Category Archives: Italian

Spaghetti and Meatballs (Baseballs); Recipe

Spaghetti and Baseballs!

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti and Baseballs!

Simply one of the most satisfying meals I’ve ever made. The over-sized meatballs with the addition of ground lamb make this even heartier. I received some great feedback from some tough critics.

Ingredients for the meatballs (Baseballs)

1 pound ground sirloin

1 pound ground pork

1 pound ground lamb

2 large eggs

4 sprigs basil chopped

3 tbsp chopped parsley

1 large onion finely chopped

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

5-6 thick slices firm white bread crust removed

1 cup whole milk

4-5 cloves minced garlic

3/4 pound fresh mozzarella cheese

6 cups Eric’s “Awesome Sauce”

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 tbsp olive oil

1 pound spaghetti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Let ground meats come to room temperature. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add onion, garlic, basil, parsley and black pepper. Saute for about ten minutes or until onions become translucent. Don’t let the pan get too hot. Remove from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes.

Break bread into small chunks and place in a bowl and add milk. Use your hands to squeeze out the excess milk. Combine meats, eggs, Parmesan cheese, bread, cooled onion mixture and salt. Mix with your hands and form into baseball sized meatballs. Heat a skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil. Brown meatballs turning once. Remove browned meatballs and place into Dutch oven containing sauce. You may need to do this in two batches. There may be more meatballs than can fit in your dutch oven. If this happens, simply use a large baking dish and cover with sauce. Cover Dutch oven or place foil over baking dish and cook in oven for 45-60 minutes. When the meatballs are almost done place chunks of fresh mozzarella on each meatball and return to oven uncovered until cheese is melted.

Prepare spaghetti as directed adding plenty of kosher salt to cooking water. The water should be as salty as sea water.

Cover spaghetti with sauce and one meatball on your plate. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and more Parmesan cheese.


Meatball Sandwiches

For meatball sandwiches prepare smaller meatballs and cook the same way. Just buy some Italian bread and cut into sandwich length. Top with thinly sliced fresh mozzarella, Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.

Ingredients for Eric’s “Awesome Sauce”

25 ounces chopped tomatoes

25 ounces tomato sauce

1 white onion

4-5 cloves minced garlic

3 tbsp chopped parsley

3 tbsp chopped basil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

3 tbsp olive oil

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add onion, garlic, parsley, basil and black pepper. Saute until onions become translucent adjusting heat so they don’t brown. Add chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Adjust heat to allow a mild simmer. Cook with the lid almost covering for approximately 2 hours stirring every 15 minutes. don’t let this burn!


Braised Lamb Shanks and Porcini Mushrooms in Cabernet; Recipe

Braised Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank

Braised Lamb Shank and Porcini Mushrooms in Cabernet

Lamb is one of those meats you either love or hate. Unless of course your me. I love lamb and at times I hate it. Since lamb is such a full flavored meat and a bit gamey the cooking method must compliment it’s full flavor. Otherwise you end up missing out on some pretty spectacular food. This recipe is a good reason why one should not give up on food just because you haven’t figured out the right way to prepare it.


2-3 Lamb Shanks

.750 ML Cabernet Sauvignon or full bodied red wine

1 25 Oz can crushed or whole San Marzano tomatoes

1 pound baby carrots

8 Oz porcini mushrooms

6-7 cloves smashed garlic

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

2 bay leafs

Olive oil for browning meat

Crushed black pepper to taste

Salt to taste.

Preheat oven to 375

Cover porcini mushrooms with warm water.

Tip: Dried porcini mushrooms will have some sediment in them. be careful when adding the liquid. the sediment will be at the bottom. Do not let this get into your dish!

Salt and pepper lamb shanks and brown in a Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add garlic, bay leafs and rosemary and saute fro 3-4 minutes stirring frequently. Add wine and tomatoes, porcini mushrooms and cracked black pepper. along with the soaking liquid. bring to a boil. cover and bake in a 350-375 degree oven for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. Turn lamb shanks at the halfway point. Remove cover for the last 20 minutes to help reduce the sauce. Serve over egg noodles or pasta.

Chicken Vesuvio; Recipe Courtesy of Pina Lollino (Ristorante Italia)

Pina Lollino's Chicken Vesuvio

Pina Lollino’s Chicken Vesuvio

Ristorante Italia’s Chicken Vesuvio

This recipe comes courtesy of Pina Lollino and my favorite Italian restaurant… Ristorante Italia on the northwest side of Chicago. Chicken Vesuvio is one of those dishes that defines Chicago Italian cooking and nobody did it better than Pina! Sadly, Ristorante Italia has closed and I have to cook all of my favorites myself. Chicago really lost something special the day Pina stopped cooking!


1 whole fryer chicken cut up191

1 cup dry white wine (Pinot Grigio)

10 cloves finely chopped garlic

4-5 Idaho potatoes wedged

1/4 cup olive oil for marinade

1 tbsp Fresh chopped rosemary

1 tbsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup all purpose flour

Olive oil for frying.

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup frozen peas (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Combine wine, olive oil, garlic, rosemary and oregano in a bowl and whisk together. Make shallow slices in the chicken thighs, legs, wings and breasts. Cover chicken with marinade or place in a large zip lock bag forcing the air out. I like using zip locks because the entire chicken comes in contact with the marinade; you can also massage the marinade and really work it into the chicken. Marinate the chicken for at least an hour.

Heat a large skillet to medium high heat. add olive oil and brown potatoes about 5 minutes. Remove and add to pan with browned chicken.

Combine flour, salt and pepper in large dish. Heat a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add olive oil. Lightly flour marinated chicken and brown on both sides; this should be done in batches to not overcrowd the skillet. Remove chicken to a large baking dish or pan. De-glaze with a splash of white wine and add to reserved marinade. Add precooked potatoes to baking dish with chicken and cover with remaining marinade. Sprinkle chicken and potatoes with paprika, salt and pepper. Bake in oven for and hour to and hour and a half. Check after an hour and spoon juices over chicken and potatoes. Add peas if you are using them. The chicken and potatoes should be browned very well with a modest amount of liquid left. Some Chicken Vesuvio recipes call for green peas. Pina didn’t use peas but I thought I would try them this time… The peas were a nice sweet touch!



Marsala Burger; Recipe

Marsala Burger

I came up with this burger for the first Burgers & Beers event at The Party Source on June 6th. I had conceptualized the burger but never made it. I took the time last Friday to do a trial run on the recipe before the event. Surprisingly this recipe challenged me a bit but it came out great. My tasters absolutely loved the Marsala Burger. Try this at home; it’s very easy to make!


4 Ground beef pattiesMarsala Burger Ingredients

1 Small package baby portobello mushrooms sliced thin

1/4 Cup dry or sweet marsala (I use Florio brand)

3 Cloves garlic minced

1 Oz fresh thyme leaves chopped or 1 tsp dried thyme

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 Slices mozzarella cheese

Salt & pepper to taste

1 Tbsp flour

Preheat grill to medium heat

Melt butter in a medium saute pan and add olive oil. Saute garlic and thyme over medium heat for  5 minutes being careful not to burn the garlic. Add Mushrooms stir and add salt and pepper. Saute until mushrooms are soft. Add flour and stir to coat. Saute over medium heat for about three to five minutes stirring frequently. Add Marsala to de-glaze scrapping the bottom of the pan. Cook until the sauce is thickened stirring frequently. Turn the heat down to low and place your burgers on an oiled grill. When the burgers are done flip one last time and add cheese. When cheese is melted transfer to toasted buns and top with mushrooms.

These burgers are awesome!


Orzo with Pan Sauteed Vegetables

Pan Sauteed Vegetables With Orzo

About six years ago my friends had a late night get together after a Tequila tasting. Carol Friesz and Greg Agricola are excellent home cooks. Carol made an excellent cold Orzo Pasta Salad with shrimp and Greg made smoked burgers on the grill. I asked for the recipe but we never took the time to make it happen. Several months ago I bought a package of Orzo; it sat in my pantry for far too long. I finally cooked my Orzo in this incredibly easy recipe.


1 Pound orzo pasta

8-10 Baby Portobello mushrooms

10-12 Asparagus spears

1 Red bell pepper sliced

1 Small Spanish onion sliced

3 Cloves garlic minced

1-2 Ounces fresh basil torn or chopped

Fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

Treat Orzo like you would any other pasta when cooking. Have a saute pan ready and preheated when you add the pasta to the water. Immediately after adding the Orzo to the boiling water add olive oil to preheated saute pan. Add all ingredients except basil and saute for 8-10 minutes; this is the exact time it takes the Orzo to cook. Add salt and cracked pepper. Add basil after 4 minutes of cooking. Drain cooked Orzo and add to sauteed vegetables and stir in adding more olive oil as needed. Plate and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Do not overcook the vegetables.

Alternate Recipe: Substitute Fried smoked bacon and grease for olive oil. Add crumpled bacon at the end. Saute vegetables in the bacon grease.

Braised Beef Cheeks; Recipe

Braised Beef Cheek

Braised Beef Cheek

When I was buying the beef cheek for this recipe I had no idea it would prove to be one of the best simple dishes I would ever cook. As I was taking the picture above I heard my son son moan and say “Ohhhh Damn!” He was right. Damn! The most tender meat ever and very rich in flavor; truly a delicacy.


2-3 Pounds beef cheek trimmed of fat and tendon004 (2)

3 cups red wine (Amarone or Zinfandel) or 3 cups beef broth

1 pound baby portobello mushrooms

5 -6 small red potatoes

1 medium onion quartered

1 small package peeled baby carrots

2 ribs celery cut in 3 inch pieces

1 tbsp dried oregano

1 tbsp dried basil

1 tsp ground black pepper

5-6 garlic cloves smashed with side of knife

Salt to taste

1 tbsp olive oil

preheat oven to 325 degrees

Heavily coat the beef cheek with black pepper. Heat  your oven safe pan or Dutch Oven over medium high heat. Add olive to coat the pan. Lightly salt the beef cheek and brown on both sides. Add garlic, oregano and basil to cook for 2 minutes letting the garlic saute. Add wine or broth to almost cover scrapping the bottom of the pan to remove the flavorful glaze. Add all the vegetables with the potatoes on top. Place in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. After 1 1/2 hour remove and turn over the beef cheek. Return to oven and cook for the remaining 1 1/2 hours or until tender. The meat should be very tender.

Braised Beef Cheek in Dutch Oven

Braised Beef Cheek in Dutch Oven

Venison Marsala (Chicken, Veal); Recipe

Venison Marsala

Florio Dry Marsala

Venison Marsala is the best dish I have ever cooked for myself. This recipe is very easy and you can substitute chicken or veal cutlets for venison. Marsala dishes usually call for sweet Marsala but I like using Dry Marsala which is still quite sweet. Florio brand Marsala is inexpensive and quite good. I highly recommend Florio Marsala.


1 Pound Venison Loin, Tenderloin, Sirloin, Eye of Round or Round Roast slice thin

1 Pound Baby portobello mushrooms sliced thinMarsala Ingredients

1 Cup Flour

1/2 Tsp salt

1/2 Tsp Cracked or ground pepper

1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/4 Stick butter

1/4 tsp dry or 1/2 oz fresh thyme

1-2 Cups Dry Marsala

Salt & Pepper to taste

Preparing the venison

Most Marsala recipes call for thin cuts of veal or chicken; venison is no different but I cut my venison thin and pound it gently with a meat hammer. The resulting medallions are very tender and cook very quickly. Start by partially thawing the venison; thaw until you can cut through it with a chef’s knife. Cut into 1/4 in thick pieces and place in a container until completely thawed. Drain liquid and pat dry. On a synthetic cutting board (non wood) place one piece of venison and lightly pound the meat with lite glancing blows pushing and pulling away until the venison is quite thin. See picture below.

Meat Hammer

Combine salt, pepper and flour in a large shallow dish such as a 9 x 10 baking dish and mix thoroughly. Heat a large skillet to medium high heat and add half of the olive oil. Add half of the butter. When melted let the temperature come back up for a minute or so. Lightly flour venison shaking off excess and place into pan taking care not to over crowd.

Tip: Overcrowding the pan with meat brings the temperature down and inhibits the browning of the meat. We want the flour to cook onto the meat. 

Brown the venison on both sides  and remove to a plate or dish. Continue until all the venison is cooked adding the remaining butter and olive as needed.

When all the venison is cooked add mushrooms and thyme; cook for about five minutes or until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for about three minutes.

Sauteed Mushrooms

Add 1 cup  Dry Marsala to deglaze the pan and cook for 2 minutes or until liquid is boiling. Add cooked venison back into pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the sauce is thickened adding more Marsala if the sauce gets too thick.

Serve over linguine or egg noodles.

Cooking Definition: Deglazing; To dissolve the remaining bits of sautéed or roasted food in (a pan or pot) by adding a liquid (usually wine) and heating.

Explanation: The flour cooked onto the meat will thicken the sauce. 

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