Side Dishes

Recipe—Zucchini and Tomato Gratin

Out of all of the seasons, I love the summer most. Not just because of my lazy poolside days, baseball games, refreshing beverages, or little summer dresses, but because of the abundance and variety of incredible produce. It is something that people in California take for granted. Every year we grow a couple of cherry tomatoes plants in out backyard. My son can hardly wait for them to ripen and as soon as they do he eats them right off of the plant. Sweet, warm, vine ripened tomatoes. Yummmmmm…there is nothing like them. We seem to have a bowl full on our counter all summer long. The other veggie we seem to never get enough of during the summer is zucchini. Zucchini and tomatoes are a wonderful pair, and when you add in some quality parmesan cheese and fresh basil, delish! When I first tried this recipe for zucchini and tomato gratin I knew it was a recipe I would be making all summer long. Serve it up on it’s own with some pasta or as a side with your favorite protein, either way it is a perfect summertime dish.

sweet Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
olive oil
3 medium zucchini, sliced
1 leek, sliced and thoroughly washed
2 tsp garlic, minced
1 c parmesan cheese
1 1/2 c Italian bread crumbs
1 1/2 c cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped


  • Preheat oven to 425º.
  • Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of large cast iron skillet.
  • Separate the onions rings, place them in the bottom of the skillet, and drizzle with a little olive oil.
  • Add half of the sliced zucchini, half of the leeks, and all of the garlic to the pan.
  • Sprinkle with a 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and a 3/4 cup of the breadcrumbs.
  • Drizzle with additional olive oil.
  • Add the remaining zucchini, remaining leeks, and all of the cherry tomatoes to the pan and drizzle with more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese and a 3/4 cup of the breadcrumbs.
  • Drizzle with a tad more olive oil.
  • Bake entire pan in the oven for 25–30 minutes.
  • Turn on the broiler and finish the dish off under the broiler for 2–3 minutes or until it is golden brown on top.
  • Garnish with fresh basil.

Recipe adapted from Proud Italian Cook.


Recipe—Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf

Chicken parmesan has got to be one of my favorite Italian dishes. I don’t make it very often because of the amount of work that it requires but I love the stuff! I also love meatloaf, the hubby not so much. Well I saw a recipe the other day for an Italian chicken meatloaf and I thought to myself, why not give it more of a kick and incorporate my favorite chicken parm qualities, flavorful marinara and melted mozzarella…and this gorgeous chicken parmesan meatloaf was made. I expected the loaf to be much dryer, but with the sauce and eggs, it was the moistest meatloaf I have ever made, hands down. The parsley and basil give the meat a nice Italian flavor but really took it over the top was the homemade sauce and fresh mozzarella smothering the top. Delish! I love that this recipe is not only tasted fantastic but it is light on carbs and low in calories. I was able to whip this recipe up in less than 15 minutes so the hardest part was waiting for it to bake. And best of all, the hubby liked it.

Note: I used panko instead of breadcrumbs to keep the carbs down but I imagine some Italian seasoned breadcrumbs would be wonderful!

2 lb ground chicken meat
2 tsp garlic, minced
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
2 eggs
1–1 1/2 c panko
2 c marinara sauce, divided
1/2 c parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 c fresh basil, chopped, divided
1/4 c fresh Italian parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
8 oz fresh mozzarella ball, sliced


  • Preheat oven to 375º.
  • In a large bowl combine the meat, garlic, onion, eggs, panko, a 1/2 cup of the marinara, parmesan cheese, a 1/4 cup of the chopped basil, Italian parsley, salt and pepper. (I start with a cup of the panko crumbs and add more as needed to help absorb some of the moisture.)
  • Mix until well combined.
  • Shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape and place in a large greased baking dish.
  • Bake for 40 minutes.
  • Remove loaf from oven and pour remaining marinara sauce over the top.
  • Layer the sliced mozzarella over the top and continue baking for an additional 20 minutes.
  • Turn on the broiler for 3–4 minutes to brown the cheese.
  • Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to sit for 10 minutes.
  • Garnish the meatloaf with the remaining 1/4 cup of chopped basil and slice to serve.
Dinners, Sandwiches

Recipe—Chicken Pesto Panini

I am on a total pesto kick after making my own. Just love the stuff! Especially when I can use it on one of my favorite paninis made with chicken, mozzarella, tomatoes, and of course some delicious pesto. The flavors of this sandwich all go together so perfectly! It’s crunchy, melty, flavorful goodness all in one simple sandwich. Make it for lunch or dinner and serve with an Italian green salad for one heck of an awesome meal.

Note: The recipe calls for grilled chicken breasts but you can also just go pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store to save some time.

4 large slices sourdough bread
2 tbsp butter, softened
1/3 c pesto
1 tomato, sliced
2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced in half lengthwise
6–8 slices fresh mozzarella (I recommend getting the good stuff from the deli)


  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Spread one side of each piece of the bread with butter and spread the opposite sides with pesto.
  • Place two of the slices of bread butter side down in the skillet.
  • Top the bread in the pan with the tomatoes, chicken, and mozzarella.
  • Add the last two slices of bread to the top of the sandwiches, butter side out.
  • Cook for approximately 3 minutes or until the bread is a toasty brown.
  • Flip and cook for another 3 minutes until cheese is melted and the other side is a nice toasty brown.

Recipe—Ratatouille Lasagna

My last recipe post was for very fabulous ratatouille. Well if you are like me you probably had leftovers. The leftovers can be used for a whole plethora of things but my favorite has to be lasagna. I love the big hearty pieces of vegetables cooked together with Italian sausage and some rich cheeses. This ended up being the best lasagna I have ever had! You can make one large lasagna in a 9” x 13” baking dish or two small ones in 8” x 8” dishes. I opted to make 2 so that I could freeze one for another night. That means I get to enjoy this delish dish twice! Oh lucky me! Gotta love this French meal turned Italian.

Note: When I make lasagna I like to double up the noodles on the top and bottom layers. I feel like it helps hold it together better for ease of serving. This requires that you cook one and a half boxes of noodles since just one isn’t enough for this method. If you don’t want to double up then one box is completely adequate.

1 lb Italian sausage
15 oz can tomato sauce
4 c leftover ratatouille
1 1/2 boxes wavy lasagna noodles
15 oz container ricotta cheese
1/4 c fresh basil chopped
salt and pepper
4 c mozzarella, shredded


  • In a large skillet brown your sausage and drain off any excess grease.
  • Add tomato sauce and ratatouille to skillet and warm through over medium heat.
  • While the ratatouille is heating through cook your lasagna noodles according to the package instructions, drain, and separate.
  • In a small bowl combine the ricotta, basil, salt and pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 400º.
  • Prepare a 9” x 13” baking dish with butter or cooking spray.
  • Cover the bottom of the baking dish with a layer of the cooked noodles and then place a second layer of the cooked noodles on top of that going the opposite direction.
  • Spoon in about 1/3 of your ratatouille sauce over your lasagna noodles and spread evenly.
  • Top sauce with half the ricotta mixture and sprinkle a handful of the mozzarella over the top of the ricotta.
  • Place a single layer of noodles over the ricotta and spoon in about 1/3 of your ratatouille sauce over your lasagna noodles and spread evenly.
  • Top sauce with half the ricotta mixture and sprinkle a handful of the mozzarella over the top of the ricotta.
  • Top the lasagna with cooked noodles and place a second layer of the cooked noodles on top of that going the opposite direction.
  • Spoon remaining sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.
  • Bake for 25–30 minutes or until the top is bubbling and the cheese is golden brown.
  • Allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Side Dishes

Recipe—Italian Stuffed Zucchini a.k.a. Zucchini Boats

With summer quickly approaching farmer’s markets will start popping up, gardens will be getting planted, and the produce department at your store will be full of fresh goods. It seems as though every summer zucchini is plentiful and I am getting lots of the delicious green squash from family and friends. I have found so many ways to creatively cook zucchini and this is one of my favorites. It is a great side dish to accompany your favorite Italian dish, especially chicken parmigiana or a big bowl of spaghetti.

3 large zucchini
1/4 c yellow onions, minced
2 tbsp garlic, minced
3 tbsp butter
1/2 c fresh tomatoes finely chopped or canned petite diced tomatoes, drained
1 c Italian breadcrumbs
salt and pepper
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, divided


  • Preheat oven to 350º.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add entire zucchini.
  • Cook the zucchini for 8–10 minutes and remove from water.
  • While the zucchini cools, sauté the onion and garlic in butter until tender.
  • Add tomatoes to the pan and heat through.
  • Remove pan from heat.
  • Cut zucchini in half lengthwise and scoop out centers of the zucchini. (I find a melon baller works wonders for this!)
  • Chop the pulp and squeeze out excess water.
  • Add zucchini pulp to the pan and mix.
  • Mix in breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese.
  • Stuff the zucchini “boats” and place in a baking dish.
  • Bake in oven for 10 minutes.
  • Top with remaining Parmesan cheese and bake another 5 minutes.