Italian-American Food Hacks: Spaghetti-Stuffed Meatballs, Lasagna Cupcakes, & More

Spaghetti-Stuffed Meatballs, Lasagna Cupcakes, & More

Sometimes it's hard to remember that lasagna, pizza, cannoli, and other dishes are actually Italian in origin; they're so much a part of the American culinary landscape at this point. Wherever they come from, Americans of all kinds love to eat 'em. This guy was released from a North Korean prison, and after two years, the first thing he wanted to eat was fast-food pizza.

Kenneth Bae eating Papa John's pizza on his first day back in the U.S. Image by Free Kenneth Now/Facebook

It's no wonder that ingenious cooks all across the land have figured out ways to take these classic dishes and put their own special twist on them. Read on to find out these indispensable hacks, tricks, and WTF? solutions.

#1. Fry (Or Waffle) Your Lasagna to Reheat It

Some of us (okay, me) love lasagna so much that we'll eat it cold, in all its brick-like, congealed glory. Others are more discerning and refined and have actually thought about ways to reheat this classic casserole so you don't end up with burned edges and a chilly center. Alas, all the microwave tricks in the world won't get this dense piece of food to heat through evenly.

Enter Serious Eats. J. Kenji López-Alt figured out that in order to reheat lasagna so it tastes good, you have to give it a different shape that has less mass. Cutting it into slices, like bread, and then frying it on each side in a skillet allows the lasagna to heat through evenly, creating lots of delicious crispiness to the surfaces.

This "slice" is actually two smaller slices of lasagna pressed together to make a square. Image by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

He even went the extra step and discovered that you can even use a waffle maker to reheat these lasagna slices to great effect.

This might even be an improvement on the original. Image by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt/Serious Eats

Get the full instructions, including how to stack the lasagna slices and make skewers out of them, here.

#2. Or, Make Lasagna Cupcakes

If you're really looking to increase portability and decrease mess, you can make lasagna cupcakes. It's basically all the same ingredients of a full-sized lasagna in an adorable single-size serving. It's surprisingly easy, and it always elicits oohs and aahs when you bring these to a dinner party.

They're easy to make, as you can see from this recipe. You can also make them with wonton wrappers instead of regular noodles if you don't want to deal with cutting them down to size.

The original versions from Heirloom LA. Image by J. Koslow/LA Weekly

If you want to get super-fancy and/or don't like to cook, you can order gourmet lasagna cupcakes that come in versions like brown butter and sage, confit baby artichoke, and heirloom tomato and basil from Heirloom LA.

#3. Reheat Pizza & Pasta in a Skillet, Too

Leftover pizza is the bee's knees, but most microwaves heat food unevenly as mentioned above, which means your pizza usually ends up soggy and gross. Fortunately, you can do to pizza what you did to lasagna and heat it in a good skillet (cast iron is our first choice) and cover the pan. This re-crisps the crust and ensures that your cheese melts again.

Remember to put a lid on it! Image via Savvy Apron

As we noted in our post on awesome food hacks every home cook should know, you can also use the microwave-and-toaster-oven method if no skillet is available. Check it out here.

FYI, reheating pasta in a skillet is also pretty effective. I don't own a microwave, so this is my go-to method. Just put a little oil in the pan, turn the flame to medium-high, add your pasta, and stir, stir, stir.

#4. Use Only 2 Ingredients to Make Pizza Dough

Some people are phobic about baking their own bread and/or pizza dough. The idea of dealing with yeast, rising times, etc., is just too much. Fortunately, with two ingredients, you can make your very own homemade pizza dough, and it's a lot easier than you might think. Check out our guide for the particulars and watch the video below.

#5. Put Your Spaghetti in a Meatball

Spaghetti and meatballs is a classic dish for many Americans, but this variation takes it to a whole new level. Why make many meatballs when you can make a giant one and stuff it full of spaghetti?

It kind of looks like a cake, doesn't it? Image by makinthebakin/Imgur

Get the full visual rundown here.

#6. Make Your Lasagna in a Dishwasher

This one is for all those who want to save energy or just freak out their dinner guests. Using that glorious friend of cooks everywhere, aluminum foil, you can assemble a lasagna and seal it up inside the foil so it's watertight. Let it run through a dishwashing cycle, and the heat will cook it through. Check it out!

It might not be a way to cook lasagna regularly, but if your oven is on the fritz, it's good to know you have options.

#7. Low-Carb? Make a Cauliflower Crust for Your Pizza

For people who follow the paleo diet or who are avoiding gluten, the invention of the cauliflower crust pizza was a godsend. There's not a speck of grain in this crust: the ingredients are cauliflower, egg, cheese, and whatever spices and seasoning you desire.

It looks like wheat, but that crust is made from cauliflower. Image via Natural Noshing

It's actually pretty delicious. However, there is one trick to making a really great cauliflower crust. After you've processed the cauliflower into granules, you have to put it all in a clean dishtowel and wring the excess water out of it—that will ensure it stays together and not become a soggy mess. The Lucky Penny walks you through the process.

For a non-paleo update to your pizza crust, try making it out of potatoes.

#8. Use Squash (Spaghetti or Zucchini) As Noodles

If you can't give up pasta but are trying to cut back on grains in your diet, you have options—in the form of squash. Spaghetti squash is so named because its flesh is formed in long, slender, noodle-like threads. Meanwhile, many a paleo/no-carb dieter has cut pliable zucchini into long, thin noodles before dressing them with his favorite sauce.

Zucchini tends to be in season year-round, so "zoodles" recipes are good for summer or winter. Image via One Green Planet

I personally favor the zucchini noodle over the spaghetti squash, as does Inspiralized, but they are both delicious in their own way. Give it a try. It's a great way to up your veggie content without making a big fuss.

#9. Pressed for Time? Go with One-Minute Pasta

If you're a fan of traditional pasta, but hate standing by while the water boils, no worries. The folks over at Ideas in Food discovered that soaking uncooked pasta for 90 minutes cuts down the actual cooking time to one minute for perfectly al dente pasta. Soaking the pasta hydrates it without activating the starch the way heat would, which means the noodles become pliable without becoming gummy.

We recommend saving the soak water and using it to boil the pasta, too, for added flavor. Image by Karen Ahn/Food Hacks

I love this method because it takes the guesswork out of trying to cook pasta well. Many times you stand there biting into a noodle trying to figure out if it's too crunchy. Meanwhile, your pasta is cooking merrily away and getting mushier by the second.

Check out our guide to see how one-minute pasta held up in our taste test, as well as other methods to cut down on pasta cooking time.

#10. Don't Want to Do Dishes? Try One-Pot Pasta Instead

Martha Stewart and her crew started this whole one-pot pasta trend. The idea is to cook everything—pasta, vegetables, etc.—in one pan until the water reduces, leaving your pasta sauced and with minimal mess. While it was a great idea, the results can be bland and watery...unless you know some key tricks and tips to make it taste delicious.

You need far, far less water than most one-pot pasta recipes recommend. Image by Aminta Goyel/Food Hacks

The most ingenious tip? Cook the entire dish in sauce and a very, very small amount of water to make it really flavorful. That, plus three other key suggestions, will give you a one-pot pasta dish that doesn't suck.

What are your favorite ways to cook Italian-American classic dishes?

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Wait--cooking pasta for 8 minutes takes too long, so the answer is to soak it for 90 minutes instead? WTF?

The 90 minutes of soak time is passive cooking time. You're not doing a thing to it while the pasta is in the water. I prefer it because it makes the noodles seem more like fresh pasta. The texture is better and there's less chance of gumminess and overcooking.

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