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!

 

 

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!