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Recipes & Entertaining Ideas

Filtering by Tag: Pasta

Store-Bought Marinara Sauce, Revamped!

Marc J. Sievers

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I love a homemade, authentic marinara, but sometimes I just want to get dinner on the table fast without sacrificing an ounce of flavor. My version of an elevated store-bought pasta sauce is a fabulous (and quick!) way to add an extra kick to a jar of marinara.  The best part is that you probably already have most of what you need in your pantry! Make sure you start with a good bottle of red wine – you can drink the rest with dinner!  Tossing in some fresh basil at the end gives the sauce a burst of flavor (the heat hitting the basil opens up a whole new world of aromas) and adds a special touch that makes it look and taste like it has been slowly simmering away on the stove all afternoon!

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Ingredients 

  • Olive Oil – 3 tablespoons

  • Garlic – 2 cloves, finely minced

  • Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon

  • Sea Salt – ½ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ½ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Red Wine – ⅓ cup, favorite Italian variety

  • Marinara Sauce – (1) eighteen-ounce jar, favorite store-bought brand

  • Butter – 1 tablespoon, unsalted

  • Basil – ⅓ cup, roughly chopped, fresh

Directions

  1. In a large sauté pan set over medium-low heat, add the olive oil.  Once hot, add the garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Cook for 30 seconds, making sure not to burn the garlic. 

  2. Add the red wine and allow it to reduce by half, about 1-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

  3. Next, add the marinara sauce and heat until just under the simmering point. 

  4. Right before serving, stir in the butter and basil.  Serve over your favorite pasta.

Tip: If you want to be extra “naughty”, add a splash of heavy cream at the end to give this revamped sauce a slightly creamier texture.  I’ve never known cream to make anything taste worse!

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Cheese Tortellini Soup with White Beans

Marc J. Sievers

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Sometimes, there is nothing better than a big bowl of piping hot, satisfying soup. Although soup can be a simple affair, there is no reason at all that you can’t also turn up the luxe factor a bit! For my Cheese Tortellini Soup with White Beans, I started with a store-bought vegetable broth that I infused with thyme, crushed fresh garlic and exotic saffron to kick up the flavor. I especially love the addition of the saffron in this recipe because of the hint of spice and the luxurious golden color it gives to the broth. Top with a generous sprinkle of grated fresh parmesan and pair with warm baguette, et voilà! Weeknight dinner, done!

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Ingredients (serves 4 as a main course, serves 6 as a soup course)

  •  Vegetable Broth – 8 cups, favorite store-bought variety

  • Thyme – 6 sprigs, fresh, tied into a bundle with kitchen string

  • Garlic – 3 cloves

  • Saffron – ½ teaspoon

  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon

  • Sea Salt – ¾ teaspoon

  • Black Pepper – ¾ teaspoon, freshly cracked

  • Cheese Tortellini – 10 ounces, favorite fresh store-bought variety

  • White Beans – one 15.5 ounce can, rinsed and well-drained

  • Parmigiano Reggiano – freshly grated, for garnish

Directions 

  1. In a large saucepan set over medium heat, add the vegetable broth, thyme bundle, garlic, saffron, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Allow to come to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 15 minutes to allow all the flavors to blend together. 

  2. Next, remove and discard the thyme bundle.   

  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove each garlic clove and crush each one, and return it back into the stock.

  4.  Add the cheese tortellini into the simmering stock and cook according to package directions.  Add the white beans during the last 60 seconds of cooking.  This will prevent the beans from being overcooked.

  5.  Ladle into bowls, top with parmesan cheese, and serve hot.

Tip: To give this soup even more flavor and texture you can add fresh baby spinach when you add in the white beans.  The heat of the soup will wilt the leaves and cook it to perfection in just 60 seconds!

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Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad

Marc J. Sievers

There is something so satisfying about making a big batch of really good pasta salad.  It can be so simple, just a few tosses of fresh ingredients while the pasta is hot, and you have an easy and incredibly flavorful dish.  I will admit that pasta salads were not my favorite as a kid—they always seemed to taste bland, and like the refrigerator.  No good!  But I have since solved the flavor challenge.

This recipe actually came about from a recent trip to Hawaii.  Ryan and I were visiting our best friends for a milestone birthday.  But, the day we were flying back to Chicago, they both got stuck at work.  Before we let ourselves out of their apartment to go to the airport, knowing that they were going to be home very late, I wanted to leave them a surprise dinner in their refrigerator!

After a few minutes, I found everything I needed to create a Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad.  Best of all, it only took 15 minutes and we were out the door and our friends had an easy and delicious dinner waiting for them.  Needless to say, they were very happy to come home after a very long day to a ready-made meal that kept perfectly well!  This is easy summer “cooking”, at its best!

Watch: Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad


Pesto & Arugula Pasta Salad

Ingredients (serve 4-6)

  • Fusilli – 1 pound, cooked al dente

  • Pesto – 7 ounces, store-bought

  • Grape Tomatoes – 2 pints, halved

  • Parmesan Cheese – 1 cup, Parmigiano-Reggiano recommended

  • Baby Arugula – 2 cups, washed and dried

  • Green Onions – ½ cup, thinly sliced

  • Basil – ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh

  • Parsley - ⅓ cup, rough chopped, fresh, Italian Flat-Leaf variety recommended

  • Red Pepper Flakes – ½ teaspoon

  • Lemon Zest – 1 small lemon, zested

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black Pepper – 1 teaspoon, freshly cracked

Directions

  1. After the pasta has been cooked and drained, and while it is hot, place it into a large bowl.

  2. Immediately add all of the ingredients to the hot pasta and toss until evenly mixed.

  3. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold.

Tip: You can make this in advance and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Before you serve it, check to see if it needs more salt, pepper, and even another handful of fresh arugula or basil mixed in.  I have noticed that as food sits in a cold temperature, some of the flavor “disappears”.  After all, who wants bland food?! 

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Oven Mac 'n Cheese

Marc J. Sievers

I have yet to come across someone who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese!  It’s one of those universal comfort foods that can be made in hundreds of ways, with or without toppings, baked, and even fried!  It can cheer you up on a rainy day, enjoyed by the bowl fill while watching a movie, or served during game night with friends (I’m a champ at monopoly!).  My Oven Mac n’ Cheese uses 4 distinctive cheeses and is topped with fresh garlic bread crumbs made from a toasted baguette.  All in all, this dish is sure to bring smiles and accolades from those who indulge!


Oven Mac 'n Cheese

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • Demi Baguette – cut lengthwise

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted, at room temperature

  • Garlic – 2 cloves, finely minced

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons, divided

  • Black Pepper – 1½ teaspoons, divided

  • Heavy Cream – 1½ cup

  • Whole Milk – 1½ cups

  • Semi-Soft Fontina – ½ pound, grated

  • Red Leicester – ½ pound, grated, available at Trader Joe's

  • Gruyere – ½ pound, grated

  • Parmesan – ½ pound, grated

  • Elbow Macaroni – 2 pounds, dry

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler to highest setting.

  2. Place the garlic, butter, and ½ teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper into a small bowl. Mix until well combined.

  3. Spread each cut side of the baguette evenly with the butter mixture.

  4. Place the baguette halves cut side up onto a sheet pan. Place under the broiler for 3 - 5 minutes, or until golden brown.

  5. Remove from the broiler and place the toasted baguette into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the texture resembles course breadcrumbs. Set aside.

  6. In a medium sauce pan set over low heat add the milk, heavy cream, and 1 teaspoon each of sea salt and black pepper.

  7. Bring to a simmer then turn off the heat and cover the pan with a lid. Set aside.

  8. Next, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rapid boil. Add dry pasta and cook for half of the suggested cooking time.

  9. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  10. Drain the pasta and return it back into the pot. Add the grated cheeses, warm milk, and cream. Mix until well combined.

  11. Transfer the cheesy pasta into a 5 quart baking dish. Sprinkle evenly with garlic bread crumbs and place into the oven uncovered. Cook for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sides are bubbly. Serve hot.

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Heirloom Tomato & Roasted Artichoke Capellini

Marc J. Sievers

Having friends over for a casual dinner is about to get seriously delicious!  My Heirloom Tomato & Roasted Artichoke Capellini is the perfect meal to throw together during the week or on the weekend.  It’s filled with easy-to-find ingredients and you do not need to be a whiz is the kitchen to whip up this flavorful meal!  Pair it with a rustic sour dough boule, a simple green salad, and a bottle (or 2!) of wine.  Mangia bene, vivi felice!


Heirloom Tomato & Roasted Artichoke Capellini

Ingredients (serves 6)

  • Artichoke Hearts – (2) twelve-ounce bags, frozen

  • Olive Oil – ⅓ cup PLUS 2 tablespoons

  • Sea Salt – 1½ teaspoons

  • Black pepper – 1½ teaspoons, freshly cracked

  • Capellini – 1 pound, dry

  • Shallots – 2 medium, finely diced

  • Mini Heirloom Tomatoes – 4 cups, halved

  • Garlic – 10 cloves, finely minced

  • Lemon Zest – ⅓ cup

  • Crushed Red pepper Flakes – ¼ teaspoon

  • Crushed Tomatoes – (2) 15-ounce cans

  • Heavy Cream – ⅓ cup

  • Butter – 2 tablespoons, unsalted

  • Basil – ½ cup, roughly chopped

  • Pecorino – ½ cut, freshly grated

  • Bocconcini – eight-ounces, quartered

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

  2. Place the frozen artichoke hearts on a sheet pan.  Toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

  3. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing twice during cooking.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

  4. Next, in a 14-inch sauté pan set over medium-low heat, add ⅓ cup of olive oil and the butter.

  5. Once the olive is hot, add the shallots, garlic, crushed red pepper, sea salt, and pepper.

  6. Cook for 8 - 9 minutes, stirring occasionally until the shallots and garlic are tender but not browned.

  7. Add the heavy cream and crushed tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

  8. Then add the lemon zest, roasted artichoke hearts, and mini heirloom tomatoes.  Cook for an additional 5 minutes, then cover with a lid and turn off the heat.

  9. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil.  Cook the capellini according to package directions.

  10. Once the pasta is cooked, drain it well, and add it to the sauce.

  11. Lastly, toss the pasta with the sauce, basil, and bocconcini.  Garnish with pecorino and more salt and pepper to taste.

  12. Serve immediately.

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