Italian-American Food Hacks: 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.
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.
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.
He even went the extra step and discovered that you can even use a waffle maker to reheat these lasagna slices to great effect.
Get the full instructions, including how to stack the lasagna slices and make skewers out of them, here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Get the full visual rundown here.
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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?