Tag Archives: Italian

My Favorite Secret Italian Sauce

italian tomato sauce

You’ll flip when you see how easy it is.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love all types of cuisine. But Italian cooking – that’s my absolute go-to favorite. Many of my favorite restaurants are Italian – in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. Sfixo in Beverly Hills is still – hands down – my favorite local Italian. It’s really fabulous if you’re a fan of dishes that come from northern Italy.

Many people think that all Italian food is basically the same – pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, etc.  But, there are real variations all along the entire country – traditional Italian cooking is strongly region-based. In northern Italy, you’ll find an emphasis on rich cream sauces, polenta and stuffed meats, Southern Italians embrace the Mediterranean diet with tomato sauces and lots of sea food with everything in between.

I travel to Italy as often as possible – at least once a year – and during each visit I make sure that I take at least one cooking class to learn “secrets” from great Italian cooks.  I follow several of them on social media – two have even become friends – Judy Witts Francini (@divinacucina) and Helena Kyriakides (@yummyyummyitaly).  It’s the only real way to understand a cuisine – take a class, tour an area of the country and eat the food!

The truth is, you don’t have to be a great cook to make a great dish – just understand some basic rules of the cuisine. All you really need is a sense of adventure. My recommendation, start small, and work your way up!

For instance, I was watching a post by Judy on how to prepare a simple Tuscan tomato dish (they’re in season right now) that you can use as a sauce, a side dish, or even as part of the main course.  And, in that post I learned a secret about olive oil and fresh garlic (by the way – true Italian cooks uses very little garlic – they prefer to let the fresh ingredients shine).


  • 1 Clove Garlic, sliced (add more if you’re cooking a lot of tomatoes).
  • Whole Cherry Tomatoes (I recommend organic). Use multi colored ones for fun or slightly larger ones that you can cut into fourths.
  • Enough EVOO – that’s “extra-virgin olive oil” to lightly cover the bottom of your frying pan or saucepan. I recommend Long Meadow Ranch Winery Prato Lungo Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil. It has just the right flavor for Italy.
  • Sea Salt (to flavor).
  • Fresh Basil (to flavor).


  • Add sliced garlic to the COLD oil. Here’s the “secret” I learned from my friend: never put fresh garlic in hot oil – it will burn almost immediately and become very bitter. You’ll just have to throw the whole thing away and start over. By adding garlic to the cold oil, the garlic has more cook time in the olive oil adding flavor to the oil and will turn golden very slowly so you can remove any bits that start to get too dark.
  • Medium heat.
  • Sauté garlic till golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the pan.
  • Add sea salt (to flavor).
  • Slowly cook down the tomatoes until tender and they begin to burst.
  • Add the fresh basil (cut into thin ribbons – chiffonade) at the end if you’re using the tomatoes on pasta.

As I mentioned before, this preparation is very flexible. You can use this as aside for a grilled steak or on top of pounded and sautéed (Paillard) chicken breast with some baby arugula. You can use it to dress up grilled fish, or as a simple sauce for pasta or over small noodles for a simple pasta salad. And personally speaking, the basil leaves are a must – for the aroma and the flavor.

See? It’s so simple. Doesn’t this make you want to jump up and cook?

Crispy Tortellini with Peas and Prosciutto


A Brilliant Crispy Tortellini with Peas and Prosciutto

Peas are a wonderful spring vegetable – absolutely delicious freshly shelled – but equally as delicious even when they’re frozen!  The great thing about frozen peas is that you never have to thaw them to use them in a recipe – just toss them still frozen into whatever hot dish you are preparing and they come out perfectly every time.  This recipe is so simple because it uses not only frozen peas but also frozen tortellini – BRILLIANT!  It’s from one of my favorite sites – smittenkitchen.com – created by Deb Perelman and posted on May 9, 2016. Great for a gathering of friends, family, a date night, or colleagues. This recipe serves two; just multiply and it will serve a crowd.

In the Skillet

  • 3 thin slices prosciutto (optional)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 13-14 ounce package frozen cheese tortellini (about 3 cups)
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas, no need to defrost
  • 1/3 cup water

To Finish

  • 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or mascarpone
  • Juice of half a lemon, more or less to taste
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • A few fresh mint leaves, cut into thin slivers
  • Grated parmesan (optional)

Heat a large, deep skillet with a lid** over medium-high heat. If using, add prosciutto in a single layer and cook until curling and browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Flip over and let cook until browned on the other side. Transfer a paper towel to blot oil and cool.

Add oil to same skillet and heat it for a minute. Add frozen tortellini in a single layer and cook for 2 to 4 minutes, until they’re browned underneath. Sprinkle with frozen peas and add water to pan. Be careful; it’s going to ROARHISS wildly. Put the lid on, and let them steam for about 5 minutes but don’t go too far because if the water cooks off too quickly, you’ll want to add a splash more. At 5 minutes, all water should have cooked off. Scoop pasta and peas into bowl. If you find any pasta has stuck, just add a splash more water over high heat to “deglaze” them off — loosen them with a thin spatula and toss them around until they’re crisp again.

Immediately dollop on crème fraîche so it melts over the pasta. Squeeze lemon juice over, then sprinkle with salt, pepper, crumble prosciutto over (if using), then slivers of mint and Parmesan, if desired. Dig in. Give your freezer a pat on its back.

Sfixio, Discover Your Secret Italian

I’m going to make a confession here – my favorite cuisine is Italian and my hands-down favorite Italian restaurant is Sfixio in Beverly Hills, CA.

It’s the closest to any food I’ve eaten in Italy that I can find in the States. So, think of it as getting your Italian fix, without the expense of traveling to that gorgeous place – imagine, Firenze in the spring.

Sfixio means “on a whim” in Italian slang and I’m so glad that Mara and Massimio (husband and wife owners) decided to open this “on a whim” in 2011.  At the time, I lived almost down the street and walked by one evening looking for a place to have dinner and went in.  I am SO glad I did.  It has been my “go to” place for a birthday celebration, the place I always take friends that I want to impress with great food but it’s especially my favorite when I don’t want to eat at home and am craving some fabulous Italian food (can you say all the time?).

Mara, who rules the front of house, is from Milan and Massimo, who’s the master in the kitchen, is from Florence so the atmosphere and cuisine are definitely Northern Italian.  This means a lighter hand in the kitchen and dining room- not your typical Italian (dark wood, red table cloths, etc.) restaurant atmosphere.  They have no freezer so everything is fresh including the pasta that is made to order and not before.

Do not expect huge American portions – these are the same size portions you will find in Italy.  That means that you eat courses here – you will not get a heaping bowl of pasta (actually they never use bowls for pasta) so don’t expect one.  Pasta is a course in Italy, and not a main course, a Primi Piatti – First Course.  That being said, I’ve come in for a simple salad and a pasta and been completely satisfied.  The sauces are always light and never over powering.

If you like truffle you must try their Truffle Caviar Pasta.  It’s a signature dish and not on the menu.  Do not expect caviar in the pasta as there isn’t any.  The caviar in the name refers to the shape of the little beads of truffle that are tossed in the fresh pasta.  This truffle caviar is imported from Italy regularly and is incredible tasting and incredibly rich in flavor.  This is a dish that contains cream as well so it’s not exactly dietetic but DEFINITELY worth the calories.  Amazing, to say the least, and worth every fabulous review it receives.

They have a wonderful whole grilled Branzino but my favorite fish on their current menu is the Salmon with Caponata.  They used to have it only as a special when Massimo would make the Caponata but it was so wonderful they’ve finally put it on their regular menu.  I can’t resist.  They also serve some wonderful beef, veal and chicken so everyone has something they can order.

Please save room for dessert.  I’m not a big sweet eater but Massimo’s desserts are so light I always save room.  My favorite is Ricottina con Amarene- a fresh ricotta served with imported Italian cherries.  Perfect.