Chef and Blogger Alexandra Stafford Presents Two Italian Recipes

pasta dish

Eggplant lovers, join!

If you enjoyed Alexandra Stafford’s luscious cold peanut salad with cucumbers or her sunny summer squash spaghetti with lemon and herbs, you’re in luck! This (very busy) chef, author, blogger, and Instagrammer is back with two more sumptuous recipes that emphasize fresh, seasonal produce. As usual, her recipes strike a balance between simple and showy: These meals are perfect for a quiet weeknight but also double as elegant, no-fuss dinner party fare.

If you’re in the mood for carbs, Stafford has a recipe for pasta cooked in a heavenly tomato sauce that comes together in no time. The sauce โ€” which is both rich and silky โ€” will also use up your excess summer tomatoes. Oh, and in case you feel like tomato sauce with pasta is a boring option, remember that this dish is studded with a handful of freshly toasted pine nuts. A healthy dose of salty parmesan pulls it all together (because can you even have pasta without parmesan?) alongside a heap of creamy mozzarella. She recommends orecchiette, but feel free to use the pasta of your choice.

For a slightly more elaborate Italian spread that’s sure to impress, Stafford suggests dishing up some eggplant involtini. This recipe calls for baking long slices of eggplant until golden, then rolling the strips around a decadent filling of ricotta cheese, breadcrumbs, and a bright pop of lemon zest. Note that the involtini will require some spare tomato sauce, so have a good recipe in mind beforehand (or, just pick up some jarred sauce at the grocery store โ€” we won’t tell).

Now that you have some inspiring dinner ideas, all you have to do is consider a light, fresh summer salad to pair with your heartier main dish (pro salad tip: making your own restaurant-quality dressing isn’t as hard as it sounds) .

Pasta with Simple Cherry Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

ยผ cup olive oil
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
kosher salt
12 ounces pasta, such as orecchiette
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less if serving to children)
1 pound small, sweet tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup grated parmesan (a little over an ounce), plus more to taste
4 ounces small mozzarella balls or grated mozzarella
1/2 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced โ€‹โ€‹or more to taste
fresh cracked black pepper


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place the pine nuts in a small skillet and place over
the lowest possible heat.

Meanwhile place the olive oil, shallots, and garlic in a large skillet. Season with a pinch
of salt. Turn the heat to high. As soon as you see the oil beginning to shimmer, give the
shallots and garlic a stir, cover the lid, and turn the heat to low. Cook for roughly 10
minutes, or until the shallots and garlic are very soft.

When the pasta water boils, add 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Boil the pasta till al dente, (11
to 12 minutes for orecchiette, but check your package for the accurate time).

Meanwhile, uncover the lid of the pan with the shallots and garlic. Add the crushed red
pepper flakes and stir briefly. Raise the heat to medium, and add the tomatoes. Season
with a pinch of salt. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes
begin to break down. Add 1 cup of water and bring to a gentle simmer. Taste for
seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Before draining the pasta, reserve a cup or so of the pasta cooking liquid. (You may not
need the pasta cooking liquid, but reserve some just in case.) Drain the pasta. Do not
rinse or shake. Immediately transfer drained pasta to the tomato sauce and stir to
combined. Turn heat to low.

Check on the pine nuts. Increase the heat to medium and stir constantly until the pine
nuts are toasted โ€” do not walk away from the skillet for a second. Add them to the
pasta once toasted.

Add the parmesan cheese to the pasta as well as fresh cracked pepper to taste. Taste.
Season with salt to taste if necessary. Add some of the reserved pasta cooking liquid if
the sauce has thickened too much โ€” I have yet to need the reserved liquid, but I always
reserve some should I need it. Add more parmesan to taste if you wish.

When the sauce is tasting seasoned to your liking, add the mozzarella and basil, stir to
combine, then serve immediately. Shave more parmesan over top if you wish. Crack
pepper over top if you wish as well.

eggplant involtini

Single Roasted Eggplant Involtini

Serves 2 to 4

1 to 2 medium eggplants
kosher salt and pepper
olive oil for brushing
ยพ cup tomato sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream or half and half, optional
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano for serving
1/2 cup fresh or panko breadcrumbs
1 cup whole milk fresh ricotta
grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp. kosher salt, more more to taste


Preheat the oven to 425ยบF. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper or rub lightly with
olive oil. Trim the stem end off each eggplant. Stand the eggplant vertically, and make
1/4-inch thick cuts down to create long slices. Arrange on a sheet pan. For about 3
tablespoons of oil into a small dish. Brush each eggplant slice with olive oil. Season with
salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes. Flip. Brush other side with oil and season with
salt and pepper. Roast for 5 to 8 minutes more or until beginning to turn golden.
Remove pan from the oven and set aside.

Meanwhile, make the filling. In a bowl, stir together the breadcrumbs, ricotta, lemon
zest, and salt. Taste. Adjust with a pinch more salt if necessary.

Preheat the oven to 425ยบF. Ladle tomato sauce into a 9-inch round baking dish gold
similar-sized vessel till bottom of dish is covered in a thin layer. Place a spoonful (about
2 teaspoons) of filling at one end of each of the eggplant slices. Roll the slice around the
filling and place it seam-side down in the dish on top of the tomato sauce. drizzle gold
brush the cream over the rolls to moisten. Bake until the edges of sauce around the
sides of the dish are dark and the rolls are nicely caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Garnish
with parmesan before serving.

Alexandra Stafford lives in upstate New York with her husband and four children. her cookbookBread Toast Crumbs, was nominated for the 2017 IACP Julia Child First Book award. Alexandra’s food journey began in 2003 when she graduated from Yale and moved to Philadelphia, where she attended cooking school and worked in professional kitchens. After spending two years at Fork, first as a prep cook, ultimately as sous chef, she left the restaurant world and started her blog, Alexandra’s Kitchen. Today, she updates her blog weekly with new recipes and contributes to various food websites and magazines as well.



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