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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Dilly Good – Re-Mix

I may be a bit of infrequent blogger these days but I am predictable. (At least when it comes to quiche!)

As is often the case, I found myself once again with too much fresh dill in the fridge. And of course I always have Feta cheese on hands. So naturally I made a quiche. Much like my “Dilly Good” quiche from July 2016, I used potatoes in the base instead of a crust, making it more like a Tortilla Espanola” or a Spanish style potato omelet. (and gluten free) Which means I took my time slowly precooking the thin slices of potatoes in oil, over not too high a heat so they soften but not brown too much. And the same for the onions. Short of that I basically whisk up some eggs and dairy of choice (I like whole milk or half/half) and layer it all into a pie dish. Cook as you would any quiche – 40-45 mins at 400 degrees. Best served after it has cooled a bit or even room temperature.

Take a look at my process in pictures:

 

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!

 

 

Oliver Twist

Nope this isn’t a book review! It’s actually a twist on a recipe by Jaime Oliver that I saw recently over at the Food52 blog. ( I can’t never resist a word pun – no matter how corny!)

His recipe used chicken legs, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic and olive oil. I used pork, cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. I think my twist worked out pretty good!

I used a 3-4 lb center cut roast that I sliced into chops for serving. (bone-in roast – this is where center cut “pork chops” come from) I also used a heavy cast-iron pot, that way I could generously salt and pepper the outside of the meat and sear it over high heat to create a bit of a crust. Then in the style of Jaime oliver I simply threw in a pint of cherry tomatoes, a handful of basil, 6-7 medium size whole cloves of garlic, tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a 1/2 cup of warm water just to make sure I had enough “juice.”

And like Jaime I simply put it in a 350 degree oven and undisturbed for 1 and half hours. But I used a meat thermometer to check and determine when my pork was cooked. (145 degrees for medium-rare and 160 degrees for medium)

Author’s Note:

I often have to reheat portions for my husband and this one worked out pretty good over the mashed potatoes! Just note if you plan to reheat you may want to consider cooking the chop to medium-rare the first time, that way you have a little margin for additional cooking.

 

 

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!

 

The Santa Fe Experiment

Recently I had opportunity to travel to Albequerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico. To me it seems like the entire state smells amazing, and especially the farmer’s market that I visited in Santa Fe. The smells of sage, chili powder, piñons and fry bread wafted through the air like a savory air freshener, as I walked through sampling any and everything I could find!

When I returned it only made sense to try one of the “edible souvenirs” that I brought back with me. (Those also cost me an extra 20mins and an extra bag search at airport security.)

Posole mixes were abundant at the farmer’s market and after looking over all the choices I selected one that looked fool-proof for a gringo like me to make. Posole is a Mexican (or probably more accurately Aztec in origin) pork and hominy stew. The mix contained dried hominy and several over dried beans/seeds/legumes that I really have no idea what they were. It also came with a spice packet and recipe.

I followed the instructions exactly except for 2 things. I decided to use the slow cooker as one change to the recipe and since I have a smaller slow cooker, I only used 2.5 quarts water, figuring I could always add water. I was glad I used the slow cooker since it took longer then 3 hours on high – I actually ended up leaving on it overnight on low after the first 3 hours on high. And I never need to add the extra 1/2 quart of water.

Here is the recipes in pictures with one notation…after trimming the pork meat from the bones I tied up the bones in cheesecloth to add to the stew for flavor. Remove the bundle before serving. (click on the slide show below to enlarge)

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In full disclosure, I added a generous amount of salt and pepper to this as well as a healthy tablespoon of mild New Mexico red chile powder that I also obtained at the farmer’s market and made it through security at the airport. Without that and the fresh toppings, the stew would have been actually kinda bland. I am not experienced to know if the stew is supposed to be just a rich broth with a somewhat mellow flavor to allow the fresh toppings to shine? ( kinda like vietnamese Pho)

Or maybe I was supposed to season/brine the pork first? And perhaps even brown it first? I do know that it is common practice to add green or red chile to the stew and so I felt justified in adding some red chile to mine.

And while my version turned out pretty good – but not amazing – next time I would get even more elaborate on the fresh toppings… sliced radishes, avocado, thin sliced cabbage to name just a few more.

Here is a nice source for seeds if you want to grow your own chile peppers: https://www.sandiaseed.com/pages/about-us

 

 

Leftovers

I found myself with an assortment of leftovers the other day – artisan bread that was a couple days old, cherry tomatoes that were starting to get a little wrinkly, some bits of steak, a nub of sweet onion, some fresh parsley just coming to its last days.

Of course my first thought was “Panzanella!”  That famous Tuscan salad of bread and tomatoes tossed with olive oil and vinager.

For seasoning, I keep it simple. I like the flavors of the good olive oil and red wine vinegar to shine through. In addition to that I use plenty of salt, pepper and some granulated garlic. I like the granulated garlic here because its far less aggressive then using raw garlic and it distributes evenly throughout. No one is going to bit into a piece of raw garlic when when you use the granulated garlic.

I usually mix all the ingredients except the bread and let it sit for a while. This time also allows the natural juices of the tomatoes to help with this dressing. By tossing the bread in last you can judge how much bread cubes you want to add, keeping the ratio of wet ingredients (dressing, tomatoes, herbs etc) to around 1-2. (1 part wet ingredients to 2 parts bread) I usually don’t toss in the bread till about 10-15 mins before serving. That way the bread gets moistened but not soggy. The dressing should just just barely coat everything in the bowl.

The beauty of this salad is that it is perfect served room temperature. Of course if you are adding meat like I did – keep the wet ingredients (including the meat) refrigerated till about 30 mins before serving time. You want to get the chill off before serving, and toss in the toasted, cubed bread about 15 mins before serving.

final

The simplicity of leftovers!

Author’s notes:

Basil is often used in a panzanella salad but really any fresh, soft herb you have on hand is great in this.

When it comes to the olive oil in this, make sure you break out the good stuff because it is gives a lot of flavor and richness.

Onions – I happen to have some sweet onion on hand. I wouldn’t use a red onion unless you dice it fine and keep the amount low. A red onion can sometimes over-power a dish. Shallots are natural excellent choice for this dish.