Easy Italian Meals

Who doesn’t love Italian food? The gravy, made from scratch and simmered for hours; the involtini: stuffed, rolled beef, chicken or pork that’s sliced and pan-fried; and chicken parmesan: breaded chicken with melted cheese and red sauce. What a feast! And here’s a little secret: You don’t have to be a chef to whip up the following recipes. They’re simple, full of flavor, and will have you running for seconds.

Pasta With Spicy Garlic Meat Sauce

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 pound cavatappi pasta (these are hollow corkscrew shapes that hold up well with a hearty meat sauce)
1 ½ pounds spicy Italian sausage4 cloves garlic, minced finely
24 ounces spaghetti sauce of your choice
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pepper

First, make the sauce.

Remove the sausage from its casings and discard them.

Crumble the sausage into gumball-size bits into a large skillet along with the minced garlic, salt, and pepper.

Brown the sausage over medium heat, stirring frequently to make sure the mixture doesn’t burn.

Once the sausage is thoroughly cooked, lower the heat to low, and add the spaghetti sauce. Stir and cover.

Second, cook the pasta according to box directions. Drain well and place on a serving platter, then top with the meat sauce.

Layered Polenta Casserole

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 pounds ready-made polenta, sliced into ½ inch slices
24 ounces spaghetti sauce
2 pounds browned ground turkey or beef
1 pound shredded cheese (mozzarella, spicy jack, Colby or a mix)
2 tablespoons olive oil

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Grill the polenta slices in the oil until they’re golden brown. Set aside on paper towels to drain.

In a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish, layer half the polenta, half the sauce, half the meat, then half the cheese. Repeat one more time.

Bake for 35-45 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Easy Calzones

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds pizza dough (most stores carry this in the refrigerated section, or you can buy it in a “Pop ‘n Fresh” container)
1 ½ cups Ricotta cheese, drained
1 ½ cups shredded cheese (mozzarella, spicy jack, Colby or a mix)
¼ cup olive oil

Fillings of your choice, such as

1 cup pepperoni
1 cup diced mushrooms
1 cup diced bell pepper
½ cup black olives
½ cup diced onions
1 cup diced ham

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
Separate the dough into six equal pieces and roll each one into a 7-inch circle. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Rustic is good.

Sprinkle the grated cheese evenly over the circles, leaving a 1-inch border around the edge.

Plop 1-inch blobs of Ricotta cheese evenly over the shredded cheese.

Top each calzone with your choice of fillings.

Fold the circles in half and pinch the edges closed. You could also press the tines of a fork around the crimped edges to make sure they’re fully stuck together.

Use a large spatula to transfer the calzones to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with oil and bake for 13-15 minutes or until golden.

See how easy that was? But here’s another secret: Never let your friends or family know just how easy it was. Let ‘em think you spent all day in the kitchen cooking food just for them. Maybe they’ll clean up after dinner!