Italian Mac N Cheese

I am pulling a recipe out of the vault of my family’s favorite recipes this week! I wrote this down watching a Food Network show 10+ years ago and have been making it ever since. Yes I wrote it down and didn’t print it! I think it was a Rachael Ray recipe but I’m not sure so thank you to whoever shared it first! I have tweaked it slightly over the years but didn’t change much because it’s pretty perfect. You just can’t go wrong with a homemade Italian cheese sauce, Italian sausage, buttery garlic mushrooms, and the tomatoes that brighten it all up!

Italian Mac N Cheese is a 30 minute meal that tastes like you worked for hours. If you want the process to move quickly, my biggest piece of advice is to prep everything ahead of time. Measure out the broth and cream, chop the mushrooms, mince the garlic, etc. While you’re prepping, start boiling your water too. The more prepared you are ahead of time, the less stressed you’ll be when you’re cooking. This dish is really fun to make!

Always salt your pasta water generously! Adds so much flavor!

I prefer to use crimini or baby bella mushrooms in this over button mushrooms because they have more flavor. Side note, my kids HATE mushrooms but still love this dish. They are easy to pick out!

Have you ever made a roux? Knowing how to make one is such a useful cooking skill because you’ll be able to make the most delicious homemade sauces and gravy. You do have to make one in the dish but it is so easy! It’s basically flour and fat cooked together to thicken a sauce. In this case, the fat is the butter and olive oil that the mushrooms are cooked in. Just sprinkle the flour on, cook for a minute or two, then add the liquid.

This is one of those dishes that will impress dinner guests because they’ll think you’ve been cooking all day. I have made it countless times over the years for company and everyone loves it. Because it’s a 30 minute meal, it is also great for busy week nights. It makes a lot too and makes great leftovers (if you don’t devour it all)! This is a win-win kind of meal!

Fresh out of the oven. Hard to tell but that’s a huge 12-inch skillet!

Sponsored post for Lee’s Marketplace. Items on sale at Lee’s the week of Jan 21-27: penne, Italian sausage, olive oil, butter, flour, chicken broth, Italian cheese blend, Parmesan, diced tomatoes

Italian Mac N Cheese

Ingredients

1 lb. penne pasta
1 lb. mild Italian sausage (bulk not links)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz package crimini or button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups shredded Italian cheese blend, divided
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

Cook pasta according to package directions. Preheat broiler.

Heat a large non-stick skillet (broiler safe) to medium-high heat. Cook and crumble sausage until brown then drain and set aside. Add olive oil and butter to the pan then add garlic and mushrooms. Sauté for a few minutes or until mushrooms are brown and soft.

Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir to make a roux. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and heavy cream. Bring to a low boil then stir in ¾ of the cheese blend. When the cheese melts, add tomatoes, salt, and pepper then stir. Bring to a boil then add pasta and sausage. Stir until everything is well combined.

Turn off heat and sprinkle remaining cheese blend and parmesan over the top. Place skillet in oven under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.

Note: If you do not have a broiler safe skillet, just transfer the pasta mixture to a baking dish. Sprinkle on cheeses and place under broiler.

The Best Lasagna

My dilemma when writing this recipe…what do I call it? Classic lasagna? Traditional lasagna? Perfect lasagna? I finally settled on “The Best Lasagna” because that’s what we proclaim over and over every time we eat it. It’s simply the BEST!

This is a very close version to a recipe I printed back in 2009 for “World’s Best Lasagna” from the Allrecipes site. Yes I’ve been making it for TEN years! It’s one of those recipes that you make for something classic like lasagna and it’s so amazing you never try another recipe. Tried and true! Over the years I’ve made a few tweaks to make it my own. The ingredients are basically the same but the measurements are different. I mean, of course I increased the garlic and cheeses! Ha! I also switched to “oven-ready” lasagna because it’s amazing and it saves a lot of time not having to boil the pasta first.

Make sure to read the notes after the directions! This is not a hard recipe at all but does take some time. Like, 2 1/2-3 hours to be exact, so be prepared. It’s totally 100% worth the effort though because it is simply the best homemade lasagna you’ll ever make. You’ll feel like a rock star when your family “oohs and ahhs” over this at the dinner table!

It’s been forever since I’ve done a recipe for Lee’s Marketplace! I’ve been so busy with the fair but now I’m back to my weekly recipes and am so happy. I love doing them! This one worked out so perfectly because out of 19 total ingredients, 12 of them are on sale this week at Lee’s! Woohoo!

***Here’s what’s on sale Sept 23-30: Italian sausage, ground beef, yellow onion, crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, lasagna, ricotta, eggs, mozzarella, Parmesan (sponsored post)

The Best Lasagna

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: moderate
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Ingredients

1 pound mild Italian sausage
1 pound lean ground beef
3/4 cup yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
12 oz tomato paste
16 oz tomato sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
5 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
9 oz package “Oven-Ready” lasagna
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg
16 oz mozzarella, shredded
1 cup Parmesan, shredded

Directions

In a large, deep skillet cook ground beef, sausage, and onion until browned. Add garlic and cook for 2 more minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato sauce, and water, then stir. Add sugar, Italian seasoning, basil, fennel, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and 2 tablespoons parsley, then stir. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Preheat oven to 375. In a medium-sized bowl, combine egg, ricotta, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 2 tablespoons parsley.

To assemble, spray a 9×13 pan with cooking spray then ladle in enough sauce to cover bottom of pan. Add 4-6 pieces of lasagna over sauce (it’s ok if they overlap a little). Add 1/3 of ricotta mixture and carefully spread across pasta. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella, and 1/3 of the Parmesan. Repeat layers two more times.

Cover tightly with nonstick foil (or spray regular foil with cooking spray). Bake in preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove foil and cook for 20-25 additional minutes. Let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving. Garnish with remaining parsley.

Notes:
1. Give yourself PLENTY of time to make this. You need about 2 1/2-3 hours from start to finish.
2. If you don’t have enough pasta for the final layer, it’s ok. Just place what you have on it!
3. Freezes perfectly! Can easily be made in two smaller pans so that you can stash one in the freezer for later. (Freeze before baking!)
4. If you choose to use traditional lasagna, follow package instructions for boiling before assembling.

Those crispy edges are my favorite!

Chicken Cacciatore

As many of you already know, I am now collaborating with my favorite grocery store, Lee’s Marketplace! I am doing custom recipe development for them based on what’s currently on sale. I am getting ready to make my third recipe for them today and am having so much fun. I love looking over their sale ad and coming up with a meal to make. It’s like my own little version of my favorite Food Network show, Chopped. Chicken Cacciatore is the first recipe that I came up with for Lee’s. My mom made this all the time when I was a kid and it is the dish that made me love onions and peppers. I don’t have her recipe, so I came up with my own based on memory. My mom always served it over white rice but my kids are pasta lovers, so I used mini shells for this version. Use what you like though! This is a quick, delicious weeknight dinner that tastes like you spent hours. Enjoy!

Chicken Cacciatore

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

8-10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (excess fat trimmed)
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
Black pepper, freshly ground
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15 oz) cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Parmesan cheese (for topping-optional)

Directions

Sprinkle both sides of thighs generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick skillet to medium-high and add 2 tablespoons of canola oil. When the pan is hot, add half of the thighs to the skillet and cook about 4 minutes per side. You want the thighs to brown really well so leave them alone and only turn after they brown. Remove thighs, set on a plate, then cook the rest of the thighs.
Turn heat down to medium then add peppers and onions to the pan. Cook about 7 minutes or until softened (add more oil if pan is too dry). Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Add diced tomatoes, sauce, paste, sugar, Italian seasoning, 1 teaspoon of salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Stir to combine then add thighs back into pan. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Just before serving, add parsley. Serve over short pasta or rice. Top with parmesan if desired.