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Cheesy Bread with Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce

Last week I was out at a school observing their lunch, and I was reminded of the single most sought after meal in my school cafeterias growing up: Italian Dunkers. Now, if you're not from Minnesota you may be wondering what the heck I'm talking about. Italian dunkers are just cheese bread served with marinara sauce. Nothing fancy, but everyone LOVED it. You never wanted to get an end piece because they were usually smaller and a bit too crispy, but that middle piece covered in a quarter inch thick layer of melty cheese was gold. School cafeteria gold.

I didn't realize that this was still being served in schools, mostly because I completely forgot about it once I graduated from high school and learned about real food, but also because school nutrition requirements have changed. The fact that it still meets those requirements is beyond me, but nevertheless, it still exists and it is still delicious.

My goal here was to make an adult version to satisfy my inner child without actually looking like one. In an effort to mature this dish, I knew I wanted to replicate an arrabbiata sauce I had at Trattoria Il Panino in Boston when I was visiting this summer. It was the perfect amount of heat for me (I love me some spice) but still super simple and tasty. If you don't like spice, I would cut the pepper in this recipe by at least half, if not a quarter.

The execution of this recipe is quick and easy, and you really can use any cheese you have on hand, but if you're going to make this, PLEASE MAKE THE SAUCE. It's so good. I put the leftover sauce on pasta the next day, and even my eggs (basically Shakshouka so it's fine). Heck you could use this as a pizza sauce too and make a nice little spicy Margherita pizza. I promise you that it will not go to waste.

My last note about this sauce: get the good tomatoes. San Marzano is a cult favorite and I personally used Muir Glen. No one likes the taste of canned tomatoes and these don't taste like canned tomatoes. Both of them are worth the extra dollar you'll pay and I promise they do make a difference. Okay I'm going to stop rambling now so you can get to making this delicious childhood favorite. Enjoy!

Cheesy Bread with Spicy Arrabbiata Sauce

Makes: 8 servings



  • 1 28-oz can San Marzano or Muir Glen tomatoes

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp pepper

  • 1/4 C chopped fresh basil

Cheesy Bread

  • 1 12-inch loaf of soft french bread

  • 1 C shredded mozzarella cheese

  • 1/2 C shredded asiago cheese

  • 1/2 C shredded romano cheese

  • 1 tbsp garlic

  • 1/4 C olive oil

  • 1/2 tsp rosemary

  • 1/2 tsp thyme

  • 1/2 tsp oregano

  • 1/2 tsp salt

  • 1/2 tsp pepper


I. Preheat your oven to 350F. Combine garlic and olive oil and set aside to infuse for 5-10 minutes. Combine spices in a small bowl. Combine cheeses in a medium bowl.

II. In a medium saucepan, combine tomatoes, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. The longer this cooks, the more flavorful it will be.

III. Slice bread lengthwise and brush with garlic and olive oil mixture.

IV. Top with spice mixture and cheeses.

V. Bake at 350 for 5-8 minutes, until edges have crisped and cheese browns.

VI. While bread is baking, blend the sauce until smooth. Either an immersion blender or regular blender will work. Note: be careful using a regular blender, as the heat of the sauce may increase the pressure in the blender and splatter at you when you remove the lid.

VII. Stir the chopped basil into your sauce.

VIII. Once bread is done baking, slice into desired serving size and serve with sauce on the side. Enjoy!


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