Middle-Aged Pasta

Nope I am not referencing my age – just acknowledging the fact that Lasagna noodles were invented by the Greeks but perfected into the dish we know and love by the Italians as early as the middle ages!

That’s a lot of lasagna over the years!

For some, lasagna is a special dish prepared only on holidays and possibly at Sunday dinners. At my house lasagna is a weeknight treat too! Yup you read that right – weeknight lasagna and I promise it doesn’t take all night!

The key is use the “no-boil” noodles (they are pretty good these days!) and convenience items like jarred sauce, already roasted veggies and pre-cooked meats.

the parts

Pick up precooked meatballs from the deli/prepared foods counter and slice thin for an easy layer of meat. Check out the deli/salad bar for items like roasted mushrooms and caramelized onions. A jar of your favorite red sauce works perfectly. Be sure to pick up a container of grated cheese and some fresh parsley to add to the container of ricotta. (you will also need an egg for the ricotta mixture.)

The key to the no-boil noodle is a generous amount of sauce and a tight foil cover for most of the cooking time. Take the cover off for the last 10-15 mins. The box of no-boil noodles has a good basic recipe you can follow, just use layers of things you want to eat.

I skipped the heavy cheese layers and did 2 layers of the mushroom/onion and 2 layers of the sliced meatball, topping it only with grated cheese since my husband doesn’t love all the gooey cheese like I do. And my waistline thanked me too. I made mine in a very manageable 8×8 dish that fed 2 people with plenty of leftovers for lunch or could feed 4 with a salad on the side.

Not fond of meat? Use a layer of sliced eggplant or zucchini instead of meatballs! As a bonus you can sometimes find sliced zucchini in the salad bar or veggie aisle.

the best part

 

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Now THAT’s Ricotta!

I recently picked up some fresh ricotta at my local 50,000 sq. foot “Italian food emporium” in Boston and it changed me forever. I realized up until now, I had really never tasted ricotta – just poor imitations!

ricotta

“Ricotta Calabro” produced right here in New England – Connecticut to be exact – was amazing!

Don’t just take my word for it – look at the awards the producer has received! link here.

I know something as fresh and amazing as this should be eaten in its original state, but the weather had been unseasonably cool and I had my heart set on some comfort food.

Pasta, cheese and tomato sauce = comfort. Throw in a little Italian sausage and even the husband will find this dish comforting!

I basically just added crumbled, cooked sausage, to some cooked pasta in a oiled casserole dish, coated it with tomato sauce and strategically set up “clouds” of ricotta. I topped it with shredded Parmesan cheese and baked it for 30 mins at 350 degrees until it was just crispy on the edges and bubbling in the middle. Comfort food at its best!

 

 

A Tale Of Two Patty Pans

 

…and a tomato and some garlic.veggies

This is not the first time I have written about Patty Pans and in fact I seem to have a habit of buying them in pairs. I guess 1 just doesn’t seem like enough and more than 2 seems like too many.

Just a simple grill job for these little beauties, along with some fresh onions, kebobs and Feta-tomato rice salad. All they needed was a light marinade of olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and a few chili flakes. Summer simplicity on a plate!

 

Plain & Fancy

Can you guess who ate what?

Your choices are:

Boston Irish-american guy: plain or fancy?

New Hampshire raised country girl: plain or fancy?

Boston Irish guy = plain & New Hampshire country girl = fancy

Did you guess right?

I am always trying to encourage new things at dinner time but this was just a little too exotic…

fancy sauce

I picked up this fancy little can of sauce at the new, fancy “not-so-little” Italian grocery store/food emporium that recently opened at the Prudential mall in Boston. I am sure you know the one I mean. Google it.

Without giving it a direct plug I will say that I could go there everyday for a year and still not try everything they have stocked in the 55,000 square feet of Italian goodness!

Maybe next time I will get the plain stuff for Mr. fancy Boston guy!

 

 

 

Easy-Fancy Potatoes

Hasselback Potatoes are the perfect blend of  “easy but looks fancy!”

What are they? Basically they are baked potatoes that have been sliced in a decorative manner. They were a Swedish invention at the “Hasselbacken Hotel” in Stockholm, where they are called “hasselbackspotatis,” back in the 1700s.

I decided to test these out as a possible Thanksgiving dish. We were always more of a baked potato family than a mashed family so a twist on the family standard seemed like a good idea. I washed and sliced some potatoes, poured melted butter and seasoning over them as the many internet recipes suggest and baked them in a high oven ( 450!!!) for 50 mins. They were easy and they look impressive, but I think next time I will slice and bake them with just a bit of oil rubbed onto the potatoes and at a slightly lower heat. I will save the butter-garlic-topping for when they come out of the oven because I noticed that garlic pieces burned unless you conscientiously tuck each one into a slice – who has time for that on thanksgiving!

Here is a look at my “test drive”

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Farm Days

August in New England is simply the best there is. Warm days, somewhat cooler nights and full, ripe tomatoes

– life doesn’t get any better than that.

fancy lady

fancy lady

 

Recently I spent a day at the New Hampshire Farm Museum listening to music, learning about daily farming activities before technology made everything easier and visiting some animals. My favorite was a beautifully marked chicken.

Down the street is Mckenzie’s Farm – a glorious operation with amazing produce, still-warm-from-the-fryer cider donuts and pick-ur-own everything – including tomatoes!

Nothing is fresher then a tomato you picked yourself!

farmstand purchases

The day’s bounty!  Homemade pickles, spaghetti squash, just picked blueberries, 2 kinds of garlic, tomatoes I picked myself, summer squash, zucchini and a cuke!

I came home with more tomatoes than this picture – about 10 lbs more!  A “sauce” was in the works!

When I got home I washed, cored and roughly cut the tomatoes. ( I don’t blanch, peel and all that jazz – too much work – and I don’t mind the peels, seeds, etc)

I simply added all the tomatoes to my slow-cooker along with one whole head of fresh garlic and a generous handful of basil leaves from my back yard pot. A little salt and pepper and that was it. I really wanted a “fresh” sauce. I let it cook on high for the day (about 6-8 hours) and stirred it once. The tomatoes were so fresh and sweet that nothing else was needed!

crockpot sauce

After all that time cooking, I used my immersion blender to get the sauce to the smooth consistency I was looking for. I blended the basil and whole garlic cloves right in. Tasted for seasoning (salt & pepper) and let it cook for another hour with the lid half off just to thicken things up a little. I cooled and packed some into the freezer for a taste of summer sometime next January. I used some right away as a sauce for an Italian style turkey meatloaf. It would also make an amazing base for a tomato soup and frankly it was just good enough to drink straight!

Meatloaf mix ( pre-turkey meat) consisted of diced yellow bell peppers, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs and

Meatloaf mix (pre-turkey meat) consisted of one finely chopped, spicy Andoullie sausage, a finely diced yellow bell pepper, onions, garlic, basil, toasted cheese bread crumbs, olive oil and an egg to hold it all together.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Italian seasoned turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and fresh tomato sauce. Parmesan cheese on top.

Dilly Good

I think fresh dill is one of the most under-used, under-appreciated herbs. So every chance I get to use it, I do. And not just for pickles! or for Spanakopita!

This time I decided to use it in a quiche! My favorite way to use up stuff anyway is to pair it with eggs.

I decided instead of a crust to make more of  “Tortilla Espanola” or a Spanish style potato omelet. You typically start these on the stove-top and finish them in the oven, but feeling a little lazy I decided to do the whole thing in the oven. So I got out the trusty glass pie dish that I use for everything and layered the ingredients into it. I made sure to slice each ingredient thin so it would cook easily in the time I typically bake my quiches (about 45 mins at 425 degrees)

The layers of ingredients  – inspired by fresh dill – took on a decidedly “Eastern European” inspiration with red onion, potato and dill. A couple tablespoons of sour cream added to my standard quiche mix made everything extra light and fluffy! A little grated parmesan cheese on top never hurt anything !