, and firms up the texture as well, in true Uncle Billy fashion."
Here's a meat sauce that's very old, virtually unknown, but very tasty. "I have no idea why this amazingly flavorful Genovese-style meat sauce isn't way more popular than it is," says Chef John. "It's quite simply one of the best pasta sauces you'll ever taste, thanks to a very slow cooking process, and massive amounts of onions. Once everything is prepped, the recipe couldn’t be easier. Simmer until the meat and onions melt into each other, and serve."
"This technique turns out beautifully light, tender gnocchi every time and are just as good, if not better, than the classic potato-based gnocchi," says Chef John. "And much easier. Plus you can make them ahead of time and brown them in butter before serving."
"We're going to simplify traditional porchetta by making a smaller, simpler version using pork shoulder," says Chef John. "It makes a great sandwich, especially topped with some fried, crispy pancetta."