5 Easy Meals That Transported Us Straight Back to Italy

It's hard to fathom the idea that it's been more than a year and a half since our family was hiking Cinque Terre and baking bread with the De Blasi family in Tuscany. Not a month goes by that we aren't reminiscing about our donkey trek or devising a plan to get back to its iconic rolling hills. Until then, we'll have to soothe our Italy desires by the warm hearth of Italian-inspired cuisine.

Everyone knows that making a traditional Italian marinara sauce takes hours and hours to perfect, but when you're strapped for time and want to give your family taste without compromising on quality, try Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce. I love this sauce for so many reasons, and top on that list is, compared to most other jarred pasta sauces, Bertolli Riserva is very low in sugar, with only four grams of sugar per serving.

This sauce is made with artisanal ingredients like extra-virgin olive oil, freshly crushed garlic, vine-ripened, freshly crushed tomatoes, and imported Parmigiano-Reggiano. And at $5.99 a jar you can create exciting dishes to entertain a gathering of any size with even the most discerning of palettes without breaking the bank.

Buon appetito!

Mussels Marinara


  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 large brown onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons parsley
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • 4 pounds live mussels (about 4 dozen), well scrubbed, rinsed, and de-bearded
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 1 cup Bertolli Risvera Marinara pasta sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
Remember that an open mussel that closes when pressed is good; if the mussel stays open after being pressed, it is bad and should be discarded. In a deeppot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, about 1 minute. Add the wine, Bertolli Risvera Marinara pasta sauce, thyme, parsley, pepper, and salt and bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mussels are opened, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard any mussels that have not opened. Transfer the mussels and their liquid to a large, deep serving bowl and devour with fresh French bread.

Minestrone Soup


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 large celery stalk, diced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary, or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 jar Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce
  • 1 medium potato, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 head Savoy or green cabbage (1/2 pound), cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 can (15 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil, plus torn leaves for serving (optional)
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, for serving
In a large pot, heat oil over medium. Add onion, garlic, carrots, celery, rosemary, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to turn golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce; cook until some of the liquid evaporates, 1 minute. Add potato, cabbage, cannellini beans, and 7 cups water; bring to a boil. Stir in green beans. Reduce to a simmer, and cook until all the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with basil and Parmesan.

Italian Meatloaf


  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped brown onions
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce
  • 2 pounds ground chuck (81 percent lean)
  • 1 cup dry Italian bread crumbs
  • 2 extra-large eggs, beaten
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a medium saute pan. Add the onions, garlic, salt, and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the onions are translucent but not brown. Off the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce and Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce. Allow to cool slightly. In a large bowl, combine the ground chuck, onion mixture, bread crumbs, and eggs, and mix lightly with a fork. Don't mash or the meat loaf will be dense. Shape the mixture into a rectangular loaf in a baking dish. Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees F and the meat loaf is cooked through. Serve hot.

Vodka Penne


  • Kosher salt
  • 12 ounces whole-wheat penne
  • 1 jar Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce
  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 brown onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup vodka
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil leaves, chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/4 cup starchy cooking water, then drain the pasta. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Remove from the heat and stir in the vodka, Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce and salt to taste. Return the skillet to medium heat and simmer, stirring often, until the alcohol cooks off, about 10 minutes. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer on very low heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Stir in the parmesan and basil. Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to combine, adding some of the reserved cooking water to loosen, if needed. Season with salt. Serve topped with more Parmesan and basil.

Eggplant Rolls with Ricotta

  • 6 small Japanese eggplants (about 1 3/4 pounds), cut lengthwise into 1/4 inch thick slices
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup store-bought pesto
  • 2 1/2 cups bread crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
  • 1 cup Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Season the eggplant with salt and pepper. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together the eggs and 4 tablespoons pesto. Pour the bread crumbs onto a large plate. Dip each eggplant slice into the egg mixture, then coat with the bread crumbs. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the eggplant until golden, 2 minutes on each side, using the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil. Transfer the eggplant to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine the ricotta and 3 tablespoons pecorino-romano; season with salt and pepper. Spread 1 tablespoon of the remaining pesto on each eggplant slice and top with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture. Roll up each slice. Bake until the eggplant is tender when pierced with a toothpick, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, bring the Bertolli Riserva Marinara pasta sauce to a simmer. Serve the roll-ups with the sauce and remaining pecorino. If you liked these recipes, check out 150 MORE ways you can bring Tuscany to the table!

Enter Outdoor Families Magazine's Surf and Sand Family Vacation Sweepstakes and Win BIG!

Picture this: toes blanketed by the warm white sand beaches of Mexico, your kid learning to ride waves like a pro under the tutelage of a top-notch surf instructor, traditional, homemade meals with locals under a starry sky. Sounds like a dream, right? Well, it could become a reality for your family if you head on over to Outdoor Families Magazine right now.

Outdoor Families Magazine has partnered with Thomson Family Adventures to giveaway a 6-night family adventure vacation for three to Baja, Mexico. The prize package, valued at over $10,000, includes once-in-a-lifetime experiences like swimming with sea lions in the famed Sea of Cortez, horseback riding across pristine beaches and more!

This sweepstakes is just one way Outdoor Families Magazine is giving back to their readers for an overwhelmingly successful first year filled with empowering content, inspired community and global awareness. I have been proud to watch the larger outdoor families tribe blossom and grown stronger with OFM's strong commitment to get kids outdoors.

Refusing to stand in the shadow of larger outdoor industry giants, Outdoor Families Magazine has become the #1 champion of families globally, giving them the tools and encouragement they may use to responsibly usher in the next generation of earth stewards. The ease with which OFM introduces families to ideas, delivers valuable information, and gently extends an inclusive hand offers a stark contrast to the persistent outdoor message that one must climb the highest, run the fastest and look great while doing it.

I'm thankful to Outdoor Families Magazine for all they do, but most of all, I'm proud to call them a part of my outdoor families tribe.

Exploring the Outdoors: A Conejo Valley Guide

Located 45 minutes north of Los Angeles, just off the 101 freeway, the Conejo Valley is a splendid outdoor playground, virtually undiscovered by its cosmopolitan neighbors. The gateway to the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Center, the area originally settled by the Chumash people spans both southeastern Ventura County and northwestern Los Angeles County and offers a wide variety of opportunities to get outdoors with the family.

Given its close proximity and easy accessibility, the Conejo Valley makes for the perfect date night, day trip or weekend getaway, and its thriving craft beer and wine scene is an added bonus when looking to balance outdoor play with nightlife merriment. The rural beauty of this area is hidden in plain sight, boasting more than 500 miles of hiking and biking trails making it a unique destination that is friendly for the entire family.

Here are just a few ways you and your family can get off-the-beaten path and explore the hidden gems the Conejo Valley has to offer.

Hiking & Biking

Paramount Ranch Hike

  • Distance: 4 miles round trip 
  • Elevation Gain: 150 ft 
  • Open to: Hiking, Biking 
  • Difficulty: Moderate
2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills, CA, 91301

Take the Ventura Freeway (U.S. 101) to Kanan Road exit. Head south on Kanan for 0.5 miles. Turn left on Cornell Way and veer to the right. Continue south for 2.5 miles. The entrance is on right side of the road.  

Grasslands Hike - Malibu Creek State Park
  • Distance: 0.75 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 105 feet
  • Open to: Hiking, Biking, Equestrian
  • Difficulty: Easy
27000 Mulholland Highway, Agoura Hills, CA 91301

From Highway 101, take the Las Virgenes Road exit and go south for 3.1 miles to Mulholland Highway.  Take a right on Mulholland Highway and almost immediately, look for the Grasslands Trail on the left.

Los Robles Hike - Los Padres

  • Distance: 6 miles 
  • Elevation Gain: 900 feet
  • Open to: Hiking, Biking, Equestrian
  • Difficulty: Easy

From the 101 freeway, drive to the south end of Moorpark Rd, turn right on Greenmeadow Ave., and go a half mile to the parking lot.

Paradise Falls Hike - Wildwood Park
  • Distance: 2.5 miles (loop)  
  • Elevation change: 260 feet
  • Open to: Hiking, Biking
  • Difficulty: Moderate
928 W Avenida De Los Arboles, Thousand Oaks, CA 91360

Take the 101 Freeway to Thousand Oaks to exit 45 for Lynn Road. Drive north for 2.5 miles on Lynn Road, and turn left on Avenido de los Arboles. Drive to the end of the street and park in the lot on the left.

Pedego 101 Electric Bike Tour

Biking is a great way to explore a new city, allowing you the ability to cover a ton of ground, and connect with your surroundings without being confined to the interior of a car. Electric bikes give you more flexibility to discover farther distances even if you're with young kids or grandparents.

During our time in the Conejo Valley we hooked up with Pedego 101, who offers a full fleet of electric bikes with a variety of models that fit all shapes and sizes. They were so knowledgeable and welcoming, after our 13-mile bike ride across picturesque bridges and through tree-lined canyon roads, we felt as if we had gained a family.

Pedego 101
2859 Agoura Road Westlake Village, CA 91361
(805) 379-9245

Family Friendly Dining

The Malibu Cafe

Nestled in the gentle, rolling hills of its word-famous namesake, Malibu Cafe is a cornerstone of coastal, rustic living. Eat decadent corn and lobster chowder, listen to down-home live music and lounge under the canopy of centuries-old California oak trees tastefully decorated with elegant chandeliers.

Malibu Cafe is as kid-friendly as it gets with 100% outdoor seating and plethora of fun kid games such as jumbo Jenga and air hokey set up on the lawn for all to enjoy. The biggest challenge you might have to face at this laid back ranch-style restaurant is leaving. 

The Malibu Cafe
327 Latigo Canyon Road Malibu, CA 90265

Tavern 101 Grill & Tap House

Another kid-friendly tavern to try when you have a hankering for mouth-watering BBQ is Tavern 101. Located just off the 101 freeway, this hidden little gem of a restaurant offers a laid-back atmosphere, hand-crafted cocktails and more meat than any one person could ever attempt to consume. 

Tavern 101 Grill & Tap House
28434 Roadside Drive  Agoura Hills, CA 91301

"Adults Only" Offerings

101 Cider House

Some of the most interesting and unique cider this year is coming out of a dark corner in an unassuming industrial park in the Conejo Valley. A budding pioneer of the craft beer industry, Mark McTavish and the rest of his talented 101 Cider House team are self-proclaimed cider evangelists.

Sourced locally, their product is raw, made with natural ingredients and 100% fresh pressed juices. the end result is vibrant and daring and sure to knock your socks off.

101 Cider House
Tasting Room Hours: Thursday 5pm - 10pm, Saturday 1pm - 11pm, Sunday 1pm - 5pm
31111 Via Colinas, Westlake Village, CA 91362
(818) 851-9018

Sunland Vintage Winery

Michael and Debby Giovinazzo are making old school hip again with their throw-back vintages that conjure up thoughts of Old Italy and its robust yet delicate wines. Their award-winning Sunland Vintage label tickles the palate and their bright and cheery tasting room will have you coming back for more.

Sunland Vintage Winery
Tasting Room Hours: Thursdays & Fridays 6pm - 9pm, Saturdays 1pm - 6pm, Sundays 1pm - 5pm
1321 E Thousand Oaks Blvd. #108 Thousand Oaks, CA 91362
(805) 379-2250

Get Your Hike On in Newport Beach

A quick one hour jaunt south down the 405 freeway from Los Angeles, the sophisticated coastal town of Newport Beach, California offers more than you think. With miles and miles of scenic hiking, biking, surfing, over 400 local restaurants, and a laid back nightlife, its intoxicating charm will have you coming back for more.

Crystal Cove, Newport Beach [Photo Courtesy Visit Newport Beach]

Mommy Hiker's Top 2 Favorite Newport Beach Hikes

One of the largest coastal wetlands in southern California, offering 1,000 acres of open space, the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve is a mecca for birders, hikers, runners, bikers and picnickers. Classified as a "critical estuary," its preservation is crucial to providing a safe haven for nearly 200 species of birds, and foraging, spawning and nursery habitat for numerous species of fish, such as halibut, croaker, white sea bass and barred sand bass. 

For breathtaking bluff-top trails, head over to the northwest side of the bay. If it's jogging or a brisk walk you're looking for, Back Bay Drive is a multi-use road that stretches 3 miles northwards along the east side of the Bay from the Back Bay Science Center at Shellmaker Road to Vista Point on the corner of Eastbluff Drive.

Avid cyclists can enjoy a 10-mile bike loop around the Bay which starts at Jamboree at San Diego Creek, and the more ambitious adventure seekers can tackle the 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail, which runs from Weir Canyon north of Irvine Regional Park joins the Back Bay Loop at Jamboree Road and continues through to Shellmaker Road.

Divided into three beach areas, Reef Point, Pelican Point and Los Trancos, Crystal Cove Beach boasts 1,140 acres of majestic underwater beauty for snorkelers and scuba divers and white sand beaches for sunbathers to frolic. If water and sand isn't quite what you're looking for, head to El Moro Canyon located at the southernmost edge of the beach to explore 18 miles of pristine hiking, biking and horse trails.

Newbie surfers at Blackies Beach, Newport Beach [Photo Courtesy Visit Newport Beach]
On the northside of the Newport Pier is a special swath of sand called Blackies, known for its slower breaks it is the perfect spot for kids who are itching to get their toes wet in the sport of surfing.

Join over a million delight-filled viewers at the 107th Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, the nation’s longest running lighted holiday boat parade, for five jam-packed nights on December 16-20, 2015.

December through April is prime grey whale watching season and Newport Beach is ranked as one of the top destinations to witness these magnificent creatures make their way down to the warmer breeding grounds of Mexico.

Stand Up Paddleboarders, Newport Beach [Photo Courtesy Visit Newport Beach]

From full moon paddles, to SUP movie nights, and sunset outings, take advantage of the gorgeous year round sunshine Newport Beach has to offer by taking the whole family out on a stand up paddleboard adventure.

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