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!

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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 🙂 )

 

 

 

 

Everything Is Better When It’s Small….

Is it?

Recently I bought some baby kale. Yup little tiny baby leaves of kale. Very adorable.

Isn't it adorable?!

Isn’t it cute?!

Raw it tasted kind of like a mild cabbage. I love all veggies so it was cool with me.

Hmmmm but what to do with it?

I made a greek salad using some of the baby kale as my “lettuce” – good but maybe not for the non-adventurous.

Keilbasa, pasta and baby kale dinner

I decided that the rest of it should be treated as I would with baby spinach… throw it in at the last-minute of a “quick pasta dish.”

These kind of dishes are quick and you can use whatever you might have on hand for veggies… frozen peas, canned beans, squash….whatever you have. I happen to have some fairly decent fresh tomatoes on hand. (A miracle during the winter in New England!)

I sautéed some onions, garlic and kielbasa in olive oil, and threw in some “Al Dente” cooked bow tie pasta. ( I used the multi color veggie pasta.) The fresh tomatoes, cut into big chunks, went in just to heat up and release some juice along with a generous amount of dried Italian seasoning. Last but not least, the baby kale. Just long enough to start to wilt it.

Serve in big bowls with some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and you have a winter dish that just “hints” a little bit of summer!

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.

Not A New Idea

I thought I was on the cutting edge by adding pumpkin to my macaroni and cheese – after a quick check of google – I realized this was not a new idea!

That’s okay, it was new to my Thanksgiving table and that is all that counts right?

I was craving mac-n-cheese AND wanted to add seasonality to the dish so I could serve it at the holiday table, so that is how my “mash-up” came about. I simply started with my usual mac-n-cheese white sauce and added a little extra nutmeg and the tiniest pinch of ground cinnamon. For the cheese I decided to keep it kinda plain with a medium cheddar and lots of salty grated Romano. (You could use Parmesan, I just happen to have Romano) Next I stirred in 1 can of pure pumpkin. (Do I need to say.. “not pie filling, just pumpkin?”)

pumpkin mix

Next I combined it with al dente cooked penne pasta and topped it with some more cheese. You can stop here and let it cool and put it in the fridge till you are ready to bake it or even freeze it until then. Don’t you just love a good make-ahead-freezer dish? I sure do!

When you are ready, bake in a 350 degree preheated oven of for 30 mins (longer if frozen) until it is bubbly and brown on top!

This recipe is based on 1 regular box of pasta and 1 14oz +/- can of pumpkin. The basic white sauce recipe can vary for me depending on what’s on hand and how “saucy” I want the dish. But generally I start with 4oz butter and flour for the roux and add in 2 cups of whole milk. I probably used 8oz of grated cheddar and at least a cup of grated Parmesan and/or Romano. Don’t forget to season with S&P and what ever flavorings you like…dry mustard, smoked paprika, nutmeg etc.

This portions out beautifully for lunch leftovers….if there is any leftover!

pumpkin mac and cheese