From Marin Mama Cooks: cheesy baked tortellini & homemade marinara sauce

cheesy baked tortellini & homemade marinara sauce

 Want an easy-peasy weeknight meal your whole family will enjoy?
I bet your saying yes, yes, yes!  
Well, read on, because my whole family loved this meal and I loved it because it was so quick (under 45 minutes) and easy to make.
This is definitely a family and kid friendly meal.  It is cheesy, hence the title, cheesy baked tortellini.  My kids rated this a 10+ dinner, so I am definitely adding it to my list of go-to weeknight dinners.
Life is getting busy around our house, and during this busy time I have to prepare my weekly dinner menu in advance.   Zoe now has lacrosse, dance and cotillion 4 nights during the week so goodbye (for now) to sit-down family dinners, and hello make ahead and easy meals.
On Sundays, I put together a list of potential weekday dinners and also try to cook a two-nighter meal that night.  When life is busy, I don’t want to compromise on eating nutritionally nor do I want us eating takeout every night.  I want to offer my kids their veggies and a fairly balanced and nutritious meal.  To accomplish this, I try and find recipes that I can either make ahead, or that will provide dinner for 2 nights or ones that can be put together in a flash.  I saw this tortellini dish and was excited.  You can throw it together in less than 45 minutes.  You can also make it earlier in the day and re-heat later that evening.   Oh yeah!!!

NOTE:  This recipe called for smoked mozzarella and I topped John’s and mine with that, but I used regular mozzarella on the kid’s dishes.  I had the kids try our pasta with the smoked mozzarella and they preferred the regular mozzarella.  John and I preferred the smoked version, but would of been happy either way.  Regular mozzarella is easier to come by and generally something you would already have in your refrigerator, so feel free to just use that.  

cheesy baked tortellini:
Recipe from Giada De Laurentiis Everyday Pasta
Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 cups marinara sauce – store bought or homemade – I made a homemade version from Giada the day before- Recipe to follow below
  • 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 pound cheese tortellini
  • smoked mozzarella, thinly sliced or shredded – or you can use regular mozzarella cheese- I shredded mine.  The recipe called for 2 ounces, but really, who measures out their cheese?  Just top your dish with the amount of cheese you want.  
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese – I also did not measure this.  I just topped each casserole with some parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the tortellini.  Lightly oil an 8x8x2-inch baking dish or 4 individual gratin dishes.
Below is what mascarpone cheese looks like.  It resembles a soft cream cheese.
In a large bowl, whisk together the marinara sauce, mascarpone cheese, parsley and thyme.
Stir all the ingredients together. Once you mix all the ingredients together, it goes from this beautiful red color above, to this not so pleasant orange color.  I’m not even going to go there an tell you what it reminds me of.
Cook the tortellini until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain.  Add the tortellini to the sauce and toss to coat.
 Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish or dishes.  Not a great photo, but you get the step involved.
  Top with the grated parmesan cheese and smoked mozzarella or regular mozzarella cheese.
Cover the dish or dishes with tin foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses melt on top, about 10 minutes longer.
My kids like brown and crispy cheese, so I put the dishes under the broiler for a few minutes. 

That is it folks!  How easy was that dish to prepare?
I paired this up with a salad for John and I and some broccoli for the kids.
This dish was a two-night meal for my kids and I (not the hungry hubby).  I just covered their leftovers in their gratin dishes and re-heated them in the oven the next day.
I’m actually re-heating up their leftovers as I write this post.
Here they are eating their leftovers!  Happy as clams!

If you want to make your own marinara sauce then you can follow along with me below!

This sauce is great because it can be made day ahead of time and it’s fairly easy to whip up.    The only thing that really takes time is chopping up all the veggies.  This is a wonderful marina sauce that you can use as a base for just about any Italian meal.
Basic Marinara Sauce:
Makes about 2 quarts
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled & finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 – 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 2 dried bay leaves
Prep your ingredients.  Chop up your onions, garlic, carrots and celery.

In a large pot or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 1o minutes.

Add the celery, carrots and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until all the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bay leaves, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.

Remove and discard the bay leaves.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
Let the sauce cool, and then refrigerate or freeze it.  This sauce freezes very well so I saved 2 cups for the above recipe and froze the remaining amount for a later date.
The sauce may be stored frozen for up to 3 months.

If you don’t want to make your own sauce, use your favorite store bought brand.  I love this one below from Dave’s gourmet.  I use this one when I make my chicken parm.

Easy-peasey family approved week-night dinner!What are your favorite go-to week night dinners?

Stickies, Sweeties & Bubbly, Oh, My!

Sweet wines conjure up images of bottles resembling German towers, candy-corn white Zinfandels, and pineapple wines, but dessert wines have come a long way since these cloying times. So just in time for Valentine’s Day I feel I must shout it from the rooftops: “Sweet wines are delicious!” (ahem, when made well, that is). Yes, for those of us who only enjoy Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, these wines with their residual sugar can be a bit of a jolt. Most are meant to be enjoyed in small quantities as they tire out the palate quite quickly, but good winemakers balance the sweetness with acidity that gives the wines lift and keeps them refreshing.  So with Valentine’s Day in mind, let’s do a virtual sampling of some of my favorite sweeties you may want to pop for your sweetie.

Riesling – As they come in all sorts of flavors and styles, Riesling is perhaps the most complex of all grape varieties. They are often produced in a dry style where all the grape sugar has been fermented out, but Riesling is most known for its sweeter examples. From drier to sweeter, look for these names: kabinett, spatlese, auslese, beerenauslese, and trockenbeerenauslese. These last two are unctuous, rare and quite pricey; the first three are actually not considered dessert wines, but table wines meant to be paired with food. For the palate not used to a little sweetness, they can certainly be substituted for a sweeter wine as an after dinner nip.  What makes these wines so unique is their balance of sugar and acidity, the latter of which sets the mouth alive and tingling. Without it, the wine would certainly be cloying and tiresome. Good bottles classically produce flavors and aromas of creamy lime, green apple, and even petrol (yes!), all bundled up that lovely acidity.
St. Urbans-Hof 2010 Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein, $19.99/750ml
Ersnt Loosen 2010 “Dr. L” Riesling Mosel, $13.99/750ml

Sauternes – Long considered the greatest dessert wine in the world, Sauternes comes from the town of the same name near Bordeaux, France. What makes these wines so special is a fungus (botrytis cinerea) that forms on the grape skins during perfect climactic conditions combining heat and humidity. This growth actually feeds off the water inside the grape, thereby shriveling the berry and concentrating its juices and flavors. When the grapes are ultimately pressed, what flows is a sweet and concentrated nectar. When ultimately fermented, the resulting wine oozes apricot and honey notes, is full-bodied, somewhat viscous, and the botrytis even gives the wine a distinctly musky, earthy aroma that is just divine.
Chateau Haut Mayne 2009 Sauternes, $19.99/375ml

Ice wine – Often sweeter and richer than Sauternes, ice wines are beauties produced by picking the grapes in winter when the berries are frozen. During crush, the frozen water stays behind and only sweet juice flows, which is then fermented into the wine. Full-bodied and richly textured, these wines literally coat the mouth with apricot and jammy fruits along with bright acidity.
Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine Niagara, $19.99/187ml

Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui – These last two are sparkling siblings originating from the Piemonte of northwest Italy.  Moscato is the wonderfully fresh and spirited white frizzante offering that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Musky and sweet on the nose, these wines show off notes of green apple, pear and spice. Brachetto is Moscato’s sparkling red relative. Pair this frizzante with chocolate mousse; being a red/rose, it boasts notes of sweet strawberries, raspberries and rose petals.
Saracco 2010 Moscato d’Asti Piemonte, $18.99/750ml
Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui, $21.99/750ml

For the wine lover, these are wines that are not to be ignored. They’re not only delicious, they’re festive treats AND very romantic! Enjoy!


Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager