Barbara first made Penne Ala Vodka for her son’s engagement party using a recipe from a friend of a friend. It has undergone a few changes over the years before it became an all-time family favorite…her granddaughter Stefani could live on this alone! Stefani recently requested that Barbara make it for her baby shower, and she was disappointed when there weren’t any leftovers to take home to Virginia! It’s always a big crowd pleaser and a must have for every holiday dinner.
This recipe is delicious and not your typical restaurant flavor. If you’re not a fan of a little heat, omit the cayenne but it’s really not a strong kick.
Prepare basic tomato sauce ahead of time (see recipe link below)
2 lbs. Penne pasta with the lines (sauce sticks to it better)
6 Tablespoons of salted butter
8-10 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (or more for a bigger kick)
6-8 shakes red pepper flakes (more if you like it hotter)
1/2 lb. very thin sliced Prosciutto, shred into pieces with your fingers
Anyone who knows Barbara knows she's a cannoli snob! She compares every cannoli she tastes to her favorite Italian Bakery in Lindenhurst, New York (including the cannoli we had in Italy). There are so many versions of cannolis throughout Italy and every Italian neighborhood throughout the United States that it would be impossible to choose which one is best... So, we set out to incorporate the best of all the cannolis we've ever tried and are so happy to share our best version with you. ❤️❤️
4½ lbs whole milk ricotta (drained overnight to remove all excess liquid)
1½ lbs granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
2-3 drops cinnamon oil (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
1/4 cup citron, diced
1/4 cup candied orange peel, diced
4 oz semi-sweet Mini chocolate chips (may substitute with bittersweet chips, depending on your preference.)
Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, place the drained ricotta cheese into the mixing bowl, mix the cheese on lowest speed to combine and smooth.
Add granulated sugar and allow to mix in until dissolved completely. The texture should be smooth, not grainy.
Add the vanilla & cinnamon oil.
Mix until incorporated. Do not overmix.
Gently fold in the citron, candied orange and mini chocolate chips.
Place in a pastry bag and refrigerate until ready to pipe into cannolis & serve.
Before piping, cut the tip of the pastry bag large enough to allow the chips to pass through.
Notes: If using ground cinnamon, your cannoli filling will not be white.
Do not fill cannoli’s until ready to serve or your shells will be soggy.
Cannoli Cream Filling can also be used for cakes, cupcakes, and as a pastry filling.
After our trip to Italy in 2018 we came back with an abundance of inspiration, one of which was making our own Limoncello as we became so fond of drinking it at the end of each meal while traveling throughout Italy. We even bought lemon trees to grow our own lemons ( photo on left shows the beautiful flower lemon trees produce). We’re not sure if they will ever bear fruit but we are trying. Limoncello has its roots in southern Italy, more specifically, the Amalfi coast, Capri & Sorrento. Of course you can buy it in any liquor store for less money but where’s the fun in that?
While at Barbara’s monthly neighborhood bowling night she was sharing her new-found love of Limoncello with the girls. Jane said “Lets have a Limoncello Party at your house” and so we did! The night was filled with fun and laughter despite the many spills and messy kitchen… but it was worth it. My only regret was not having enough room to invite the whole neighborhood.
The bottle should be kept in the freezer along with some shot glasses as Limoncello is best served in frozen glasses. It is served like this all over Italy. The colder the liqueur the smoother the taste.
Note: I decided I wanted to grow my own fennel to make delicious fennel liqueur; which we also sampled in Naples at a farmhouse dinner. Although the flavor is different from Limoncello, it’s just as good. So Jane, Teresa and I planted the fennel seeds. We watched the seedlings grow big & strong then planted them outside in a side garden. They were doing beautifully and even survived Hurricane Florence but low and behold they didn’t survive the deer!!!!!!! We will try again. 🤞
Using a small sharp knife, peel off the lemon zest as thin as possible avoiding the white pith, which is bitter.
Place all the lemon peels directly into the bottle of alcohol.
Leave to macerate for a minimum of 4 weeks or more in a dark closet. Keep bottle our of direct sunlight.
After maceration is complete, prepare the sugar syrup.
Mix water and sugar in a saucepan on medium heat. Continue to stir until sugar is completely dissolved.
Bring syrup to a simmer until boiling. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, about 1 hr.
In a large saucepan or container big enough add the liter of alcohol.
Continuously stirring, start adding the sugar syrup. Once you’ve added 4 cups, taste it. The Limoncello will be pretty strong. Add more sugar syrup and taste again. Add more sugar syrup for a milder taste, or reduce it for a stronger taste. It is not recommended to dilute the alcohol base too much. Authentic Italian homemade limoncello is about 38% vol or 76 Proof.
Once you’ve reached the perfect flavor, bottle your limoncello in glass bottle using a funnel.
Always store limoncello in the freezer! It’ll have an amazing “creamy” taste. Fresh made limoncello reaches its perfection in a few days after bottling.
The ladies of Meadow Park “Distillery”: Jane, Ellen, Stephanie, Vickie, Lois, Janis, Diane, Barbara. Teresa was taking the pictures!
Fennel Sausage, Peppers & Onions in Spaghetti Squash Boats
Today was the day to use up the spaghetti squash that was sitting on the counter for 2 weeks. We were remembering the zucchini or eggplant boats we used to make many moons ago & decided this was perfect for the spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash is always a big hit with Jack & Gary. We had all the ingredients on hand so it was a no brainer. It's really delicious and satisfying.
2 small spaghetti squash, cut in half lengthwise and seeds scooped out
1 lb chopped bulk pork
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
2 extra-large cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fennel seeds
EVVO to drizzle over squash
1½ tsp dried oregano
1 Tablespoon garlic powder for squash
salt & pepper to taste
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced into 1/4-1/2 inches pieces (we had 1 orange & 1 yellow on hand)
Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
Pecorino Romano or Parmesan Cheese for garnish
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.
Drizzle some EVOO over each half of squash then rub entire squash interior surface.
Sprinkle each half with salt, pepper, oregano and garlic powder.
Place each squash half face down on sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes depending, on squash size. Don’t over bake… squash skin should be tender but firm to touch.
While the squash is baking, brown the sausage meat & fennel. Once browned, add the salt & pepper, onions, minced garlic, and sliced peppers. Sauté until soft and golden. Keep warm.
When squash is done, remove from oven and let cool.
Once the squash is cooled take 2 forks to shred the squash, being careful not to cut through the skin. Spoon sausage mixture on top of each half.
Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and return to oven until cheese melts.
Top with grated cheese and serve hot.
Note: We served this dish with sautéd Kale and garlic along with an arugula & baby spinach salad with a homemade lemon/balsamic vinaigrette.
Growing up in our Catholic Italian home, our family honored the tradition of not eating meat on Friday's. Most Friday's we ate fish but at least twice a month we ate the Escarole & Beans. Mom would cook this escarole (pronounced Scadahl) dish the same way her mother, Grandma Florence, did during the depression era. Grandma had 7 children to feed and this meal was inexpensive, healthy, full of protein and delicious.
3 large heads of escarole
3 15-ounce cans Progresso cannellini beans
3½ quarts chicken broth
11 cloves of garlic, peeled & smashed and whole
1 tsp salt (omit if salt sensitive)
1/4 cup EVOO
dash of pepper to taste
grated Pecorino Romano for topping
Fill an 8-quart pot halfway up with chicken broth, add 3 smashed garlic cloves and bring to a boil.
Add escarole to boiling broth and boil for approximately 40 minutes or until the escarole and broth have reduced by 2/3 and the green color changes to more of an olive green.
Heat EVOO in a large saucepan and saute 8 cloves of smashed garlic until they just start to turn yellow. Do not burn.
Add cannellini beans to garlic and oil. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat to simmer on low for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally. When done shut heat and keep covered.
Once escarole and broth are reduced by 2/3 pour the cannellini beans into the escarole pot and mix well.
Place a lengthwise slice of day-old Italian bread in a pasta bowl. Pour a few ladles of escarole & beans with the liquid over the bread, letting the liquid soak into the bread.
Top with grated Pecorino Romano cheese and serve.
Note: Our husbands both liked adding sliced Italian Sweet Sausage, as they are true carnivores!
Saute smashed garlic cloves
Add beans to garlic & oil
Broth & Garlic bring to boil
Escarole in broth
Add cooked cannellini beans to escarole
Ready to pour over Italian bread
Italian bread before the escarole & beans are poured on top