Pasta, Veggies based & Vegetarian

Foolproof Marinara Sauce

Over the years, I kept adjusting my recipe for a true, delicious Marinara sauce. You know, that classic staple of Italian cuisine, a base for many Italian dishes. I love this marinara sauce in lasagnas, with meatballs, or, when adding a ground beef you can turn it into Bolognese. Why would you bother, when you can buy a ready to go jar of sauce from multiple brands? Well, maybe if you’re watching what you eat, like me, and want to eliminate unnecessary sugar, different preservatives or chemicals from your diet. Plus, making it yourself allows you to use organic ingredients and control the taste.

Marinara takes time, but it’s not difficult to make! You can even make a large amount, split into containers and freeze. With an extra bonus of the lovely aroma in the kitchen.  Mix with zucchini noodles and you have got a delicious Paleo or Keto meal!


Foolproof Marinara Sauce

Yield: 4-5 portions

  • 2x 28oz cans of whole tomatoes (preferably from San Marzano, any brand)
  • 1 small onion minced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic minced
  • 2 medium-size carrots, peeled and cut into small cubes

    San Marzano Tomatoes
  • 2-3 sticks of celery, cut into similar size cubes
  • Dried oregano
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 Cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Tomato paste
  • ½ cup white wine (dry Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, do not use cooking wine)
  • ½ teaspoon red hot pepper flakes
  • tablespoon of butter (optional)
  • Big bunch of fresh basil
  • Rim of parmesan cheese (optional)

Heat up oil in a large pot, and sauté onions, garlic, hot pepper flakes, oregano, carrots, and celery for about 3 minutes on medium low heat, or until nice and aromatic. Most delicious dishes start with some variety of soffritto, which is also the base of this sauce. I personally like smaller pieces of veggies, but the cut is completely up to you, as long as they’re a similar size for even cooking.

Season with salt and pepper. In the meantime pour whole tomatoes into a food processor and pulse a few times (for small chunks of tomatoes in your sauce). If you don’t like chunks in your sauce, then process completely until tomatoes turn into a puree.


When the veggies start to soften up, add tomato paste and mix well to caramelize the paste. Cook for a minute with vegetables and pour white wine over everything. Let the wine evaporate, and when almost dry, pour in tomatoes with all its juices. Add water. I often pour little water into tomato cans and splash to make sure every bit of the tomato juice went into the sauce.

Cut a big chunk of basil, wash, leave whole and add to the sauce. Mix, turn the heat to simmer low, and let the sauce cook for about 1-2 hours, or until it reaches desired consistency. If using, add the parmesan rim for a flavor. The sauce will reduce about 1/3 of its original amount.

When the sauce is to your liking, taste for seasoning, and eventually add more salt and pepper. If too acidic, add a tablespoon of butter and let dissolve in the sauce. Fish out the big chunk of basil that was cooking with the sauce and the parmesan rim.

Slice up a handful of fresh basil and add to the sauce when you already took it off the heat. Now you’re ready to use your aromatic sauce as it is, with meatballs, in lasagna or whatever you desire. Enjoy!


All recipes paired with wine, Fish and Seafood, Pasta

Shrimp Scampi

I first tasted this meal when my husband (who never cooks) made it for me. You know, when we were still dating…:) I wasn’t familiar with seafood so much those days. It was a simple and soooo delicious dish. I started to make it myself and as the time goes, I was adding little more of my tweaks to it. Recently, I bought a bunch of bok choy cabbage and decided to use it in my shrimp scampi. You can leave it out if you don’t care for it, but it came out really good!

Shrimp Scampi (this time a little different)

1 bag of your favorite pasta (I like spaghetti or linguine)
1 leek cleaned, and chopped into rings
1 bok choy cabbage (optional)
3 cloves of garlic – pressed or finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 pound (about 10-12 large shrimp uncooked)
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes (optional)
half a cup of white wine
salt and pepper
chopped basil and parsley for garnish

In a large frying pan melt butter with olive oil on medium heat and add red pepper flakes (if desired). Add chopped leeks, turn down the heat and let saute on low  for 5-10 minutes until translucent.  When caramelized and soft, add white wine to the pan and de-glaze it.

Let the wine reduce and add cleaned, raw shrimp. Shrimp should be in the sauce, not just on top of it, so it can cook well. Sometimes I like to cut the shrimp in half, because it’s easier to roll it on my fork with the spaghetti that way. Unfortunately, that didn’t make for the best picture. We love this dish so much that nobody can wait until the nice picture is taken 🙂

Cover the pan and cook few minutes until all the shrimp is pink. Don’t over cook the shrimp though, it only takes a short few minutes.

In the meantime, boil large pot of water, heavily salted and cook your pasta based on the instructions, drain and return to the pot. Add a splash of olive oil, stir and keep hot.

Add pressed garlic into the shrimp and stir well. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Rinse and chop bok choy cabbage. Add to the mixture and let cook for another minute. Add cooked hot pasta and toss together. Garnish with basil and parsley. Buon appetito!

Wine pairing suggestions:
I have tasted a lovely, fresh Huber Hugo Grüner Veltliner (Austria) with this dish and it was so refreshing! Another choice was my long time favorite Las Brisas from Spain. The Spanish wine added a lot of character because of the expressive Sauvignon Blanc, but Huber was a superb match with shrimp scampi in my opinion. Both great wines for spring and upcoming summer!

All recipes paired with wine, Ground meat, Pasta

My traditional lasagna

My traditional lasagnaI have been a star of dinner parties when making this Italian classic. It is very impressive when you bring this beautifully smelling dish in the middle of your table. Not too many people knew lasagna in my home country than and everybody just loved it. And where did I learn how to make it? From my friends in Holland! A little crazy crossroad, isn’t it?

Whatever the story and location, this is a simple, all-in-one-dish dinner that nobody will complain about!When I first came to U.S.A., we stayed at our friend’s house for the first few weeks, before we settled in our own apartment. One evening I offered to cook dinner and decided to make “my lasagna”. My dear friend Leo invited his 87 years old Italian mother to join us! Oh dear! My “Czech version of Dutch lasagna” made it though. except, I didn’t know how to work the ricotta cheese and it thinned the sauce a little. Other than that, approved! Leo’s mom was too kind!

My traditional lasagna

1 pack of lasagna pasta (any kind you like)
1 pound of ground meat (mix)
2 links of Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
1 can of diced tomatoes
1/2 leek sliced
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1 table spoon dried oregano
1 marinara sauce or
1 large can of whole tomatoes
1/2 cup of ketchup
4 large mushrooms sliced (optional)
1/2 cup of heavy cream
1/2 cup of chopped fresh basil
1 cup of shredded mozzarella
salt and pepper
olive oil

In a large pan heat olive oil and saute onion until soft. Add dried oregano, 2 diced cloves of garlic and sliced leek and let cook until soft. Add ground meat and Italian sausage (without the casing) to the pan and separating with wooden spoon, fry until browned. Season with salt and pepper. If you like mushrooms, add them now and saute for another minute.

When the meat is cooked through, add whole can of diced tomatoes (juices included) and large can of whole tomatoes (unless you decided to use store bought marinara sauce) instead. Break whole tomatoes carefully in your hand before adding to the pan. Turn down the heat and let cook for ten minutes. Season with ketchup.

At the end, finish the sauce with freshly chopped basil, add pressed rest of the garlic and my little secret – heavy cream. It smooths the sauce like a little cross over “bechamel meets marinara”. Stir, cook an additional minute and turn off.In an oven proof dish ladle a little bit of sauce to cover the whole bottom, cover it with lasagna noodles (I never cook them ahead, they cook through with the sauce – another secret I learned in Holland). And not, you don’t have to use the “no need to precook” kind. Any kind of lasagna pasta works the same with this recipe.

Just cover the sauce with dry pasta. You may have to crush the corners or ends so it fits to your skillet. Cover your sauce with pasta and add a second layer of sauce. Sauce must cover the entire pasta! Add layer of shredded mozzarella, pasta, sauce, and so on until your dish is full. Top layer must be the sauce.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and put in the oven. Again, if you used 8×8 dish, and that’s enough for 4 portions of lasagna, it can easily fit into my favorite kitchen appliance (you guessed it) toaster-oven. So no need to pre-heat your big oven.

Turn your timer on 45 minutes at 375 F (you may want to put your dish on a sheet or aluminum foil, if you topped it all the way to the top with sauce, since it may go a little overboard while cooking.

That’s all you need to do and walk away.When lasagna is done, take out your dish, let it cool for a few minutes, bring it to your table and let your family to dig in. Bon Apetito!

Note: you can use layers of Ricotta instead of shredded mozzarella. Just don’t make the same mistake I did the first time (I never worked with ricotta cheese before). Before you use it for your lasagna, mix Ricotta with 1 whole egg and season it with salt and pepper. This way you wouldn’t end up with watery sauce like I did the first time :).

Wine pairing suggestions:
I paired this dish with (naturally) Italian Chianti called Cetamura from Badia a Contibuono in Tuscany. This wine’s acidity pairs perfect with the tomato sauce in lasagna. Those Italians, they know what they are doing!

All recipes paired with wine, Fish and Seafood, Pasta

Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood

Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood99% of time when we feel like pasta in our household, spaghetti or similarly shaped pasta wins. But this simple and tasty recipe goes well with any other kind of pasta you personally prefer.

Angel hair pasta with spicy seafood

1/2 pound Bay scallops, cleaned
4 – 6 extra large shrimp, peeled, deveeined and chopped into chunks similar to the size of scallops
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium green zucchini (thinly sliced on mandolin into long strips)
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon Pelago Spicy Seafood seasoning
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoon olive oil

Bring water in a large pot into boil, add tablespoon of salt and cook your pasta “al-dente”. Drain, sprinkle a little bit of olive oil into cooked pasta so it wouldn’t stick, and mix. Reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water for your sauce.

In the meantime, heat up the butter until melted in deeper pan, add olive oil and slices of zucchini. Sprinkle with a little bit of the seasoning mix and saute, stirring regularly, on medium hot until soft (about 2-3 min.). Take cooked strips of zucchini out of the pan with fine mesh spoon and set aside.

Add all the seafood to the hot oil and butter, and sprinkle with seasoning. Add pasta water, mix together and quickly saute, stirring it regularly, until shrimp is pink on all sizes (about a minute). Add chopped garlic and cooked zucchini strips. Combine and pour over cooked pasta.
Buon Appetito!

Wine pairing suggestion:
With this meal I opened a new vintage of Alta Vista Torrontes from Argentina and it was delicious together. Some of you, Vera Wine Club’s members may remember this wine from our Argentinian Luncheon at Fleming’s – few years ago. It was quite a success. If you didn’t taste it yet, you got to try a bottle.

All recipes paired with wine, Pasta, Veggies based & Vegetarian

Vermicelli con melanzana

Let’s be clear. I am not a vegetarian. I love meat too much. But this dish is so good, simple and light – you wouldn’t even realize there is no meat involved! If watching calories, skip Parmesan cheese.

I had the guts to serve this sauce for a couple of Italian friends. Their wives are very good, traditional Italian cooks. I made it nice and hot since I knew they like it hot. Pretty fresh, isn’t it? When they asked for a second serving, I knew I had a winner…

Vermicelli con melanzana

1 bag of favorite spaghetti (cooked according to instructions to al-dente)

1 large eggplant
3 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cloves of garlic
4 tomatoes (or 1 can of diced tomatoes)

green parsley – 2 cups
1 green chili (or half a tablespoon of red crushed peppers) – optional but really good!

salt and pepper

Parmesan for garnish

Clean an eggplant and cut it into a 1/2 inch slices. Sprinkle each slice with salt and let it sweat in a calender. In the meantime heat olive oil in heavy duty pan, add chili (or red flakes) and slices of garlic. Don’t worry about the heat. The eggplant absorbs most of it.

Saute quickly. Add diced tomatoes. Cut an eggplant slices, pat dry with napkin, into a small cubes and add to the pan. Stir-fry an eggplant cubes on high heat. Salt and pepper. Turn heat to medium low and cover. Let simmer for 20 minutes or until the eggplant is soft. Add a little bit of water or chicken broth if necessary.

When the eggplant is soft, add a handful of chopped parsley. Stir into eggplant, add salt and pepper if desired and mix with hot spaghetti. Serve immediately garnished with granted Parmesan cheese.

Wine pairing suggestion:
I chose a simple, inexpensive Sangiovese wine from Italian Umbria to pair with this light, refreshing dish. The wine is acidic and light body so it compliments this vegetarian dish perfectly. And, it is available in most places under $7.00 – 8.00 a bottle. Amerini Poggio dei Salici Rosso is a pleasant , uncomplicated table wine.