Simple Italian Recipes With Bold Flavor Combinations And A Secret Ingredient!

Lasagna rolls with tomato sauce, ricotta and pepperoni

By Matthew Harvey

Well now, how tired are we?

We’re only three months into the new year. The holidays are over and spring is officially knocking on our door. Family is long gone, (until Easter), drama unfolded, people wept, people fought, and that was just over the Super Bowl. By now, you should be fully back to the grind. You’re primed and ready to commit to cooking more at home. Remember those New Year resolutions? Well forget the one that said eat healthier. Let’s change it up to just eat better. You don’t have to make major changes to your diet. The amount of times we eat out away from home is staggering. I mean look at this number, 3, now it has nothing to do with the amount of times we go out. Or maybe it does?  Do you eat out 3 times a week, maybe 3 meals a day, 3 weeks out of the month? Is it more?

Well, let’s change that up to say 1 day a week, or 1 meal, or 1 time per month. And look, just like that, you’re going to be eating better, because you’re going to be making it yourself.

Let’s make some homemade Italian!

The beauty of Italian food is that it’s really incredibly simple when you break it all down. The emphasis is completely on fresh, high-quality ingredients.

So let’s make something great!

Now I know what you’re saying, Matt, are you Italian?  No.  Do you have Italian roots?  Also, no.  So what do you know about Italian cooking?  Hey, what do I know about making anything?  I just know.  I look up recipes, I get ingredients, I try my hand at making it.  Now, no I have not attended cooking school in Italy, and if you feel that is a pre-requisite for explaining how I make these dishes, then I’d suggest you keep turning pages.  Go ahead….I’ll wait.

If you want a sauce that needs to simmer all day, these recipes are not for you. I will however, give you short cuts that will make your sauce taste like an Italian grandma’s marinara  that actually was simmered for 8 hours.

Still here?  Good, it means you’re ready to learn to make some good food.  It’s simple, it’s fresh, and remember, you can always think of ways to put your own spin on these recipes.  I’ve added a few ingredients in that actually can be good for you, as well as good tasting.



Let’s start with something as simple as spaghetti and add a little fun to it.  You’ll need the following ingredients:

1 lb. ground sirloin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tablespoon fresh minced garlic

Sliced black olives

1 jar Mom’s Garlic Marinara

1 jar Mom’s Spaghetti Sauce

1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil

A pinch or red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce (optional)

1 16 oz package spaghetti noodles

Take a pound of ground sirloin and make little meatballs out of them.  Season the meat with salt, pepper, and garlic.  Brown the meat, then pour the sauce over the meat and cook on medium heat for about 30 minutes.  Let the meat bathe in that sauce.



For me I combine a jar of Mom’s spaghetti and Mom’s garlic marinara sauce together.  These are produced by Fisher & Weisser in Fredericksburg and have whole cloves of garlic in them. As the meatballs and sauce are working together, add in the sliced black olives.  Now, why black olives?  Well, they add a fun dimension of flavor from the saltiness, and eating black olives is known to help boost metabolism.  Look at that, we’re eating a little healthier without sacrificing flavor.

To prepare the pasta:

In a separate pot, bring water, salt, and a little olive oil to boil.  The salt lowers the boiling point of the water, and the oil will help keep the pasta from sticking together.  Once boiling, add in your dried spaghetti.  Let the pasta cook for about 12 minutes.  Now, I’ve been told about a test where you can throw the pasta at the wall to tell when it’s done. Personally, I think it’s a waste of pasta.  Just very carefully pull one out and try it.  If it’s not sticking to your teeth, and not crunchy, you’re good to go.  Drain the pasta and either set it aside or add in the sauce and fold together.

TIP:  Rather than using the traditional crushed red pepper flakes to add heat, try using a hot sauce or buffalo sauce into the sauce.  It will add a tiny amount of heat and some good flavor, plus it’s fun.



While all this is taking place, mix 2 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons of baking powder, and a half a teaspoon of salt together in a bowl.  Cut in 4 tablespoons of shortening, and when the consistency looks like coarse sand, pour on about ¾ of a cup of milk.  Mix this well (preferably with a fork) and then turn out onto a lightly floured counter or board.  Knead the mix gently for about 30 seconds.  Roll or press out till you can pull apart small 2 or 3 inch long strands.  Place these on a parchment lined sheet pan.  For more fun, before baking, melt a stick of butter with a teaspoon of garlic salt, mix well to dissolve, then brush over your dough.  Place these into an oven at 450 degrees for about 12 minutes.



But what if you look at that and say, I want to do some more cooking, but that’s not fancy enough for me.  Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.  Whether it’s for just you, for you and family, or you’re trying to impress a date, I present to you, fettucine alfredo.

Let’s make some alfredo.  And when I mean that, I mean from scratch (well at least the sauce).   Traditionally alfredo is made with either no protein, like chicken, or shrimp.   So, let’s add that as an option as well to this mix. Again, it’s about eating better.  And when you add in protein, you’re looking out for yourself.  And if you happen to say, well I don’t eat meat, get some tofu.  Yes, I said tofu.  It’s a wonderfully versatile protein that actually can pick up any flavor it’s cooked in.  Have you ever had miso soup with tofu?  Oh, simply amazing.  But I’m getting off topic.

First, let’s pick our protein and vegetables (because mom is always watching) and tells you, you need to have something green on the plate.  With alfredo, I prefer using broccoli or broccolini.  It holds up well when steamed and doesn’t overpower dishes when added to them.  As in terms of protein, pick between chicken, turkey, or shrimp (or again tofu if you want).  If choosing turkey, see if the store has boneless turkey breast, most do, or even turkey tenders.  You cook this the same as chicken.  First, start with seasoning your protein option.  I like to use salt, pepper, garlic, and onion powder, and occasionally, I’ll throw in some BBQ rub (I’m a Texan, that flavor works for anything in my opinion).  Cook your protein of choice in a medium pan with butter rather than oil.  It just adds a wonderful extra flavor.  Buttery anything is good, I mean they made fried butter a thing at the Texas state fair for heavens’ sake.  But I digress.

Steam the broccoli or broccolini then allow more butter to melt over that.  In a pot, combine water, oil, and salt and bring to a boil and cook the fettucine as directed (similar to how we did the spaghetti).  This pasta may take a little longer since it’s thicker than spaghetti, but that’s ok.  Once cooked, drain the pasta and combine your protein, vegetables, and pasta into a large pot.

Next, we will dive into making the alfredo sauce.   For this you’ll need the following ingredients:

¾ cup of Cream Cheese

¾ cup of Half & Half

1 stick of butter

Parsley flakes

½ pound of grated parmesan

1 tablespoon minced garlic.

Bring a saucepan to medium heat and add in the minced garlic.  As it sweats, aside from the air smelling amazing, add in the butter, cream cheese, and half & half. Stir consistently and allow to come to a boil. Continue to stir until the sauce thickens slightly. Another way of thickening and adding more flavor is to slowly stir in some of the grated Parmesan cheese. Once thickened, add into the pot and mix thoroughly. You may need to add a bit more salt and pepper here. After everything is added, garnish with parsley and serve.

​Note:  Try chickpea pasta or pasta made from lentils.  Use organic, and low salt sauces.  These small adjustments allow your brain and body to function better together as it won’t go full on revolt that suddenly you’ve gone from chili dogs to straight salads.


​Now for the big dish.  Let’s say you haven’t made that resolution.  You’ve just decided you want to eat at home more and make more rather than buying frozen.  Let’s go further by saying you have a large family, or a family who’s active but they’re burned out on spaghetti.  You want something filling, something you can be creative with.  But something you don’t necessarily have to dirty up every pot in the house.  Let’s talk lasagna.  What’s fun with this, is you can add tons of different options to it, and you can involve the family.  You can be as traditional as you want, or you can go truly out in left field.  And guess what?  It’s your house, your kitchen, so it’s your rules.  There isn’t going to be the Italian food police busting down your door for adding something to a lasagna that you want to add.



For this, you’ll need the following:

1 pkg lasagna pasta (you’ll use between ½ to ¾ of the pkg)

1lb ricotta or fine cottage cheese

4 oz cream cheese

1 egg

1 tsp salt

Sprinkling of nutmeg (the secret ingredient)

½ pound of mozzarella cheese

2 jars Mom’s spaghetti sauce

2 lbs ground beef

1 pkg dried pepperoni (optional)


​Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, adding a tsp of olive oil (this prevents sticking).  Once they are cooked, drain and rinse with cold water to prevent them from getting mushy and further prevent sticking.  Then set this aside.

​Cook the ground beef and mix in the jar of sauce along with a dash or pinch of salt and pepper.  Get this blended together and set aside.

Mix together the ricotta, cream cheese, egg, salt, and nutmeg.  This will become your cheese mixture.

Take a lasagna pan, yes they actually make lasagna pans, and cover the bottom with a layer of sauce, just a layer though, not all of it.  Then add a layer of pasta.  Next add 3 scoops of the cheese mixture, along with the mozzarella and spread across the pasta for the next layer.  Repeat as needed until you add on your last layer of pasta.  Finish layering with sauce on top and then the mozzarella cheese.

Now, no I did not say where to add in the pepperoni.  This is where you can have fun.  You can add it as layers, you can add them to the sauce layers, or to the cheese layers.  Or, once the last layer of pasta is done, put on one last layer of mozzarella cheese, then add on the pepperoni and finish it off with a hardy sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

Cover with foil and place this in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so.  Then uncover and cook until you can see it bubbling and slightly brown.  The total cooking time should not be more than one hour.  Let it sit for about 10 minutes then serve.  This will feed around 6 to 8 people.  And if there aren’t that many people in the house, it does freeze nicely.

And there you go, some simple fun dishes that you can make that adds a little something new, and something better, and something slightly Italian to your recipe book.  Ok so, it’s Italian inspired.  So go forth and cook for your family, let them see all of the great things you have learned and show them that this year is going to be different.  This year you are sticking to that plan to eat better.