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The Monte Bene Blog

Farm, Fresh, Family - Rather than a Black Friday, Have a Family Friday

Farm, Fresh, Family - Rather than a Black Friday, Have a Family Friday

Did you know that REI, an American retail and outdoor recreation services corporation, is closing its doors on Black Friday in order to Opt Outside? We are inspired and encourage everyone to do the same! 

Rather than wait in lines and shop for hours, we recommend spending  time with family, whether it be enjoying the fall weather, having good conversation, or sharing a delicious meal! 

Happy #FamilyFriday, everyone!

Here are a few suggestions - 

1. Find a local hiking spot and spend a few hours outdoors. 

2. Enjoy the Thanksgiving leftovers while playing a game! Our favorite? Charades!

3. Watch a Christmas movie with the family! (No, it's not too early!)

Whatever you decide to do... enjoy it!

Sincerely,

The Monte Bene Team 

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More than a Single Day: Italian Christmas

More than a Single Day: Italian Christmas

The story goes that the three Wise Men were lost on their way to visit the Christ child. They came to the home of a strange old woman. With a long nose, warty skin, and scraggly gray hair, she was far from beautiful. But the three Magi told her about their journey – how they were looking for a great king and were bringing him lavish gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They asked the old woman if she knew where to find the child, but she did not. They asked her if she would like to join them in their search for the king. She only laughed, probably thinking these strange magi had lost their minds. She refused to go, so they left her alone in the house.

When night came again, she saw a great light in the sky – a star brighter than any she had seen before. Suddenly, she regretted not going with the Wise Men. She decided she would try to follow after them. All she had to bring to the new king were the toys of her children, who had died many years ago. She gathered these up in a sack, put on her cloak to keep warm, and then mounted her broomstick. After all, if she was going to catch up to the Wise Men, she would need to fly.

But as the old woman flew through the night, searching and searching, she could not find the great king child anywhere. Centuries later, she still flies through the night with her toys in a sack. Every year, on January 6 – the feast of the Magi, or the Epiphany – as she searches for the Christ child, she brings toys to young boys and girls in Italy.

…Or so legend would have it. “La Befana” is just one of many Christmas traditions celebrated by Italians. While Santa Claus is still more of a northern European and American tradition, La Befana is not the only one known for bringing gifts in Italy. Some Italians believe that the blind St. Lucy brings gifts to children on her feast day on December 13. Others celebrate on Christmas day with gifts from the Christ child Himself. The idea in Italy is that Christmas is more than a single day. It is an entire season of celebration, beginning in early December and running until January.

And of course, at the center of any true Italian Christmas celebration, is the food.

While Christmas is basically an all-day feast, Christmas Eve is a celebration of particular Italian significance. Known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, it is technically a day of fasting. According to Italian Catholic custom, you shouldn’t eat meat the day before a major feast day. Fish, however, is perfectly acceptable. As Italians would have it, the day of fasting eventually became a night of feasting, with a 7 (or 10 or 13) course meal. Fish, of course, is the main ingredient in most dishes.

It’s unclear why “7” is the important number. Many (including our own Chef Neil) think it may have something to do with the Seven Sacraments. Others celebrate with 10 courses in honor of the 10 Stations of the Cross, or 13 in honor of the 12 apostles plus Jesus. Any number you choose, the point is to remind you of the reason for the season and to celebrate the coming of Christmas with family and friends. 

Some of Chef Neil’s favorite dishes form the centerpieces of the Feast of Seven Fishes. The best seafood comes from the southern, Campania region of Italy, where Chef Neil grew up. There’s nothing like fresh Mediterranean seafood and shellfish over a bowl al dente pasta, drizzled in cold pressed olive oil and tossed in fresh Italian tomato pasta sauce. For Chef Neil, it brings him back home, which is where everyone wants to be on Christmas Eve.

While we don’t have a whole feast laid out for you, you can try Monte Bene Linguine Scoglio for a taste of an Italian Christmas Eve.

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A Waste-Free, Hassle-Free Week

A Waste-Free, Hassle-Free Week

During the busy holiday season, making homemade meals can seem like something out of a dream. Who has time for that? But with a little help of a meal plan, take-out and fast food could be a thing of the past. We've put together a week of easy, no-stress meals to help you relax around meal-time and enjoy the season. 

Of course, all these recipes are just suggestions. Feel free to mix them up, change sauce flavors, or go vegetarian. 

First off, your grocery shopping list for the week: 

  • 3 jars of Monte Bene pasta sauce
  • 1 lb. ground beef or turkey
  • Chicken breast – 1 per each person in your family plus two extra
  • Pepperoni or Italian sausage (optional as pizza toppings)
  • Salad greens (mixed variety recommended)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 lb. fresh green beans or 2 cans of green beans
  • 1 can refried black or pinto beans (or you can just get regular black or pinto beans)
  • 1 can white kidney or cannellini beans
  • Mushrooms or zucchini (optional as pizza toppings)
  • 8 oz. package of spaghetti
  • 1 loaf French bread
  • 1-2 pre-made pizza crust(s)
  • 1 16 oz. container of sour cream
  • 3 oz. container cherry tomatoes 
  • 2-4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups per pizza)
  • 2-4 cups cheddar cheese, shredded (depending on your family size)
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Salad dressing (or whatever you like to dress your salad with)
  • Fresh basil bunch

Day 1: Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

The beginning of the week can be pretty hectic - trying to prepare for the next 5 days, wishing it was still the weekend. We understand. So with this recipe, take it easy. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar Monte Bene Garlic Marinara pasta sauce
  • ½ lb ground beef or turkey
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. spaghetti
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh basil
  • Fresh cherry tomatoes
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Preparation:

Warm your olive oil over medium heat and then add meat and onions. Cook thoroughly until the meat is no longer pink and the onions are soft. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti al dente, drain, and toss with 1 cup Monte Bene pasta sauce to prevent the pasta from sticking. Add the remaining jar of Monte Bene pasta sauce to the meat and onions, and add salt and pepper to taste. Plate pasta and top with meat sauce. Add fresh basil and Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese as desired. Serve with your favorite salad.

Day 2: Taco Salad

Day one is done. Phew. Hope you enjoyed that taste of Italy! Now let’s venture elsewhere.

Ingredients:

  • Salad greens
  • ½ lb ground beef or turkey
  • Taco seasoning (chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, onion powder, salt, garlic powder)
  • ½ medium onion, chopped
  • 1 can refried black or pinto beans (or beans of your choosing)
  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil 
  • Sour cream
  • Cheese
  • Salsa or hot sauce (recommended)

Preparation:

Heat vegetable oil in a medium sauce pan. Add onions and heat until just translucent. Add meat and cook until browned. Add taco seasoning. Add about 1/2 cup of water and cook until water evaporates and meat is completely coated. In a medium skillet, heat beans (5 to 10 minutes). Plate a bed of greens for each person, top with meat, beans, sour cream, cheese, and salsa/hot sauce as desired. If desired, serve with low sodium tortilla chips.

Day 3: Chicken and Veggies

You've used up all your beef. Time for some chicken. This dish gives you some room for creativity, but it is simple enough to accommodate that mid-week hustle and bustle.

Ingredients:

Chicken:

  • 1 chicken breast for each person, plus 2 extra
  • 2-3 tbs olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

You can add lemon juice, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, rosemary, or whatever seasoning is your favorite. This is your chance to style the meal to your own preferences.

Veggies:

  • ½ lb fresh green beans or 1 can green beans
  • Salt and pepper

Slice up ½ loaf of French bread to serve alongside.

Preparation:

You can bake or grill your chicken, whatever suits you. Just season up the breasts, add a little olive oil, and throw them in a casserole dish or on the grill.

Meanwhile, heat up your can of green beans or steam them. To steam, get a pot and fill it with about 1” of water and bring the water to a boil. If you have a steamer basket, place it above the water and steam the green beans in it for 1 ½ minutes. If you don’t, simply place the beans directly into the water for the same amount of time. Season with salt and pepper, and even a little butter, as desired.

Day 4: Chicken Soup

Now you get to throw a whole lot of stuff into a pot, which is just plain fun!

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ jar Monte Bene Spicy Marinara pasta sauce
  • 1 can chicken broth
  • Leftover chicken, shredded
  • 1 can or ½ lb green beans
  • Leftover onion
  • 1 can white kidney or cannellini beans, drained
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • Fresh basil
  • Cheddar cheese

Serve with remaining half loaf of French bread.

Preparation:

In a large pot, add your jar of Monte Bene, can of broth, leftover chicken, green beans, leftover onion, and beans. Simmer at medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, or until heated through. Stir in cup of sour cream until well blended. Ladle soup into bowls and top with fresh basil and cheese as desired.

Serve with bread.

(NOTE: If you want to make the bread a little more interesting, brush it with olive oil and sprinkle garlic powder or minced garlic and broil for a couple of minutes until bread becomes crunchy.)

Day 5: Pizza

You made it to the end of the week! Now it’s time for something that is easy, fun, and a crowd-pleaser. 

Ingredients:

  • ½ jar Monte Bene Spicy Marinara pasta sauce
  • 1-2 pre-made pizza crust(s)
  • 2-4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Suggested additions: Mushrooms, pepperoni, Italian sausage, zucchini

Preparation:

Spread Monte Bene pasta sauce on your pizza crust, then top with 2 cups mozzarella per pizza. Add Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese as desired. Add any additional toppings.

Follow instructions on pre-made pizza crust packaging (typically you’re going to bake the pizza at 425 degrees for about 15-20 minutes).

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Happy National Pasta Month!

Happy National Pasta Month!

To celebrate October--which is so much more than just a great time for costumes, candy, and colorful autumn foliage--we are going to be raining down fun facts and tasty recipes all to do with some of our favorite things: pasta and Italy. 

We're going to start off this month with some Italian tastes and tales that can help you and your family get as excited about this month as we are! 

And now for a little Italian charm...

One Italian folktale narrates the story of a barren queen who envies a blossoming rosemary bush. Shortly after seeing the plant, the queen is blessed with a baby—a little rosemary bush of her own! Not until her nephew, the King of Spain, steals the bush and places it in his garden does a beautiful girl appear from the leaves. He visits her daily, playing her songs on his flute, but one day, war breaks out, and he must go to protect his country. When the king leaves, his jealous sisters find the rosemary girl in the garden and decide to hurt her so that their brother won't keep visiting her. The gardener, who failed to protect the rosemary girl, flees in fear of the king's coming wrath. But while escaping, he overhears two dragons discussing the only means of salvation for the rosemary girl: If she is to live, someone must defeat the dragons and take ingredients from them for a special medicine! Having found a way to save his own neck, as well as that of the rosemary girl, the gardener (the unexpected hero of the tale) triumphs over the dragons and cooks up the medicine, enabling the smitten King to marry his beloved rosemary girl.

In honor of the rosemary girl, try this pasta dish! (We promise, no dragons were harmed in the making of this recipe). 

Rosemary and Pancetta Pasta

Ingredients:

Serves 5-6

  • 1 1/2-2 jars Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce 
  • 1 lb. pasta (elbow or fusilli pasta recommended)
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrot
  • 2/3 cup chopped white onion
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced pancetta
  • 2 tsp dried rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

Cook 1 lb pasta al dente, drain, and set aside. Simmer (medium heat) carrots and onion in 2 tsp olive oil until tender. In another skillet, add remaining tsp olive oil and turn heat to medium high. When your oil is hot, add the rosemary and and pancetta. Cook about one minute, stirring constantly. Add Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce to onion and carrot mixture, then add rosemary and pancetta. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt to taste.  Mix 1/2 cup of sauce mixture into pasta to coat it and prevent it from sticking. Plate pasta and add remaining sauce. Top with Pecorino Romano cheese and serve. 

 

Sources:

Calvino, Italo, comp. Italian Folktales. Translated by George Martin. San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1980. 583-585.

Hazan, M. (1997). Pasta. In Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking(pp. 153-154). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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The Story Behind the Staple: Spaghetti and Meatballs

The Story Behind the Staple: Spaghetti and Meatballs

 Spaghetti and meatballs, perhaps the staple of Italian food in America, actually has a more interesting history than you might expect. The next time you serve this easy meal, share this story with the family.

According to legend, Marco Polo discovered the noodle on his travels through China and brought it back for Italians to enjoy. Needless to say, Italians are not very content with this legend and would prefer not to give Asia the credit for their signature food choice.

According to a National Geographic article published in 2005, the oldest noodle does have its origin in Asia. Scientists unearthed an over 4,000 year old bowl of long, yellow noodles in the Lajia archeological site in northwestern China.  But, according to numerous sources, when Marco Polo wrote about discovering pasta, he was really just talking about a different kind of pasta than that of Italians. Marco Polo traveled in China between 1271 and 1291 (give or take), but according to John Dickie and his Epic History of Italians and Their Food, there was hard grain durum wheat pasta in Italy at least a century before. Clearly, Marco Polo didn’t “discover” pasta any more than we discovered tomato sauce. 

But there are so many kinds of pasta out there…how did spaghetti become the staple? Italians can’t take credit for this one – well, not exactly. It was Italian-Americans who made spaghetti famous in America. Before over 4 million Italians immigrated to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pasta was rarely served as a main dish. But in America, pasta turned into the center piece for dishes because of its low cost and high carb content. Spaghetti was most likely the pasta that was most readily available.  Red sauce has a similar story. While the legend of its origin is very Italian, its prevalence in America has to do with the easy availability of crushed tomatoes.

What about meatballs? Those too take their origin in Italy but were reshaped (literally) in America. "Polpettes" were a popular, simple food in Italy in the late 19th century. They were small meatballs with an equal ratio of meat to bread crumbs. When Italians came to America and began earning more money than they did in Italy, meat became a staple rather than a delicacy. Ground beef, of course, was the cheapest option. Once shaped into large, flavorful balls they added the perfect finishing touch to a bowl of pasta.

The long story behind spaghetti and meatballs is just one example of how Italian food has been shaped and changed through culture and circumstance. One thing has remained the same – it’s sometimes the simplest foods that taste the best.

Sources:

John Dickie: Delzia: the Epic HIstory of the Italians and Their Food. pp 45-47

National Geographic: 4,000-Year-Old Noodles Found in China 

Culinary Lore: Marco Polo and His Chinese Noodles Pasta: Legend or Fact? 

National Pasta Association: Fun Facts  

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Start the Day Right - Italian Style

Start the Day Right - Italian Style

Getting kids up in the morning for school can be hard enough. Getting them to eat a substantial breakfast can be even harder. But studies show that children who eat a well-balanced breakfast every day typically do better in the classroom, perform better on the field, and exhibit better concentration and hand-eye coordination. Studies also show that skipping breakfast can lead to higher cholesterol, weight gain, and even diabetes later in life. The reasons?

First off, a well-balanced breakfast gives you the energy and nutrients you need to start your day right. Math class becomes that much easier when your brain has the right kind of proteins and carbs to fuel it. When you skip breakfast, you’re also more likely to snack on unhealthy foods during the day or to overeat at the next meal. Not only can that cause weight gain, but it can also create unhealthy highs and lows of glucose (or blood sugar). To compensate, your body produces more insulin. Overtime, the high insulin levels can lead to Type 2 Diabetes.

So serving kids breakfast may be one of the best things you can do for them right now and in the years to come. But while you may know all the facts about feeding them properly, sometimes the real struggle is finding healthy foods they will actually eat. Enough with the sugary cereal. Try one of these fun, balanced recipes that turn boring old breakfast into delicious Italian adventures. They won’t even know they’re eating breakfast with these savory bites. Serve with fresh fruit or yogurt.

 

Mini Frittatas

Kids love “dip-able” foods. This fast recipe makes a lot. Cut the recipe in half or save some in the fridge or freezer for tomorrow’s breakfast or an after school snack.

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce
  • 6 large eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk (or 2% for lower fat content)
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 5 oz. honey ham, thinly sliced and chopped
  • ¼ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • Fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt to taste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease two mini muffin tins. In a large bowl, mix eggs, milk, pepper and salt until well blended. Add ham, basil, and cheese and stir until well combined. Pour egg mixture into muffin tins, filling to just below the rim. Bake frittatas for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops begin to puff. Heat Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce. Carefully remove frittatas, plate, and serve with a side of pasta sauce for dipping.

 

Breakfast Pizza

What kid doesn’t want to eat pizza for breakfast? To make this one faster, use pre-prepared pizza crust (if you want to make the dough yourself, though, follow this recipe).

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce
  • 1 pre-prepared roll of pizza dough
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup whole milk (or 2% for lower fat content)
  • 5 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 7 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 4 oz. ham, thinly sliced into strips
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
  • 4 breakfast sausage links, sliced (optional)
  • Fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400. Grease a pizza pan and lay out pizza crust. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and salt and pepper. Gently pour over the center of the crust and spread it to the edges. Add one cup of Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce on top of egg layer, using a spoon to spread evenly. Add cheese and meat as desired. Bake on center rack for 12 to 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown and egg is cooked. Remove and top with basil. Allow to cool five minutes before slicing and serve with heated Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce for extra dipping.

 

Breakfast Calzone

 This is the perfect meal for kids on the go. Wrap it up in a napkin and give it to them as they board the bus. Once again, use pre-prepared crust for an easy, quick meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 jar Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce
  • 1 pre-prepared roll of pizza dough
  • 4-5 eggs
  • ½ cup whole milk (or 2% for lower fat content)
  • ½ to 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • Sliced pepperoni (as much as desired)
  • 4 tsp. Pecorino Romano cheese or Parmesan, grated
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a pizza pan and lay out crust, creating a 14X10 rectangle. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, milk, and salt and pepper until well combined. Add olive oil. In a medium skillet, cook egg mixture until eggs are set but moist (about 3 to 4 minutes). Slice dough into 4 evenly shaped rectangles. Add mozzarella to one side of each rectangle, leaving ½ inch of space on the edge. Add pepperoni, Pecorino Romano, and eggs. Fold empty side of dough over toppings and press the edges closed firmly. Bake for 12 to 13 minutes or until crust is golden brown. Heat Monte Bene Tomato Basil pasta sauce. Remove calzones from oven and serve with pasta sauce for dipping. For an on the go meal, add 1 to 2 cups of pasta sauce inside the calzone and bake a few minutes longer.

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Making Meal Prep Worthwhile for the Whole Family

Making Meal Prep Worthwhile for the Whole Family

As the summer comes to a close and we get ready to turn off vacation mode and prepare for back to school, it can be hard to set aside special time for family bonding. When things get busy, sometimes the most we can do is get dinner on the table before running out to the next appointment or practice. 

But before everything gets too rushed (and even if it already is) take advantage of one of these tips for turning meal preparation into the bonding time your kids (or spouse) really need. Get them talking about their day, or simply spend time close to them. Believe it or not, these simple tips can actually save you time too!

 

  • Let them pick out a side: Letting your kids pick the whole meal might leave you with ice cream for dinner, but allowing them to choose a healthy side allows them to spend time with you while feeling involved in their food choices. To avoid too much chaos, give them a variety to choose from. Think bread, finger vegetables like carrots and sliced cucumber, or fun starches like macaroni and mashed potatoes.
  • Give them a fun task: Most kids put up a fight when you ask them to set the table, even if it’s just paper plates and forks. Instead, have them do something that feels a little more involved. Ask them to wash the vegetables or stir the noodles. If they’re older, have them slice bread or prepare the salad. Mixing up the responsibilities keeps them interested, and keeps you from having to do all the work alone.
  • Create a food schedule: Kids feel comfortable with routine, and if you have a picky eater in the family this strategy prevents surprises. Set aside a little time once a week or once a month to plan out a meal schedule and let everyone join in. Have a set day for each person’s favorite meal, that way no one feels left out. This method helps you plan out your grocery list and saves time at meal preparation.
  • Make grocery shopping a game: Sometimes leaving the kids at home while you shop just isn’t an option, but bringing them through the aisles doesn’t have to be a painful chore. Include them on what you need to buy and in each aisle or section tell them what you are searching for. Whoever finds it first wins. You can include rules about not moving too far away from you and the cart. Grocery shopping will go by much faster with this method, plus it keeps the kids distracted from all the sugary items they usually grab.
  • Have them make dinner: This is obviously not the choice for parents with toddlers, but if your kids are in their early to mid-teens, having them make dinner (with your supervision) can be a great experience. Make it a monthly or weekly routine and have all the ingredients and the recipes at hand. Pasta is easy, and so is homemade pizza.

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