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Creamy Baked Parmesan Polenta


By Deborah Mele

A big dish of creamy polenta is the perfect choice for cold, wintery days, topped with your favorite tomato sauce or a spoonful of slow cooked stew. My family loves polenta, but the traditional way of cooking it on the stovetop is a bit fussy, and requires about 45 minutes and LOTS of stirring. Because of the effort involved, I honestly do not cook polenta that often. I recently began to bake my polenta in the oven and find it a much easier way to prepare it, and although it still takes a minimum of 45 minutes to cook, it requires only one or two stirrings and you end up with the same creamy polenta that you would if you cooked it on the stove. If you have invited Nonna for dinner, she will not even notice that the polenta was baked instead of carefully cooked on the stove, though she might not approve of this less than traditional preparation method so I would keep that to yourself!

Polenta is so versatile, so do not simply look at it and think “mushy cornmeal”. My family actually prefers it spooned soft into a bowl and topped with a flavorful tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated Parmesan cheese, but you can cool the polenta on a baking sheet until firm and then cut it into pieces and fry or grill it as a side dish, or cut the polenta (once cooled) into layers and create a lasagna type of dish using meat, sauce, and cheese which is also very tasty.

Although I chose to use grated Parmesan in this version, you can replace the Parmesan with Gorgonzola, or even goat cheese, or skip the cheese and simply leave the polenta simple. A spoonful of polenta makes a great side dish or platform for stews or braised meats, and is a great alternative to mashed potatoes or rice.

There are varieties of “instant” polenta on the market, but I really prefer the texture of the longer cooking polenta, and when you bake it as this recipe does, it is almost effortless. You can use any medium grain cornmeal to make polenta, although for this recipe I used Bob’s Red Mill Stone Ground 100% Whole Grain, Medium Grind cornmeal which I found took a little longer to bake than regular cornmeal.




Ricotta Sformata


By Alissa Cohan



Who couldn't love the feeling of diving your fork into a mound of scrumptious cheese?! Perfect for an appetizer, check out this recipe that Italian food lovers will just swoon over. And the other great thing, it really does not take to long to cook! I recommend using full fat Ricotta, or check out how to make your own Ricotta cheese recipe from a previous blog post.

Buon Appetito!  


Ricotta Sformata

Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 35 mins


1 1/2 Cups Full Fat Ricotta
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 Large Egg
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
Pinch Of Salt & Pepper
3 Tablespoons Finely Chopped Basil
For Topping:
Either Use Butter & Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese Or A Dollop Of Tomato Sauce


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix together the ricotta, parmesan, egg, olive oil, herbs and seasonings, and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy. Place the mixture into a non-stick baking pan, then bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and let sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Cut into rectangles and serve on individual plates with the topping of your choice.
If using the butter and parmesan topping, lightly drizzle a little melted butter on the sformato, and then sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Place under the broiler, and broil until bubbly.

Gnocchi "Roman Style"


“Gnocchi”, Roman Style Gnocchi alla Romana

Who couldn't swoon over the chubby little dumpling like Gnocchi! Hearty, delicious and perfectdescribe the image with vegetables, cheese, meat and sundried tomatoes, Gnocchi is the perfect dish for these cold winter days we are having here in January (okay, well a portion of the country is having!)

Check out this recipe for delicious Gnocchi and comment below with how it goes, when you make it at home! 

Serves 4

Gnocchi are usually eaten as a first course (primo piatto)
but here, for the American table, they are the main course. They are usually made of flour or potatoes, or both, and sometimes may be combined with other foods such as spinach. The shapes vary from cook to cook, region to region. What makes these gnocchi Roman, is that they are made with semolina flour (cooked in milk), with eggs added to make a rich spread of “dough” that is cut into rounds (the squares are creative license), layered with some overlap and sauced with butter and Parmesan cheese and baked. Some gnocchi are called strangolopreti (priest-stranglers), others may be shaped small and added to broths or soups, casseroles and stews. In Italian dialect, gnocco (the singular term for gnocchi) means “dumb-head”, as one would use “pudding-head” in England or “tete de lard”, lard-head, in France. These have been made in Italy as early as Renaissance times but they were made with crust less bread. They are made this way – with bread – in the very north of Italy
(Trentino-Alto Adige) even today and they are called canderli.. But let’s have them the Roman way today.

4 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1-cup semolina or white cornmeal
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Butter 2 cookie trays and set aside.
2. In a saucepan, combine the milk, 2 tablespoons butter, some salt and freshly ground white pepper, and the nutmeg. Bring to boil over medium heat. Slowly add the semolina, a pioggia – like soft raindrops, as say the Italians, stirring all the time to prevent lumps from forming. Reduce the heat to low and cook until very thick, thick enough for a wooden spoon to stand in it. Remove from the heat.
3. Add the eggs and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan and mix well. Spread this mixture on one of the buttered cookie sheets, smoothing it off with a wet spatula, making a rectangle 1/2-inch thick. Place in the refrigerator to firm.
4. Preheat oven 350 F. Cut into rounds, 11/2 to 2-inches wide, or in squares, if you wish. Arrange them in a row in the other buttered cookie tray ( or large oven-proof platter), slightly overlapping each other. Make a second row until all of them are so arranged. Melt the remaining butter and drizzle over the gnocchi. Also sprinkle the remaining Parmesan cheese over them.
5. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until golden and the butter is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes or so. Then serve them.

Chicken Parmesan and Herbed Oven Fries


By Alissa Cohan

The first Tuesday of the year, and I am searching for something that is tasty and delicious, robust in flavor, and less heavy, following a season of eating candies and treats and everything NAUGHTY! I walked over to Tomatina chef extraordinaire, Rogelio Jacinto, who spoke with me about a dish that is both flavorful and satisfying to my Italian roots!

Enter, Chicken Parmesan and herbed oven fries, a trio of fresh herbs--oregano, thyme, and basil--and grape tomatoes update this chicken Parmesan recipe. Fresh oregano and thyme also flavor the baked potato wedges.

Here is what you need to know:

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 20 mins
  • 2   baking potatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds total), cut into 1/2-inch wedges
  • 4   teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
  • 2   teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1/2  teaspoon black pepper
  • boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 ounces each)
  • 1   cup chicken broth
  • 3   cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1   pound grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2   tablespoons capers
  • 1   tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2  cup basil leaves, torn into small pieces, plus 4 large basil leaves
  • 1/2  cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Place potato wedges on a baking sheet and coat with nonstick cooking spray. Mix oregano and thyme. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the mixture on the potatoes; season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Bake at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes.
3. Coat a glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Add chicken; season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. After potatoes have cooked 10 minutes, add chicken to oven; cook 20 more minutes, until chicken is almost cooked through and potatoes are tender.
4.  Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium-high heat, bring broth to a simmer. Add garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, capers, tomato paste and remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Simmer 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5.  Stir remaining herb mixture and torn basil into sauce. Remove chicken from oven; add to skillet. Simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Place a basil leaf and 2 tablespoons cheese on top of each chicken breast. Turn off heat; let stand, covered, until cheese melts. Spoon sauce over chicken and serve with fries.
Nutrition Information
Per Serving: cal. (kcal) 381, Fat, total (g) 6, chol. (mg) 108, sat. fat (g) 2, carb. (g) 34, fiber (g) 4, pro. (g) 48, sodium (mg) 866, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet


Homemade Ricotta Recipe


By Alissa Cohan

homemade ricotta cheese

At Tomatina, fresh is critical, which is why we make everything fresh, cooked to order, including our homemade cheese. Here is a delicious recipe for folks who want to make their own Ricotta Cheese, and 

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

Pour the milk and cream into a stainless-steel or enameled pot such as Le Creuset. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side, but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

The Secret to the Best Lasagna


By Laura Silver

On a cold winter’s night, there are few things better than a really good slice of lasagna.  Over the years, I’ve tried many recipes and there are a few things I’ve discovered.  First, the best ones use sausage, not hamburger.  Second, the freshness of the ricotta makes an enormous difference in the results, and third, you need to make two of them at a time so you can freeze the second one into individual meals. 
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There are different schools of thought on the noodles. I prefer the no-boil noodles but if you’re really feeling inspired, take a trip to the Hill and ask for the frozen lasagna sheets.  They are sometimes hard to find, but worth it when you do.  

My favorite recipe, hands down is below.  I make it with a few substitutions—use bulk Italian sausage (mild or spicy, depending on the eaters) rather than mess with casings. Cook it separately, drain the fat, then follow the rest of the instructions for the sauce.  Also, don’t sweat it if you have a hard time finding the diced tomatoes with green pepper and onion.  Find something close and use it instead—I use diced tomatoes with sweet onions.

I love to make this in the summer when the basil is abundant in my garden, but I’ll buy basil in the winter just to make this recipe.  Recently I made this for a friend who was coming to dinner.  After claiming she wasn’t hungry and couldn’t possibly eat two pieces, I served her just one. She polished off the first piece and began eating the second (and third) directly out of the pan with her fingers. Pieces four and five were taken to go, along with a copy of the recipe.  

“Wear your mittens on the car ride home,” I suggested, “Just to be safe.”


6 to 8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes with green pepper and onion (do not drain)
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 1 15-ounce container plus 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups (packed) grated mozzarella cheese (about 6 ounces)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 2 ounces)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 12 no-boil lasagna noodles from one 8-ounce package
  • 3 cups (packed) grated mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • Nonstick olive oil spray


Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausages, onion, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper and sauté until sausage is cooked through, mashing sausage into small pieces with back of fork, about 10 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes and diced tomatoes with juices. Bring sauce to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes to blend flavors. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill until cold, then cover and keep chilled.)

Using on/off turns, chop fresh basil leaves finely in processor. Add ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Using on/off turns, process filling until just blended and texture is still chunky.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spread 1 1/4 cups sauce in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on sauce. Drop 1 1/2 cups filling over noodles, then spread evenly to cover. Sprinkle with 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Repeat layering of sauce, noodles, filling and cheeses 2 more times. Top with remaining 3 noodles. Spoon remaining sauce atop noodles. Sprinkle with remaining cheeses. Spray large piece of foil with nonstick olive oil spray. Cover lasagna with foil, sprayed side down.

Bake lasagna 40 minutes. Carefully uncover. Increase oven temperature to 400°F. Bake until noodles are tender, sauce bubbles thickly and edges of lasagna are golden and puffed, about 20 minutes. Transfer to work surface; let stand 15 minutes before serving.


Have Yourself a Merry Italian Holiday!


From Food and Wine

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Linguine with Red Clam Sauce, the darling of a Christmas feast in Italy. See below for a delicious recipe that will win hearts and stomachs around your holiday table this holiday season!



  • 1/4 cup(s) olive oil
  • large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2/3 cup(s) dry white wine
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) dried thyme
  • Pinch dried red-pepper flakes
  • cup(s) canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree (one 28-ounce can)
  • cup(s) bottled clam juice
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt, more if needed
  • 3/4 pound(s) chopped clams, drained (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/3 cup(s) chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) fresh-ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound(s) linguine


  1. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over moderately low heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the wine, thyme, and red-pepper flakes; bring to a simmer. Cook until reduced to about 1/3 cup, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add the tomatoes, clam juice, and salt. Raise the heat to moderate and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add the clams and bring back to a simmer. Continue simmering until the clams are just done, about 1 minute longer. Stir in the parsley and black pepper. Taste the sauce for salt, and add more if needed.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the linguine until just done, about 12 minutes. Drain and toss with the sauce.
  4. Wine Recommendation: A chilled bottle of rosé, such as one from Provence in southern France or a dry California version, will be perfect with the saltiness of the clams and broth and the acidity of the tomato sauce. Avoid sweeter white zinfandels.

Tips & Techniques

Test-kitchen tip: Chopped clams are good, but often the liquid they come in tastes of little more than salt. That's why we recommend draining the chopped clams and using bottled clam juice for the liquid in this dish.


Free Pizza For Two Hours, No Way!!


By Alissa Cohan

Yes way!

So when our Executive Chef Rogelio Jacinto sat down with his team of chefs at our weekly meeting to discuss menu items, flavors, and sample dishes, the team at Tomatina started talking about the stress of the holidays. Starting with the stress of shopping, waiting in lines, and ALL commented on how shopping can cause some serious hunger pains. (I mean, I know I have made a few purchases on low blood sugar, that turned out to be less than my favorite!) But this isn't my story, this is a chef story, and since our chefs drive the kitchens of Tomatina, when they came up with the idea to do a Free Pizza giveaway, well, the whole team at Tomatina got on board!

December 14th from 2-4pm Tomatina in San Rafael, located in Northgate Mall (i.e. plenty of parking and they have an ice rink there for the holidays! So fun!) The chefs at Tomatina, including our executive chef Rogelio Jacinto, will be baking homemade pizzas, made on our homemade dough and with our housemade Mozzarella cheese for folks to come and enjoy, completely on us! We will be baking either cheese or pepperoni pizzas that day, all you have to do is come in and ask for a pizza, and enjoy!

describe the imageEvent details that you must remember are below. And from everyone at Tomatina, we wish you happy, healthy holidays!



December 14th, 2013


San Rafael Location Only

Free Personal Sized Cheese or Pepperoni Pizzas 

Share this article and get the word out, because we want to reach as many in the community as possible! RSVP on Facebook too 

Roasted Pumpkin & Pear Soup


By Deborah Mele


I have always loved the foods of fall, but for some reason I am particularly enamored with chestnuts and pumpkins this year. I recently bought a gorgeous big pumpkin, or what we call zucca here in Italy, and after cutting it into pieces and roasting it I have been using it up in different recipes all week. This tasty pumpkin soup recipe is a variation of a soup recipe I make every fall, but this year I decided to add roasted pears to it to add a little extra sweetness. I always start my soup with a saute of onions and garlic in butter which lays a flavor base for the soup creating a full bodied, not too sweet soup.

I also always roast my fresh pumpkin first before using it to increase the flavor that develops through caramelization when vegetables are roasted. I also roasted the pears to add depth to their flavor too. This soup is blended smooth which creates a creamy texture that doesn’t require the addition of heavy cream to thicken it. I use my hand immersion blender which works perfectly for jobs like this, but any blender or food processor will work. The amount of broth needed for the soup will depend on how much moisture is in your pumpkin, as well as how thick you prefer your soup to be. Just allow the soup to cool a bit before blending it to prevent boiling hot soup from flying around your kitchen. This soup turned out even better than I had hoped and would be a perfect choice for Thanksgiving or to begin any special fall dinner. The soup is best served warm and not too hot so you can taste the complexity of flavors and since the flavors seem to develop further the day after it is made, it is a great soup to make the day before you plan on serving it. Just allow the soup to cool, then refrigerate it until needed, and reheat gently adding a little additional broth if the soup seems too thick.

You can garnish this soup with a variety of different options such as a dollop of sour cream, a spoonful of diced pears and chopped roasted chestnuts sauteed in butter, some chopped fresh greens such as watercress, or with a sprinkling of roasted crisp pumpkin seeds.


Roasted Pumpkin And Pear Soup

Yield: Serves 6

Prep Time: 20 mins

Cook Time: 1 hr 30 mins


3 Small Onions, Peeled & Diced
3 Tablespoons Butter
3 cloves Garlic, Peeled & Minced
2 Small Pears, Peeled, Cored, Roasted & Coarsely Chopped (See Notes Below)
4 Cups Roasted Pumpkin Flesh (See Notes Below)
Salt & Pepper
4+ Cups Chicken Broth (Approximate)
1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon


To Roast Pumpkin And Pears: Cut the pumpkin into thick slices, removing seeds and stringy loose flesh inside, reserving seeds for roasting.
Cut the pears in half, peel and core.

  • Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place the pumpkin and pears on top, then bake in a preheated 375 degree F. oven until both the pears and pumpkin are fork tender and beginning to brown, about 25 minutes for the pears and 45 minutes for the pumpkin.
  • Allow to cool and scoop out the pumpkin flesh keeping 4 cups for the soup and reserving rest for another use.
  • Chop the pears coarsely.
  • In a heavy soup pot heat the butter and add the onions.
  • Cook over medium low heat until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown.
  • Add the garlic and cook an additional couple of minutes.
  • Add the pumpkin and pears and about 4 cups of broth.
  • Season with salt, pepper and cinnamon and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes.
  • Blend, then taste and adjust seasonings as needed, and adding additional broth if soup is too thick.
  • Serve soup warm with toasted pumpkin seeds as described below, or with your garnish of choice.

Toasted Pumpkin Seeds: Scoop out the seeds from the stringy flesh and place in a sieve over running water.


  • Rub the seeds gently to remove any clinging flesh, and pat dry.
  • Toss the seeds with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper and place on a foil lined baking sheet.
  • Roast in a preheated 375 degree F. oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until the seeds are lightly browned and crispy, then cool.

Thanksgiving Italian Style


By Mario Batali

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When I was growing up, my family put an Italian or a French spin on every holiday. On Christmas Eve, we'd eat fish -- the feast of the seven fishes. On Easter, the Batalis would have lamb but also gnocchi alla primavera. But Thanksgiving was another story entirely.

Even at the Batalis, Thanksgiving was distinctly American -- whole roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams with marshmallows, cranberry sauce. And my mom was famous for her apple pie. Not her crostata di mela, just a plain old Washington apple pie.

Since I took control of the Thanksgiving menu, I've infused it with a little Italian-ness. I maintain the uniquely seasonal point of view of the holiday, but adapt the flavors using an Italian sensibility. Each year, I highlight a different region of the world of deliciousness. And in the indelible tradition of the Italian peninsula, that almost always includes a pasta.

If you've exhausted the roast or simply don't feel like roasting, consider adding a pasta to your Thanksgiving table. Though some might object to the exclusion of turkey entirely, variety at a Thanksgiving table is irreproachable. (Side note: If you are serving turkey, always brine it. It results in an impossibly succulent bird.)

Conchiglie ripieni dei "resti" is my easy take on a classic Italian cannelloni dish. It directly translates as shells stuffed with leftovers, but the uniquely Thanksgiving flavors make it perfect for the main event itself. The presentation is made perfect in a baking dish that travels easily from the oven to the table and looks like a million bucks. If you're making this for the holiday table, make your mashed potatoes and turkey ahead of time, and construct as instructed.

Part of the reason Thanksgiving dinner is so delicious is because it activates the receptors in your brain that conjure images of Thanksgivings past. But the other reason the simple vegetable sides are so tasty is because potatoes are in season. As are green beans and Brussels sprouts. This is the bounty of Thanksgiving all'Italiano.

This year, I'm highlighting Tuscany and Umbria -- there's a lot of Brunello I want to bring along.

Conchiglie ripieni dei "resti"/ Holiday stuffed shells

Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main.

1 pound largest shell-shaped pasta for stuffing

1 cup leftover mashed potatoes

2 cups leftover turkey chopped in the food processor, preferably from the legs and thighs

1 cup ricotta

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus 1/4 cup

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 cups spicy tomato sauce, a good brand like Emeril's

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Bring 8 quarts water to the boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Drop the shells into the water and cook until 3 minutes short of the suggested cooking time, and then drain them in a colander and shock them in ice water until very cold. Place in a colander lined with paper towels to dry and rest. Meanwhile, mix the spuds, chopped turkey, ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmigiano and the nutmeg in a bowl until homogenous.

Grease a 10- by 12-inch baking dish with the extra virgin olive oil and set aside. Carefully stuff each shell with 2-3 tablespoons of the turkey/spud mixture and lay each one open side up in the baking dish, next to one another but not too crowded to squeeze each other. Spoon a good tablespoon of the tomato sauce over each shell and then sprinkle the remaining grated cheese over all.

Bake in the oven till very hot and kind of dryish on the top, about 40 minutes. Remove and serve.

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