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!

 

 

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Co-Workers

My co-workers are a great source of inspiration in many ways but when it comes to food…look out waistline!

First it was the cheesecake, then the purple potato loaded with butter and now some yummy roasted spaghetti squash! True that the spaghetti squash is not new to me. You can see my previous post on this wonder-veggie here.

But she did get me thinking about the many ways to serve it and of course covered in red sauce and cheese immediately came to mind!

But first the roasting…

spaghetti squash

I actually roast mine totally plain. I simply cut it down the middle (careful!) and place it cut face down on a parchment lined cookie sheet. No oil, no salt, no pepper.

The steam from the moist squash innards will cook it perfectly. I like to go about 30-40 minutes in a 400 degree oven until it’s just tender, preferring to under-cook it a bit since it usually gets cooked again in the full recipe.

spaghetti and meatballs

use jar sauce and pre-made meatballs for quick and easy assembly. (I won’t tell!)

Now the tender squash strings are ready for anything you want to throw at them! Butter and fresh herbs perhaps? Maybe a cream sauce? Or as I did recently with red sauce, cheese and yes some meatballs!!

This made for an easy, make-ahead dish that could hang out in the oven till everybody was ready to eat! It could just as easily been wrapped and frozen at this point for another more busy night!

No matter how you serve it, you are sure to win the crowd over. Even the husbands who don’t usually eat vegetables!

 

 

Spring: Day 44 (A Cold Month)

A couple of days over 55 Degrees (F) does not define a month.

Especially April in New England. Especially when its the coldest April on record for the region. Average temperature for the month: 48 Degrees (F)

There was snow in my backyard well into April.

So I am just saying – just because New Englanders think its time to break out the grill as soon as it hits 50 – there is still time for warm, comfort food.

Like the Italian stuffed shells I made the other day. (Freezing rain beating the windows while I cooked… Brrrrr)

There is nothing comparable to the comfort of cheese and pasta swimming in red sauce!

There is nothing comparable to the comfort of cheese and pasta swimming in red sauce!

A few little embellishments but really nothing too crazy. Pretty Traditional.

I did break up and saute a couple of Sweet Italian Sausages in a pan, added some frozen peas and a pinch of red pepper flakes before mixing it into (cool it first) the standard “ricotta-egg-parsley-parm cheese” mix. Boil your jumbo shells just to ‘al dente’ and once they have cooled a bit, stuff them with your mixture. Place them in a bath of red sauce (good quality jarred sauce is A-ok here) and bake covered at 375 degrees for about 30 mins. I like to pull mine out and remove the foil top, drizzle with a little EVOO and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan or Asigo and bake about 10 mins longer uncovered to get those crispy edges and the rich gooey cheese goodness.

Makes great leftovers and freezes beautifully.

 

(Leave out the sausage if you must – yes Holly I am talking to you 🙂 )

 

 

 

 

Let It Rest

Isn’t that the title to a Beatles song?

Oh wait that song is actually “Let It Be” – still… both are words of wisdom!

In my case “let it rest” usually refers to some big cut of meat like a roast or chicken or something, but in this case it refers to lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned "All American" Lasagna!

Good Old Fashioned “All American” Lasagna!

Letting lasagna rest is a must for a clean, neat cut and so you don’t burn the roof off your mouth!

This lasagna was inspired by the green baking dish it was made in. I received it for Christmas this year from Aunt Barbara and I have been cooking in it a couple of times a week ever since! Mac and cheese, lasagna, you name it!  How did I ever live without this perfectly sized dish with handles!!

Production Notes

I used standard lasagna protocol here – nothing crazy or exotic. 3-4 layers of regular meat sauce, ricotta and noodles.  This time I used standard “boil first” noodles, but I have done it both ways… here and here.

Everybody Loves Kale

Well at least my mom and I do. My husband…um… well… he does love spinach, does that count?

But he did admit to liking the incredibly healthy salad that I served at Thanksgiving this year.

(Yes, I am still talking about Thanksgiving recipes – lots of food equals lots of blog post opportunities!)

Roasted asparagus, carrots and parsnips with fresh bosc pear and walnuts on top of chopped raw kale.

Roasted asparagus, carrots and parsnips with fresh Bosc pear and walnuts on top of chopped raw kale. Served with a wedge of Parmesan sage cornbread.

Thank you Giada for that delicious recipe and the salad dressing – so simple and seasonal!

But as soon as the holiday was over I found myself with lots of fresh chopped kale on hand.

So I did what I always do..

“Just add pasta!” And some crumbled sausage and tomato sauce! And of course some cheese on top, because everything is better with cheese.

This turned out to be an easy, healthy, delicious way to get those greens in for a second round. And you can freeze individual portions for lunches later on.

kale pasta sausage bake

Production Notes

Just use your favorite sweet or hot Italian sausage – crumbled and browned in a skillet. You don’t need much as a little goes a long way to flavoring the whole thing. I used about 1/3 of a lb of sausage to a 12oz box of tricolor penne and I mixed in a “big can” can of chopped tomatoes. Mix the kale in while the mixture is hot from the skillet, along with some Italian seasoning.  Throw in a pinch of crushed fennel seed and some red chili flakes to bump up the flavor. Add the cheese on top and bake in a 350 degree oven till hot and toasty. (20 mins+/-) or cool, cover and freeze.

Classic with a Twist

Shepard’s pie was a staple growing up. In fact while some would claim macaroni and cheese as their childhood comfort food, I would actually say this was my favorite childhood comfort food. And still is today. And of course the school lunch program had it at least once a week.

If you are not familiar with “shepard’s pie” perhaps you would recognize it by some of its other names; “Chinese pie” or “cottage pie.”

Whatever you call it there are basic characterizations: meat on the bottom, veggie in the middle and mashed potato topping. A fine casserole indeed.

You can read a cute blog entry about it here and also there is a good classic recipe shown as well. (Although I never put peas in mine and never eat it with ketchup.)

The other night I made this classic with a twist.

In true cabinet stew mentality I was using up what I had in the fridge, freezer and cabinets. So that turned out to be some Italian “pepper and onions” sausage, frozen spinach and potatoes.

I baked the potatoes in the morning while I was doing other things so I could just peel and mash later. Easy and I hate peeling and boiling potatoes for mashed!

Although I took the spinach out and let it sit to defrost in a strainer earlier in the day, I didn’t really make too much effort there. A good mash with a spoon before I used it to get some of the water out.

When dinner time came around all I did was slip the sausage out of their casing and brown them in a pan. They already had tons of seasoning and fat so that was easy too.

Layer the browned, crumbled sausage down first. Mix the spinach with a little salt, pepper, grated nutmeg and grated Romano (just because I am a cheese freak) and layer that on top of the meat. Then I mashed my potatoes with melted butter, warm milk , salt and pepper and layered that on top. A dusting of paprika (traditional) and more grated Romano. (not as traditional)

30 mins in a 350 degree oven and we had a quick, delicious, classic casserole with a twist or maybe just a cabinet stew!

Marzetti: A Traditional Irish Cabinet Stew

Back in February 2009 my husband said to me “could you make Marzetti for me? We used to have that at my Aunt Barbara’s every Christmas Eve. It was the best!”

So I said “Marz—what?” or better yet let me write it in proper Massachusetts accent: MaaaaaaZettttiiii (notice lack of R)

He explained the dish had ground beef, tomato sauce, noodles and mushrooms – it was a casserole. I commented that it sounded a lot like Mom’s American Chop Suey to me. He was insistent  – not the same thing at all!   We called Aunt Barbara – she couldn’t quite remember the recipe. Everyone was all grown up and moved away. Those Christmas Eves were a million years ago.

Like a good foodie, I set about on a research mission. First- by consulting my many hundreds of cookbooks. Nothing. (of course that was before I discovered Eat Your Books!) Next – the internet. Jackpot!

Thanks to Arlene Burnett, staff writer at Pittsburgh’s The Post-Gazette.

Johnny Marzetti is a casserole created in the 1920s by the owner of the Marzetti Restaurant in Columbus, Ohio. Who was Johnny Marzetti? According to the “American Century Cookbook” by Jean Anderson, Johnny Marzetti was the brother of the owner of the Marzetti Restaurant. Marzetti’s is also known for its salad dressings which are available in grocery stores, nationwide.

Wikipedia says…

Johnny Marzetti is a baked pasta dish, or casserole, consisting of noodles, tomato sauce, ground beef, and cheese. Other ingredients and seasonings may be added to adjust the taste. The dish originated in Columbus, Ohio, at the Marzetti Restaurant, and spread to other parts of the United States as variations of the recipe were published in magazines and cookbooks during the mid-20th century. The dish is still served in Ohio, especially at social gatherings and in school lunchrooms.

Johnny Marzetti also gained a great deal of popularity in the Panama Canal Zone, where it was served at social occasions and on holidays since at least the early WWII era. The Canal Zone version of the dish typically includes celery and green olives, and is almost always spelled “Johnny Mazetti” by Zonians. The importance of Johnny Mazetti to the culture of the Canal Zone was such that most Zonians are unaware of the origin of the dish and are surprised to learn that it did not originate there.

WHO KNEW…

There must be like 27,000 versions out there but I can see the tweeks between the Mid-West versions and the New England versions. Like the use of egg noodles (mid-west) versus traditional Italian pasta. (New England)

Using my husband’s memories and my research I was able to recreate this traditional family dish to his specifications. More importantly I resisted the urge to doctor up this somewhat plain dish. After all they are Irish! 😉 Did I mention 100 percent Irish?

I can’t possibly figure out how a mid-west Italian dish became a family favorite in an Irish family that arrived in Boston and never left the area.  Except Aunt Barbara. I concluded that it was her short stint in Wisconsin as a young wife.  She must have picked it up out there, but she really doesn’t remember.

Culinary “Fluke”

A week after telling a NH friend this story (who for the record also thought it sounded a lot like the American Chop Suey of our youth)  – she attends a family function in South Boston at her boyfriend’s sister’s place and guess what was being served? Yep, you got it – “MaaaZhetti”

So it wasn’t just a one-time incident in my husband’s family but apparently a “known” Irish traditional food! I asked around. Many other families around Boston also enjoy the Marzetti.  How is this possible?

Certainly the “melting pot” is what this country is all about and makes for some great eating and of course Boston does have a long-standing history of intertwining Irish and Italian food traditions. Although you don’t see many Italians eating corned beef and cabbage; no Irish family gathering around here is complete without somebody’s  famous meatballs and “gravy” or a pan of lasagna or apparently….Johnny Marzetti.

Marzetti – the Boston way!

Serves 8 -10 (freeze leftovers for another day!)

1.5 lb ground pork

1 lb lean ground beef

1 (16oz) bag of egg noodles (Barbara uses these but if you like.. use any long pasta that you enjoy)

1 med onion chopped

3 large ribs of celery chopped

8oz sliced mushrooms

2 (10.75 oz) cans Campbell’s tomato soup

1 (14oz) can of diced tomatoes

½ – ¾  cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 tbsp minced garlic (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown meat, onion, celery, mushrooms and salt/pepper in large heavy-bottom, oven-safe dish. (or use skillet and transfer to casserole dish) Meat should be cooked through. Add no other oil or fat unless you think mixture is too dry due to leanness of meat. Meanwhile boil and drain noodles according to package; leaving them just a bit undercooked (al dente). In final oven proof dish – mix meat mixture with soup and tomatoes, and optional garlic. Mix in cooked noodles. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake 30 mins.