Pasta alla Vodka + giveaway


Pasta alla Vodka ~ Annie's Cooking Lab

A few weeks ago I received an email from RoseMarie at Marovato Italian Imports, she found my blog while looking for recipes for her family and wondered if I would be interested in trying some samples. I only had to spend a minute or two on their website  to answer an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ to sampling their products. I live in a very rural area where it can be hard (i.e. impossible) to find specialty foods without driving a couple of hours to a larger city so it’s been a while since I’ve been able to cook with high-end, imported ingredients. The day the box of samples arrived I was basically like a little kid at Christmas ripping through bubble-wrap to see what kind of fun ingredients I’d get to experiment with. They import all of their products directly from Italy and have been selling them wholesale for years. Recently they’ve expanded the business and are able to sell products directly to consumers through their website, it’s a great way to find high-end ingredients, especially if you don’t live in an area with specialty grocery stores.

I’ve never made my own pasta noodles, but I’ve had handmade pasta at a few nice Italian restaurants and the orecchiette pasta from Marovato Italian Imports was every bit as good. The texture of the pasta was spot-on with a soft center and slightly chewy outer edges and the shape was perfect for holding this rich tomato sauce. The flavors in the tomato sauce are simple in a comforting way and the sauce goes together pretty quickly making this a perfect weeknight meal that still tastes indulgent.

Marovato Italian Imports has generously offered to send some pasta, tomato sauce, and a package of their amazing taralli cookies to one lucky reader! Just leave a comment on this post by June 11th and tell me about your favorite Italian dish then be sure to check out their page on Facebook!*

Pasta alla Vodka


  • 16 oz. pasta
  • 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained with the liquid reserved (or 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes and 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes)
  • 2 tbl. olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, minced
  • 1 tbl. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup vodka (the cheap stuff is fine)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • salt to taste
  • fresh basil and Parmesan to garnish
  1. Start your sauce by placing approximately half of the tomatoes in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the pureed tomatoes and remaining diced tomatoes to a liquid measuring cup; add enough of the reserved tomato juice to equal about 2 cups.
  2. Place a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes then remove from heat and stir in the vodka. Return the pan to the heat and simmer until the alcohol is cooked off, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook your pasta according to the package directions. Drain the pasta and save about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
  4. When the alcohol has cooked off from the tomato sauce, reduce the heat and add the cream. Cook just until the sauce is heated through. Salt to taste.
  5. Return the cooked pasta to the pot it was cooked in and add the tomato sauce. Stir until the pasta is evenly coated, if the sauce is too thick then slowly add a bit of the reserved pasta water. Garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese.
Makes: 4 generous servings
Adapted from The Curvy Carrot

*The giveaway is limited to readers in the US so that we can keep shipping costs reasonable. Marovato Italian Imports generously gave me some products to sample, but all the opinions in this post are my own.

Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna ~ Annie's Cooking Lab

It seems like beans are a staple item in most vegetarian’s diets and that is definitely true for me. Some of my favorite dishes on this blog center around black beans like the Spicy Black Bean SoupBlack Bean Burgers, and the Southwestern Salad. And, after making this lasagna last weekend and eating the leftovers for a few nights I can confidently say that this is yet another black bean dish that I’ll be eating on a regular basis!

The prep-work for this lasagna is minimal. Mince some garlic, shred a little (or a lot!) of cheese and stir some beans and spices together and you’re basically done. This is also a great dish to prepare ahead of time. Once the layers are assembled just cover it tightly and refrigerate until you’re ready to cook.

Mexican Lasagna


  • 15 oz. black beans, drained
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 28 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained (some liquid will remain, that’s fine)
  • 9-12 no-boil lasagna noodles
  • 8 oz. shredded Mexican blend cheese, I used half pepper jack and half monterey blend)
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and have a 9 x 9 in pan nearby.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the black beans, corn, green onions, oregano, cumin, garlic, and salt.
  3. Spread a thin layer of tomatoes on the bottom of a 9 x 9 pan. Layer with 3-4 noodles. On top of the noodles, spread about 1/3 of the bean mixture. Layer with 1/4 of the remaining tomatoes and 1/4 of the shredded cheese. Repeat the layers two more times. For the final layer, use noodles, tomatoes and cheese.
  4. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 35-45 minutes until the noodles are tender. Remove the foil and bake another 5-10 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let stand for at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Makes: 4-6 servings
Adapted from Annie’s Eats

Pesto Gnocchi

Pesto Gnocchi ~ Annie's Cooking Lab

We were supposed to have rain this weekend, but it ended up being pretty clear and nice. I finally pulled my lawn chairs out of the shed and set them up on my little deck, it was great to spend some time sitting outside reading. Boomer and I also went to the lake today for a hike and he was so happy to finally be able to swim again now that everything has melted.

While I certainly had time to make something more elaborate for dinner tonight, it was too nice outside to spend much time in the kitchen. This meal only took a few minutes to put together, but it tasted delicious. I’ll definitely be keeping this recipe in rotation for quick week-night (or lazy weekend!) meals.

Pesto Gnocchi


  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbl. olive oil
  • 1 lb. potato gnocchi (I used DeLallo)
  • Parmesan cheese for topping, optional
  1. Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until chopped. Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running and process until smooth. Add the cheese and pulse briefly until combined. Salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.
  2. Cook the gnocchi according to the directions on the package then drain. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the gnocchi in a single layer and cook without stirring for about 3 minutes until the gnocchi is lightly browned and crisp. Flip the pieces of gnocchi over and cook for another 3 minutes until the other side is brown. Remove from heat and add 1/4-1/3 cup of pesto (you’ll have some pesto leftover) and garnish with additional Parmesan cheese.
Makes: 4 Servings
Source: Two Peas and Their Pod

Fresh Vegetable Farro

Fresh Vegetable Farro ~ Annie's Cooking Lab

I was recently introduced to farro in the cafe at work and I’m completely hooked. If you aren’t familiar with farro, it’s a grain that tastes somewhat similar to brown rice. The texture is great and it is just as good re-heated for leftovers as it is the first night. I had a hard time finding farro locally, but finally located it at Trader Joe’s, I would imagine you could find it at Whole Foods or a similar store as well.

For my inaugural batch of farro, I decided to make my favorite pasta dish and use the farro instead of pasta. Honestly, it was even better than the pasta version! I loved the nutty flavor of the farro with the fresh vegetables, caramelized onions, and tart cranberries.

Fresh Vegetable Farro


  • 8 oz. farro
  • 3 tbl. olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli flowerets
  • 1 red or green pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tbl. dried Italian herb mix
  • Coarse ground sea salt and pepper
  1. Boil a pot of water and cook the farro according to the directions on the box. While the water is heating up and the farro is cooking, prepare the rest of the vegetables.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the oil it hot, add the onions and cook until brown and caramelized. Add the broccoli, carrots, and peppers and cook until the vegetables are slightly tender. It’s best if the vegetables still have a crunchy texture, so don’t overcook. Add the cranberries, herbs and salt to the cooked vegetables.
  3. When the farro is done, drain it and return to the pot. Pour in the vegetables and stir to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serves: 4

Source: An Original

Cheddar Broccoli Orzo

Boomer and I spent a great weekend visiting my second cousins who live a few hours away from us. I hadn’t actually met them before, but Boom and I instantly felt at home in their lovely house with all their dogs. Boom had a lot of fun playing with the other dogs on their farm and is pretty worn out. He has been sleeping quietly ever since we got home!

I didn’t have much in the house to make for dinner tonight; I should have gone to the store but it was raining really hard and, well, I was being lazy. I decided to improvise with some ingredients I had on hand and I’m really pleased with how this dish turned out. Orzo is one of my favorite types of pasta, I love how it turns so creamy with just a bit of Parmesan cheese. If you end up with leftovers, add a splash of milk to the pasta before you re-heat it to help retain the creamy texture.

Cheddar Broccoli Orzo


  • 1 tbl. butter
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. orzo
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 tbl. parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1/4 cup milk (optional)
  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 3-4 minutes then stir in the garlic and orzo. Continue stirring for 2 minutes.
  2. Add the broth and cook for about 10 minutes. Stir in the broccoli and continue cooking for several more minutes until the orzo absorbs the broth and the broccoli has softened. Stir in the parmesan and cheddar cheeses then salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/4 cup of milk if desired to give the pasta a creamier texture. Enjoy!
Makes: About 3 servings as the main course, about 5 servings as a side dish

Classic Mac and Cheese

Classic Mac and Cheese ~ Annie's Cooking Lab

This mac and cheese recipe is basically the opposite of a healthy, low-calorie dinner. But, this warm, creamy, cheesy, pasta dish is perfect after a long day spent outside in the winter weather. The key to the creamy texture is the combination of cheddar and colby cheeses. Recipes that use only cheddar usually result in a grainy sauce, the addition of colby ensures that the sauce is incredibly smooth. I know purists would disagree with my addition of the onion, but I like having onion in nearly everything. Feel free to leave it out if you disagree! I enjoyed mixing the mac and cheese with some steamed broccoli so I could kid myself into thinking it was a little healthier, I’m sure it would be good with other vegetables too.

If you want to make the recipe ahead of time it can be kept in the fridge for 2 days before cooking. 

Classic Mac and Cheese


  • 1 pound pasta shapes, I used shells
  • 6 tbl. unsalted butter
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 6 tbl. flour
  • 2 1/4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (low-fat will work fine)
  • 1 lb. colby jack cheese, shredded (about 4 cups)
  • 8 oz. extra-sharp cheddar, shredded (about 2 cups)
  • ground black pepper
  • 1-2 cups additional cheddar cheese to top, optional
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 5 minutes until the pasta is just beginning to soften. Drain the pasta and set aside.
  3. Return the pot to the stove over medium-high heat and add the butter. Once melted, add the onion and cook for several minutes until softened. Stir in the garlic, mustard powder, and cayenne  Cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and milk and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes until the sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat and stir in the cheeses until completely melted. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Stir the pasta into the cheese sauce until all the noodles are covered. Pour into a slightly greased 9 x 13 in baking pan. If desired, sprinkle some additional cheddar cheese over the top. Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and hot. Enjoy!
Makes: 8-10 servings
Adapted from Pink Parsley

Caprese Orzo Salad

When I was a kid I couldn’t stand tomatoes and would pick them out of nearly everything. I remained convinced for a long time that I hated tomatoes and it wasn’t until I tried some delicious bruschetta that realized that they could be pretty good. Tomatoes still aren’t on the top of my list of favorite foods, but I can’t turn them down when they’re combined with fresh basil and mozzarella.

This simple orzo pasta salad is incredibly quick and easy to make. You can eat it at room temp (my preference) or chilled which makes it a great summer dish.

Recipe Title


  • 2 cups low sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup orzo
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 cup bocconcini (mozzarella balls), halved or quartered
  • 1 tbl. olive oil
  • 3 tbl. basil leaves, chopped
  • salt, pepper and Italian Seasonings to taste
  1. Pour the broth into a pot and place over medium high heat until boiling. Add the orzo and cook for about 8 minutes until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain and set aside to cool.
  2. Once the orzo is cool, place it it a bowl and stir in the olive oil, basil, and seasonings. Gently stir in the tomatoes and mozzarella. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Makes: 3-4 as main course, 6+ as side dish
Adapted from Cook Au Vin

Orzo with Caramelized Onion, Sweet Potatoes and Kale

Boom and I spent the last week house-sitting for a family with two yellow labs. Their dogs are super cute and Boom and I had a great time hanging out with them. For the most part I think Boom enjoys being an only child and getting all of my attention, but he definitely has fun when there are buddies for him to play with too.

The ‘kids’ waiting impatiently for breakfast!

One of the things I love about staying at this house is their big, beautiful kitchen. The  big kitchen does come with two extra dogs who like to hang out and ‘help’ with the cooking but all the counter space makes up for the additional tripping hazards!

I really enjoyed the last orzo dish I made and this one turned out just as well. The flavors from the caramelized onion, sweet potato and kale are delicious with the light balsamic vinegar dressing.  Anytime a dish involves caramelizing onions you know you’ll need to plan to spend some time in the kitchen, and this is no exception. But, if you’re looking for an excuse to be in the kitchen for a little while and you want a tasty, healthy dish at the end, this is a great option!

Orzo with Caramelized Onion, Sweet Potato and Kale


  • 2 1/2 tbl. olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium sweet potato (about 1/3-1/2 pound), diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1/2 pound orzo pasta
  • 2 cups sodium-free broth, vegetable or chicken
  • 2 tbl. Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 3 big leaves kale, stalks removed and leaves chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Pour 1 tbl. olive oil in a skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the sweet potato. Cook and stir occasionally for several minutes then add the onion. Continue to cook and occasionally stir until the onion is soft and beginning to caramelize.
  2. While the vegetables are cooking, add 1 tbl. olive oil to a medium-sized pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, stir in the orzo. Stir frequently for 3-4 minutes until the orzo is lightly toasted then pour in the broth. Simmer until the orzo has absorbed the broth and is tender. If necessary, add an addition 1/4 cup of water or broth to allow the orzo to fully cook. When the orzo is done, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Cover with a lid and let sit until the vegetables are finished.
  3. When the onions are beginning to caramelize, add the garlic and cook for several minutes. Whisk the balsamic vinegar, soy sauce and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil together. Pour into the skillet with the vegetables and stir to combine. Add the chopped kale and stir for a couple of minutes until the kale wilts.
  4. Add the vegetable mixture to the cooked orzo and stir to combine. Salt and pepper as needed. Serve and enjoy!
Makes: 3 servings as main dish, 5-6 as side dish
Adapted from The Kitchn

Spinach Rice Casserole

A few weeks ago I found myself with some leftover rice in the fridge and not enough vegetables to make a stir fry. I had been looking forward to trying this recipe for a while and it was the perfect opportunity! I love creamy, cheesy casseroles and this one turned out really well. I used cheddar cheese when I made it, but next time around I think I’ll use pepper jack instead to give the casserole a little spice.

Spinach Rice Bake


  • 10 oz. fresh spinach
  • 1 tbl. water
  • 1/2 tbl. olive oil
  • 1/4 onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (measure after cooking)
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, or pepper jack)
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 325 degrees and grease a 8 x 8 inch baking dish.
  2. Place the spinach and water in a large skillet over medium heat; cover and cook until the spinach wilts. Drain the spinach and set aside.
  3. Return the skillet to the stove and heat the olive oil. Saute the chopped onion for a few minutes until translucent.
  4. In a large bowl, combine the brown rice, cheese, milk, eggs and salt. Stir in the onion and wilted spinach. Pour into the prepared 8 x8 inch pan and bake for 35-40 minutes until set in the middle
Makes: 4 servings
Adapted from Tammy’s Recipes

Orzo with Peas, Spinach and Parmesan

I’ve been eating a lot of soup the last few weeks. This is my last week of grad school and it has been busy to say the least. Soup is my go-to meal for busy weeks since I can make one batch and just re-heat it each night. Luckily I love soup, so that works out pretty well but eventually you get to the point where it would be nice to eat with a fork.

I didn’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, but I wanted to whip up something tasty and comforting and this definitely fit the bill. This orzo dish came together in no time and is really creamy, even though it’s made with broth not cream. I put peas and spinach in here, but you could certainly throw in addition vegetables if you’d like.

I served this as the main dish, but it would be a great side too. If you have leftovers, I suggest adding a splash of milk to the pasta before you re-heat it. Pasta sometimes gets dry in the fridge and the milk will help the leftovers stay creamy.

Orzo with Peas and Spinach


  • 2 tsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. orzo
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 8 oz. fresh spinach
  • 2-3 tbsp parmesan cheese (or more if desired)
  • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  1. Melt the butter with the olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 3-4 minutes then stir in the garlic and orzo. Continue stirring for 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add the broth and cook until the orzo absorbs the broth, about 15 minutes. Add the spinach and frozen peas and stir until the spinach wilts and the peas are hot. Stir in the Parmesan cheese then salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!
Makes: About 3 servings as the main course, about 5 as side dish
Adapted from For the Love of Cooking