Pasta Puttanesca with Pan-Fried Chicken Breast

This is a recipe reputedly served by ladies of Italian bordellos. They would place a large bowl in the window of their room, tempting hungry patrons to pay a visit.  I fell in love with it (um — instead at a local restaurant…) because of the contrasting salty/briny flavor imparted by the signature minced anchovies and green olives.

It is fantastic paired with pan-fried or grilled chicken breast – sliced and then gently tossed in with the sauce and pasta.  It’s only a bit of extra work.

Serve with a side of thinly sliced Italian or French bread, good quality XV olive oil and a green salad.

2-3 tbs. XV olive oil
1 pound pasta – spaghetti or angel hair – cooked al dente according to package directions
2 large boneless and skinless chicken breasts
1 tin King Oscar whole anchovies – removed from brine and finely minced
6 large cloves garlic – peeled and minced
20-30 brined green and/or Kalamata olives, removed from pits and roughly chopped
3 tbs. capers, drained
5 Cremini mushrooms, washed, stemmed and thinly sliced
1/4 red onion – thinly sliced
1/2 cup rinsed and trimmed flat-leaf parsley – finely chopped
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 28-oz. can whole or crushed tomatoes
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes
Dash of red cayenne pepper flakes, to taste
Dash of kosher salt, to taste
Dash of red wine
Freshly shredded hard Parmesan cheese

For the Marinade~
3 large cloves garlic – peeled and minced
Bottled Italian salad dressing; about 3/4 cup



Marinate the chicken breasts at least 3-6 hours prior to cooking in a ziplock bag, coated in Italian salad dressing and three minced garlic cloves. Rotate occasionally.

Remove the breasts and transfer to a dinner plate. Sprinkle each breast generously on both sides with shredded hard Parmesan cheese. Allow to warm to room temperature.

Prepare the remaining 6 cloves of minced garlic, the anchovies, onion, mushroom, flat-leaf parsley, olives, oregano and capers. Set aside.

Coat a cast-iron Panini pan with cooking spray and preheat until medium hot. While the pan is heating, place the tomatoes in a heavy cooking pot and heat until just simmering, stirring occasionally.

In a large cast-iron flat bottom skillet, heat 2-3 tbs. of olive oil on medium-high heat. Add the anchovies, garlic, mushrooms, onion, olives, oregano and capers. Sautee for about 5-7 minutes. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan. Transfer contents to the sauce pot with the tomato sauce. Season with red pepper, kosher salt to taste. Stir.

While cooking the above ingredients, place the chicken breasts in the Panini pan and cook about three minutes per side until golden with some char marks. Remove, set aside for five minutes and then slice in 1/2″ strips. Don’t fret if the chicken isn’t cooked all of the way through – you will simmer it with the sauce.

Prepare the pasta and cook al dente. Do not overcook. Drain and keep warm.

After the sauce has simmered for 15 minutes, add the chicken and cook until heated through. Add the flat-leaf parsley.

Add the sauce to the pasta and toss until just mixed through. Serve immediately garnished with grated hard Parmesan cheese.

Serves 6

Grilled Italian Sausage with Marinara Sauce over Penne Pasta

Grilled Italian sausage with marinara sauce over penne pasta

Who’s up for making a made-from-scratch marinara sauce with fresh summer garden herbs?  Sounds like a lot of work?  It’s easier than you think.
This is a classic spicy red sauce prepared in the old world Italian tradition. We’ll serve it with grilled Italian sausage and Cremini mushrooms over a bed of penne pasta.

The sausage takes center stage — made locally in Johnsonville, a town in Eastern Wisconsin (their brats are legendary!)  Many large retail grocers will carry it.

My family loves this recipe. I’m trusting yours will too.

For another version of homemade marinara using garden tomatoes, click here.


1 package Johnsonville® mild Italian sausage (5 links)
2 28-oz. cans Red Gold® tomatoes (one crushed and one diced)
4 large cloves fresh garlic; peeled and minced
6 large Cremini mushrooms; washed, stemmed and sliced
1 small onion; peeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/4″ strips
1/2 cup fresh Italian oregano leaves; minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves; minced
1 green bell pepper; cored and sliced
1 red bell pepper; cored and sliced
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. beef boullion granules
Sea salt, to taste
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente according to package directions (about 11-12 minutes)
XV olive oil
Grated fresh hard Parmesan cheese



Preheat an outdoor charcoal grill with enough coals for a medium-hot fire. Mound the briquettes and fire until white hot; about twenty minutes. Cook the sausage links covered over indirect heat with the top vent partially choked down.
Turn every 5 minutes until firm and evenly browned. Remove and set aside.

In a 3-quart heavy enameled cast-iron sauce pot, heat 1/4 cup XV olive oil until shimmering, then add the minced garlic. Stir constantly so the garlic doesn’t burn. Cook for three minutes. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook for an additional three minutes, then add the sliced onion and a pinch of sea salt. Cook until the onions are tender and translucent. Add the two cans of tomatoes, the oregano and basil and stir. Add the sugar, red pepper flakes and beef boullion. Simmer on low, partially covered, stirring occasionally for at least two hours. You cannot rush a good marinara sauce! After the first hour, add the sliced red and green bell pepper. Cut the Italian sausage at a bias in 1/2″ chunks and add to the pot. The sauce can be left to simmer for at least six hours with great results. Just make sure to keep the heat at an absolute minimum.

Boil 3 quarts of water in a separate stock pot. Add 1 tsp. of sea salt. Cook the penne pasta until just al dente. Drain well and serve with the sauce, topped with shredded hard Parmesan cheese.

Serves six comfortably
Total cooking/prep time: 4-6 hours

fresh garden basil blossoms

Fresh basil with flowering blossoms


Garden Marinara Sauce with Italian Sausage

I love fall, because my garden is setting many heirloom tomatoes — the perfect time to make a pot of made-from-scratch Italian marinara sauce. This recipe also calls for grilled or pan-fried Italian sausage served over pasta. The marinara is based, in part, on a recipe from a friend who is first generation Italian – his family hails from an area just outside of Rome.

Easier than you thought, eh?  Enjoy.


2 tbs. olive oil
1 tbs. rendered bacon fat
8 cups pureed garden tomatoes (blanched and peeled)
2 cloves garlic – peeled and minced
1 medium spanish onion – fine chopped
1 stalk celery with leaves – minced
1 sweet bell red pepper, diced
1 carrot – peeled and grated
1 tsp. salt, to taste
Pinch of sugar
12 dried chiltepin peppers, to taste, crushed in a mortar
1 tsp. dry ground Turkish oregano
1 tsp. dry ground basil
1 tbs. dry ground parsley flakes
2 dry bay leaves

5 mild Italian sausage links, grilled or pan-fried and cut into chunks at a bias
Your choice of pasta noodles, cooked al-dente


Using a 3-quart heavy non-reactive enameled cast-iron pot, add the olive oil and rendered bacon fat. Heat on medium and then add the onion, garlic and celery, stirring for about 20 minutes until translucent.

Blanch and peel the garden tomatoes and pulse in a food processor until smooth. (To blanch tomatoes, wash and add to a pot of boiling water for thirty seconds, then plunge into ice-cold water. The skins will peel off.)  Core, process and add to the pot and increase the heat until a low simmer is achieved. Add the carrot, bell pepper and dry spices. Simmer on very low heat, partially covered for about six hours, until most of the water is rendered out, stirring occasionally. While the sauce is cooking, grill or fry the Italian sausage and then cut into chunks and add to the pot, during the last two hours of cooking. Stir every half-hour.

Serve over your choice of pasta, cooked al-dente.

Makes about 2.75 quarts. Serves 4-6

Note: to cut the acidity of tomatoes, sugar is added. Shredded carrot is also used. Taste and adjust to your preference accordingly. A touch of dry red wine may be added, but is not necessary.

Classic Italian Meatballs

This is my version of a classic Italian meatball recipe. The key is to use equal parts of ground beef and pork sausage, which imparts a really great, rich flavor.
If you have a fresh herb garden with the ingredients shown below, you’re in luck. Otherwise, there is nothing wrong with using storebought “fresh” or dry spices.

Use the cayenne pepper to make them as spicy as you like, and combine with your choice of pasta sauce. May I suggest my homemade Italian garden marinara?
Or click here for my alternate marinara recipe. Enjoy!


1 pound lean ground chuck
1 pound mild ground Italian Sausage
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup buttermilk
2 tbs. Worchestershire sauce
1/4 stick salted butter, softened at room temperature
3/4 cup unseasoned bread crumbs

6 fresh basil leaves, minced
1/4 cup loose, fresh oregano leaves, minced
Handful of fresh celery leaves, minced
1/4 cup loose, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped

1 tbs. beef base powder
2 tsp. garlic powder (not garlic salt)
1 tsp. salt, to taste
2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
Cayenne pepper flakes to taste



In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef and Italian sausage. Add the rest of the ingredients and fold together using your hands until mixed well.

Working in batches, form into 1″ to 1.5″ diameter meatballs and fry in a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat until nicely browned. Remove and transfer the meatballs to a heavy, covered stock pot, kept warm in the oven at 180-F.

Prepare your choice of red sauce and add the meatballs during the last two hours of cooking.
Stir occasionally using care so you don’t break them.

Makes about 30 meatballs.

Bruschetta – a Classic Italian Recipe

Garden Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and basil.

This is a classic Italian recipe that’s simple to make. It comes from the city of Naples, Italy by way of a very dear friend. It is very old. You might suspect it originated in Roman times, but you’d be wrong. Tomatoes and the art of preparing them didn’t appear in Italy until the early 1500’s.  They were brought back from the new world by the Spanish explorer Cortez, and his merry band of thugs who conquered the great civilizations of the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans. Their gift to the indigenous people of Central and South America? Disease, mass murder and the total annihilation of their culture.

But that’s another history lesson.

Tomatoes have been grown in the Americas for many thousands of years. So enjoy this multicultural dish with – shall we say – ulterior origins.

Don’t skimp on the quality of the tomatoes or balsamic vinegar. It is what makes this dish authentic.


2-3 ripe garden tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped into 1/4″ chunks
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed and minced fine
5 fresh basil leaves, fine chopped
Drizzle of XV olive oil
Drizzle of red wine vinegar
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
Salt and fresh ground coarse black pepper to taste

1 baguette Italian or French bread
XV olive oil
1/4 cup hard parmesan cheese – freshly grated

Fresh cottage cheese


Core and seed the tomatoes. Chop and place in serving bowl. Do not allow to stand in liquid. Drain if necessary. Romas have a low water content and are excellent for this purpose.

Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the remaining ingredients, mix and let stand or cover and refrigerate for one hour. (I prefer less vinegar and olive oil, allowing the flavor of the tomatoes to come through. )

Prepare a heavy cast-iron Panini pan with cooking spray and heat to medium high on your stovetop.

Cut ten slices of bread 1/2″ thick at a bias and brush one side with olive oil. Place the slices (working in batches) in the Panini pan and weight down with another heavy pan. Cook for about 2-3 minutes until one side is golden brown with toasted ridge marks on the surface. Remove and place in covered serving dish.

Have your guests serve the tomato mixture on individual bread slices. Top with the fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Serve with cottage cheese on the side.

Serves 4.

Italian Bruschetta | Culinary Compost Recipes

Marinated Italian Grilled Chicken Breasts

This is such an easy way to elevate plain-old chicken. The marinade infuses the meat and makes it super-juicy, even on the grill. Pair with garlic pasta, sliced on a salad or with grilled focaccia bread and provolone cheese.


4 skinned, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup Italian dressing
1/2 cup XV olive oil
3 tbs. balsamic vinegar
3 large cloves garlic, crushed, then minced
Cayenne pepper flakes to taste
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1/2 tsp Italian oregano, ground in a mortar

1/4 cup fresh-grated hard parmesan cheese


Thaw the chicken, if frozen. Place in a zip-lock storage bag. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl and pour over the chicken. Coat well and seal the bag tightly. Refrigerate for at least four hours, but best overnight.

Heat an outdoor charcoal grill with enough coals for a medium-hot fire. When the coals turn white, level them and put the chicken on the grate over direct heat. Baste with the marinade. Cook until slightly charred on one side, then flip over. Cook until juices run clear but do not over cook.

Remove from the grill, slice into 1/2″ strips and sprinkle with the grated parmesan while still hot. Serve with your choice of pasta or side dish.

Serves 4-6

Tuscan Dipping Oil

This zingy, garlic and parmesan-infused dipping oil is awesome on fresh Italian bread or as a side with bruschetta. It must be refrigerated after use, but will keep for several weeks.
Just let it warm up to room temperature before serving.


1/4 cup fresh-grated hard Parmesan cheese (fine)
1/2 cup XV olive oil
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar
1 crushed dried chili pepper, or 1/2 tsp. dried chili flakes, to taste
2 cloves crushed garlic, finely minced
Dash of fresh-ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/2 tsp. dried Italian oregano


Combine the dry ingredients in a small mixing bowl and add the Parmesan cheese. Mix well with a wire whisk or two forks. Slowly add the olive oil and balsamic vinegar and mix.

Let stand at least 1 hour for the flavors to incorporate. Even better when stored overnight and then allowed to warm up on the table before serving.

Serve on a shallow plate with fresh, crusty Italian or French bread sliced thinly at a bias.

Serves 4.