Tag Archives: pasta

Lasagna: From the Old Country to You

Sundays were always a special day when I was growing up– it was a time for our family to get together and spend time enjoying each others company.  Of course, that always meant a large meal, usually where tomato sauce was involved and a several course meal.  Perhaps no other dish screams Sunday afternoon or special occasion such as lasagna.  In episode 20, we share one of my most beloved recipes, hand delivered to you from how I remember it from my mother and the stories from the old country in Italy.  My granddaughter, Maléna, joins me in cooking up this lasagna– her special touch adds a lot!

malena cooking

Mama Lombardo cooking with her granddaughter, Maléna

My lasagna takes about 1 hour to prepare.  The recipe I share is for a large lasagna pan, approximately 22 inches long, 10 inches wide and 3-4 inches deep.  You can make the lasagna any size you’d like– simply modify the amount of the ingredients.  I like to have left over lasagna since it stays well and makes for a great meal anytime.

You’ll need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • tomato sauce and meatballs (see episode 1 for the full recipe)
  • 1-2 pounds of lasagna pasta, cooked al dente
  • 2 pounds of ricotta cheese
  • 6-7 tablespoons of grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4-5 long sprigs of Italian parsley, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded mozarella cheese
  • salt and pepper

Put the ricotta cheese in a large bowl.  Mix in the eggs, chopped parsley, a couple tablespoons of romano cheese and salt and pepper.  Mix together thoroughly, then set aside.


Mama Lombardo’s lasagna

Cover the bottom of the pan with tomato sauce.  Layer the cooked lasagna pasta length-wise, covering the bottom of the pan. Using a large spoon, place spoonfuls of the ricotta cheese on top of the lasagna pasta.  You want enough so that you can spread it out with a spoon, covering all of the pasta.  Add 1-2 ladels of tomato sauce on top of the ricotta.  Using a fork, mix the ricotta and sauce, spreading it out evenly on top of the pasta.  Next, break up 2 meatballs with a fork into large chunks.  Spread the meatballs in with the ricotta and sauce mix on top of the pasta.  When completed, place another layer of pasta on top, completing covering the ricotta, sauce and meatball mix.  Repeat the same process with the ricotta, sauce and meatballs until you have enough layers to reach the top of the pan.  At the end of the final layer, spread the shredded mozzarella cheese on top, then place another layer of pasta on top of that.  This is your final topping.  Spread some tomato sauce over the top, then sprinkle some grated cheese.   You are now ready to put it in the oven!

Place the finished pan of lasagna into the oven at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes.  You’ll know it’s done when the top layer starts to look slightly browned.  Take it out of the oven, let it cool off for 10-15 minutes, then serve!

Zucchini italiani

Summer is full of fresh vegetables that are coming from the garden, including basil, dill, peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, and many others.  One of my favorite and perhaps most versatile of them all is zucchini.  Zucchini comes in many variaties and can be served in many different ways.  In episode 18, we share with you zucchini italiani, which is a zucchini cooked as a soup with different vegetables.  We prepare it in three different ways: plain, with potatoes and with egg.  You can serve it in any of the three ways or just pick one.

Mama Lombardo preparing zucchini italiani

You will need the following ingredients for this recipe:

  • 1 large zucchini, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 1 large potato, peeled and cut into small cubes
  • 3-4 large fresh tomatoes
  • 2 large stalks of fresh basil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and diced
  • olive oil
  • 2-3 cups of water
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 cup of fresh cut spaghetti pasta

Preferably all of these vegetables can come from your  garden (or a neighbors).  if not, you can use veggies from the grocery store or market.

Prepare the soups

Coat a small pan with olive oil and heat.  Place a quarter of the diced up onion into the pan and wait until the onion is translucent, stirring constantly.  Add the diced potatoes and about a cup of water.

While the potato is cooking, peel the tomatoes, take out the seeds the best you can and then cut up into small pieces, placing into a bowl.   Add one of the tomatoes in with the potatoes and stir.  Add salt and pepper to season.

Now you will want to prepare some plain zucchini (without potato).  Saute some onion in olive oil in a pan.  When they are translucent, add the diced up zucchini.  Add 2 cups of water as well as another sliced up tomato.  Add salt and pepper to season.  Cook until the zucchini is soft, which should be about 5 minutes.

Once the potatoes and the zucchini are soft, you should add some fresh basil into each pan.  Then take some of the zucchini and mix it into the potato mix.  This is dish #1, potato and zucchini.  Sepaprate the zucchini into 2 pans.  One of the pans is dish #2, plain zucchini.  For dish #3 (zucchini and egg), you will now add 2 eggs into one of pans with the plain zucchini.  Do so while the zucchini mix is boiling.  The egg with solidify and make a nice addition to the soup.

Cook your pasta

In a separate pan, cook the pasta.  I like to use cut up spaghetti pasta (either buy it that way or buy spaghetti and break it apart).  Once the pasta is cooked up, you should mix it with the soup mixes.  Of course, you can choose not to serve the soups with the pasta.

Zucchini italiani ready to serve. Buon appetito!


Now you are ready to serve.  Simply scoop the soups into a bowl and serve hot.  I always like to serve it with some fresh, crusty, white Italian bread, which is fantastic for dunking into the soup.  You can also add some freshly ground parmigiano cheese if you’d like.


St. Joseph’s Day Pasta

Welcome to Episode 4 of Cooking with Mama Lombardo!

In Italy and in Italian families around the world, St. Joseph is an important saint.  His feast day is the 19th of March and is full of tradition that celebrates work and the family. Since bread is symbolic for the reward for the hard work that feeds one’s family, it is used as an important part of the celebration of St. Joseph’s day.  From breadwork art sculptures (as seen in the video and the photo below) to the ingredients in this episodes dish, bread is everywhere on St. Joseph’s day.

Bread sculpture artwork used in celebrating St. Joseph's Day

In fact, in the “old country”, the bread sculptures were (and still are) used to decorate shrines to St. Joseph.  The village where my parents are from in Sicily, Salemi, is one of the main creators of these bread sculptures and draws visitors from distant lands to enjoy the artwork.  Eating of course is an important part of the tradition, and St. Joseph’s day is often accompanied by many courses based in bread, vegetables and fruit picked this time of year.  Traditionally, zeppoli or zeppole– fried balls of dough hollowed out and filled with sweetened ricotta or custard cream– are served for dessert (perhaps we’ll make these in a future episode!).

Traditional Sicilian dessert, zeppola, served on St. Joseph's Day

It’s a great tradition, and I’m happy to share with you one of the recipes that came from my mother in celebration of St. Joseph’s day: pasta alla modiga (Sicilian) or pasta with the breadcrumbs, otherwise known as St. Joseph’s Day pasta.  It is one of those dishes that I only made once per year (March 19th) and brings back special memories for me, my children and my grandchildren.  It always reminds us of St. Joseph’s day and the celebration of family and our hard work.

St. Joseph was a carpenter and the breadcrumbs used in this pasta symbolizes the sawdust from the carpentry work.  It’s a simple dish to prepare, requiring few ingredients and taking only about 15 minutes to pull together.  In Episode 4, we walk through how to prepare the dish.  We hope you enjoy it and will make it part of your own traditions on March 19th to celebrate St. Joseph, family and a special reward for all your hard work!

The recipe shared here serves about 5-7 people.  You will need 1 pound of spaghetti, 1 large bag of unseasoned, plain breadcrumbs, 4-5 cloves of fresh garlic, several sprigs of fresh parsley (about 10-12), 3-4 tablespoons of freshly ground pecorino romano cheese, salt, pepper, 3-4 tablespoons of sugar and 1 cup of olive oil.

Preparing the Perfect Pasta

Cooking pasta the right way is critical for not only this dish, but any dish, so let’s review how you cook the perfect pasta.  Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt to the water and bring it to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, add the one pound of spaghetti.  Make sure the pasta is fully submerged in the boiling water.   Cook the pasta for about 10 minutes, aiming to get it al dente. Get a large colander to drain the pasta.  “Shock” the pasta by adding some cold water from the sink to the boiling water and pasta.  Drain the pasta in the colander.  Do not wash the pasta with water.  Once completed, add the pasta to the breadcrumb mix (or if you’re cooking pasta for another dish, add whatever topping to the pasta).

Preparing the Breadcrumbs

Prepare the breadcrumbs in a large pan which will be large enough to hold all the breadcrumbs plus the all the pasta.  Add the bag of breadcrumbs into the pan.  Mince the garlic cloves and add to the breadcrumbs.  Chop up the parsley and add that to the breadcrumbs, mixing it in.  Finally mix in the sugar, salt and pepper, and then a half cup of olive oil.  Make sure all the ingredients are mixed well with the breadcrumbs.   If you decide to store the breadcrumbs for later, you can do so by storing in a plastic bag in the freezer, where you can pull them out to use later (they typically will last several weeks in the freezer).

The final step is to take the drained, cooked spaghetti and add it to the pan.  Coat all of the pasta with breadcrumbs.  Once the pasta is fully coated, sprinkle the top of the pasta with the remainder of the olive oil.  The oil will help make the breadcrumbs stick to the pasta as well as add flavor.

Serve the pasta hot in large bowl.  Sprinkle some of the excess breadcrumbs on top, and you’re ready to eat!  Buon appetito!