Buon Natale! This year, my Xmas dinner was an Italian feast consisting of Baked Ziti, Sausage & Peppers, and Arancini (rice balls). Easy & delicious. Leftovers for days. Now that’s the perfect Xmas dinner. About a week before the big day, I made a giant pot of sauce. Ended up being around 8qts in total. You can use store-bought sauce in either if these recipes, but why bother when it’s so easy to make and can your own?
Easy Homemade Tomato Sauce
(never buy sauce in a jar again)
makes about 3 qts
- 3 large cans diced tomatoes (no added salt or seasonings)
- 1 small can tomato paste
- about 3 heaping tbsp minced garlic (the kind in a jar is OK)
- 3-4 tbsp EVOO
- a few pinches red pepper flakes
- a few shakes of Italian or Tuscan seasoning blend (oregano, basil etc.)
- Kosher salt to taste
- 1C red wine (drier works best)
- In a large pot (at least 8 qts) heat EVOO over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add garlic. Cook until fragrant. Season with a pinch of salt. DO NOT BROWN.
- Lower heat to medium and add tomatoes and tomato paste.
- When mixture reaches a simmer, add water (fill tomato paste can 2-3 times) and wine. Bring to a full boil.
- Cover and cook on low about 3 hrs.
- Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth.
- Season to taste with red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning blend, and salt.
- Simmer over low heat 10-30 mins.
- Sauce may be served immediately or frozen or canned up to 1 year.
This is the double, holiday-sized (3 qt) casserole. For everyday eating, cut recipe in half.
- 2 1-pound boxes ziti or penne pasta
- 1 qt. tomato sauce (see above)
- 2 large eggs
- 16 oz ricotta cheese (not skim)
- about 2/3 C grated parmesan cheese
- big bag of mozzarella
- Italian seasoning (I like the kind that comes in a spice grinder.)
- cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Cook pasta al dente according to package instructions. Drain & set aside.
- In a large bowl combine ricotta, eggs, parmesan, and a few grinds of Italian seasoning. Stir with a rubber spatula.
- Combine pasta, cheese mixture, and tomato sauce. (I usually use the large pot I cooked the pasta in to do this.)
- Spray a large casserole dish and begin to layer in pasta mixture in 2 parts. Pasta mixture, a few handfuls of mozzarella (Yes, this is all very scientific and precise. :)), more pasta mixture, then top with mozzarella.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes uncovered, until the cheese on top is golden and pasta is bubbly.
- Cool 10 minutes or so before serving.
Sweet & Spicy Sausage & Peppers
Again, double-recipe holiday sized. Leftovers for days!
- 3 bell peppers (I like to use 1 red, 1 green, and 1 yellow or orange.), sliced into strips
- 1 package sweet Italian sausage (There are usually 4-5 sausages per package.)
- 1 package spicy Italian sausage
- 1 qt tomato sauce (see above)
- 1 large, white onion, sliced into strips
- about 3 tbsp EVOO
- In a VERY LARGE (Remember, this is a double-recipe.) skillet heat EVOO. When hot, add the onions and peppers. Cook until softened, but not browned. Remove peppers & onion from skillet & set aside.
- Put sausages into skillet with about 1/2 C water. Bring to a boil, then simmer, covered, for about 12 minutes.
- Take each sausage out of the skillet, and slice it into about 8 pieces each. The sausages will still be slightly pink at this point. Put slices of sausage (and juices that came out while you were slicing) back into the skillet, and cook another 8-10 minutes, until no longer pink.
- Drain off liquid and put sausages, peppers, and onions back in skillet with tomato sauce. Simmer on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes.
- Serve with pasta, or as a sandwich on Italian bread.
I made these rice balls for Christmas, and again without the mozzarella stuffing, for New Year’s Eve. They were equally delicious & well-received both ways.
Aracini (Rice Balls)
makes 20-24 small balls
- 2 C cooked white rice, cooled (You want nice, sticky rice for best results. I used jasmine rice.)
- 1/2 C grated parmesan
- 3 large eggs
- fresh mozzarella in small cubes/balls (There were probably 25-30 small “pearls” of mozzarella in the package I bought.)
- 1 C Italian-style breadcrumbs, or plain breadcrumbs seasoned with Italian seasoning
- vegetable oil for frying (4C or so)
- Heat a large pot with about 4 inches of oil over medium heat.
- Using your hands, combine rice, parmesan, and 1 egg in a medium bowl.
- Form the rice balls: I used my smallest Pampered Chef scoop (1 tbsp) for the unstuffed balls, and the medium one (2 tbsp) for the ones with the mozzarella inside. Squeeze rice mixture firmly and put finished balls on a wax paper lined sheet pan.
- Whisk together the other 2 eggs, and spread breadcrumbs on a plate.
- One at a time, dip each rice ball into beaten eggs, and roll in breadcrumbs. Shake off excess breading, if needed.
- When the oil is hot (You will be able to drop a grain of rice into the oil and have it begin to sizzle.) drop the balls into the oil, 4 at a time.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes, until golden brown, rolling balls over with a spoon halfway through cooking if needed.
- Place finished rice balls on a paper towel lined plate or tray & salt immediately.