Posts Tagged ‘italian’

Roasted Veggie Lasagna

This is not the lasagna I wanted to make. I envisioned an ALL veggie lasagna, with long strips of zucchini in place of pasta noodles, but it was not to be. As we walked through the produce section of the new Sprouts market in the area, I mentioned to Bikenut that I was going to make a little lasagna for myself for lunch the next day.

“I like lasagna,” he said.
“I was going to make the noodles out of zucchini…”
“But, I don’t like zucchini,” he said.
“Yes, I know, which is why I was only going to make it for me!”

Obviously, I couldn’t bear the idea of Bikenut being disappointed that he didn’t get any lasagna, and the mere fact that he stated he actually LIKED something (which meant he was more likely to actually EAT it) was enough to send me back to the store for the noodles.

Zucchini was still going into the lasagna, but I was made to promise that it would only be in half. I also picked up an assortment of other veggies to roast and layer in there as well: carrot, yellow squash, onions (half a red, half a white, and a whole small yellow), portobello mushrooms, white button mushrooms, and spinach. The other ingredients were ricotta cheese, a mozzarella and smoked provolone cheese blend, and a quick pasta sauce made the night before from two cans of tomato sauce, 4 cloves of garlic (minced), half of a white onion (diced), and a handful of spices.

Unfortunately, not everything made it into the lasagna. Having bought an actual bunch of spinach, rather than the pre-washed, pre-packaged bag o’ spinach, I had to make sure that it was thoroughly rinsed. This meant giving it a good rinse through the colander a couple of times, then soaking it in a bowl of water to get anything else off it, and then giving it a final rinse before patting it dry and putting it to use. It got as far as the soak, sitting in a bowl on the counter next to the sink, when I turned my attention to other tasks that needed to be completed. I figured that was a better use of my time than watching spinach soak. Unfortunately, that move and the fact that it wasn’t to be included in the roasting caused the spinach to be forgotten. Oh well.

I was a little apprehensive about using these “no cook” pasta sheets, and I was a bit happy that I had left my sauce a little thin so that the noodles could soak it all up and definitely come out cooked. So a base of sauce went down into a 9″x13″ baking dish, then layer after layer followed; pasta, cheese, veggies, ricotta, sauce, pasta, cheese, veggies, ricotta, sauce, etc. The veggies were chunky, so I only got to three layers of pasta before having to top it off with cheese, covering it with foil and popping it into the oven.

After about an hour in the oven, it came out looking and smelling amazing! Bikenut insisted that I let it rest for a good 30 minutes or more, but after 15, I had to sample it. I should have waited, because I didn’t get so much a piece of lasagna as I did a sloppy pile of noodles, sauce and veggies. It was a tasty mess though! When Bikenut decided to have his non-zucchini piece, he told me it was one of the best veggie lasagnas he’s ever eaten. To further the compliment, we were trying to decide a few nights later where we wanted to go out to eat, and Bikenut said, “You know, I really just want to have another piece of that lasagna with a cold glass of milk.” He really must have liked it to pass up a steak, honey-walnut prawns, or fish and chips at his favorite pub!

So here you go… hopefully everyone you make this for loves it just as much!

Roasted Veggie Lasagna

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

    • 2 – 12oz cans tomato sauce
    • 4 cloves of garlic
    • 1/2 large yellow onion
    • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon sugar, or more to taste
    • Herbs/Spices: Dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, fennel or caraway seed, fresh basil, salt & pepper

For the roasted veggies:

    • 2 medium zucchini
    • 1 large yellow squash
    • 1 large carrot
    • 1/2 large yellow onion
    • 1/2 large white onion
    • 1/2 large red onion
    • 2 portobello mushrooms
    • 1/2 lb white button mushrooms
    • Spices: Dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt & pepper
    • Olive oil to coat

For the ricotta filling:

    • 12-16oz ricotta cheese
    • 2 sprigs fresh oregano, removed from stem, roughly chopped
    • 6 leaves fresh basil, finely chopped
    • 3 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
    • 3 Tablespoons shredded mozzarella & smoked provolone cheese blend
    • 1 beaten egg

For the lasagna:

    • 4 cups of shredded mozzarella & smoked provolone cheese blend
    • 1 box “no cook” lasagna noodles

Instructions:

For the sauce:

    • Over medium heat, add olive oil to pot.  Add garlic, onion, and dry spices, about 1 Tablespoon of each: dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, fennel or caraway seeds, and a pinch of red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicy, or omit altogether if you don’t like it spicy at all.)  Cook until onions are translucent.
    • Add tomato sauce and simmer for at least 15 minutes, but the longer the better.   After 15 minutes, taste.  If too tangy, add sugar a teaspoon at a time, tasting between each addition to make sure it doesn’t get TOO sweet.
    • Remove from heat and stir in about 1/3 cup of chopped fresh basil.  Set aside.   If making the sauce in advance, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the veggies:

    • Preheat oven to 400°F.
    • Slice zucchini, squash, carrot, and button mushrooms into 1/4″ thick slices.
    • With a spoon, remove the stems and “gills” of the portobello mushrooms and cut caps into roughly 1″ pieces.
    • Quarter the onions, and arrange all prepared veggies on a large baking sheet.
    • Drizzle olive oil over the veggies, sprinkle with spices (about 1 Tablespoon of each), then toss to coat.
    • Place in oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes, until veggies begin to let go of some of their liquid and soften, but are still firm.
    • Remove from oven and set aside.  If making the veggies in advance, cool and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the ricotta mixture:

    • In a small bowl, add ricotta, parmesan, mozzarella & provolone cheese, and egg.
    • Add oregano and basil.
    • Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated.

For the lasagna:

    • Preheat oven to 350°F, and grease a 9″x13″ baking dish.
    • Spoon sauce into dish, covering the bottom in a thin layer of sauce.
    • Place a single layer of pasta sheets in dish.  Add a layer of mozzarella & provolone cheese (approx. 1/4 to 1/3 of the cheese.)  Add layer of roasted veggies.  Add layer of ricotta mixture.  Add layer of sauce. Repeat layering one more time.
    • Add a layer of pasta sheets, and very gently press down on the sheets to compact the lasagna.  Top with a layer of sauce, a layer of mozzarella & provolone cheese, then sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese.
    • Loosely cover the dish with aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for approximately 40 minutes.
    • After 40 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown.
    • Let cool for approximately 30 minutes, then slice and serve.
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Caprese Salad Sandwich

It’s been a hot couple of days around here.  When it gets hot, the last thing I want to do is stand around the kitchen with the stove and/or oven blazing away, and the last thing Bikenut wants to do is eat.  Kind of works out well that way, I guess.  Except that I still want to eat!  Tonight, I had a craving for Caprese salad.

I always have to stop and wonder what the heck is wrong with me when I find myself craving foods that I don’t particularly like.  Tomatoes have long been on that list; the only ones I really sort of remotely enjoy are Romas, and their miniature counterparts.  Thankfully, I was able to find the little grape tomatoes at Trader Joe’s with the rest of the ingredients since that’s the store we landed at tonight.  (I’m rarely ever pleased with any of the produce I buy from TJ’s, so this was a very good find in my opinion.)

Bikenut  actually did want to eat something tonight and opted for a deli-style sandwich for dinner, so we stopped by the fresh bread section.  As he decided what kind of bread he wanted, I reminded him that we had ciabatta rolls in the freezer.  I thought to myself that a roll might be nice with my salad, and then thought again, “Hey, why not a Caprese salad sandwich?”  Turns out Bikenut had a Caprese salad sandwich for dinner too, since the lunch meat he thought was in the fridge was gone.

The nice thing about this “recipe” is that it *is* a sandwich, and so there’s no measuring or any fussing.  Just grab what you want, slap it between the slices of bread and eat!  So, here’s the mostly photographic directions, along with the list of ingredients I used, to be tinkered with and applied in the amounts that you prefer. 🙂

Ingredients:

  • Bread, 2 slices – toasted (I used a ciabatta roll)
  • Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • Fresh whole basil leaves
  • Mozzarella cheese (a big ball of it! sliced into rounds)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Directions:

  1. Gather all of your ingredients.
  2. Lightly drizzle the toasted bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  3. Stack the mozzarella, tomatoes and basil on one slice of bread.  Season with salt & pepper.  Top with other slice of bread.
  4. Buon appetito!

The Universe’s Best Pasta Sauce

Bikenut and I are having a few people over to watch Lost tonight.  We started this little gathering last season, and have decided to carry on through this final season.  Typically, I had my brother and his wife over, or they’d have us over, and our friend Alim would join us most times as well.

Since then, we’ve had to forfeit our long couch to make room for the chair that used to live in the living room, but then moved to the bedroom, and had to move back to the living room because we bought a bigger bed — but I digress.  Point is, we don’t have a lot of seating at this particular juncture, and while my brother and his wife won’t be joining us due to work and school commitments, Alim will be here, and we have two newcomers to our Lost dinner.  I have no idea where everyone will sit, but we’ll find a way!  Hopefully that way doesn’t involve this awesome pasta sauce ending up all over my carpet.

This is definitely not good for the carpet. Pasta, yes. Carpet, no.

Pasta is a relatively cheap meal, unless you’re me, then you somehow manage to spend $91 at Safeway when you are just popping in to pick up a few things.  A little more than half of that was for the dinner tonight, and probably about a quarter of that was unnecessary expense (bought two cans of things when I only needed one can, bought organically grown products,  etc.) or for multiple use items (like spices.)   But honestly, how can I complain about feeding 5 people and having leftovers for additional meals all for around $40?

On to the actual reason for this post — the pasta sauce!  I nabbed the basics of this recipe from allrecipes.com.  It was billed as “World’s Best Pasta Sauce!” so you know I had to try it out — and then tweak it to make it my own.  Now I think it’s the Universe’s Best Pasta Sauce!

Added the cubed onions and fresh basil to the mix.

The original recipe calls for all dried spices, but I really like the flavor that a ton of fresh basil adds to the sauce.  The original also called for fennel, in addition to the fennel already in the Italian sausage.  I like fennel more these days, but I think there’s enough in the sausage to not have to add more.  Add more basil instead!

Simmered for about an hour and a half.

I usually add a whole pound of mushrooms to this sauce, but one of our guests tonight is allergic to them.  I want to be a good hostess and not kill my guests, so I left out the mushrooms.  Guess what!  The sauce is still awesome!  It’s been simmering for about 5 hours now, so I’m going to go re-sample it again.  Enjoy!

The Universe’s Best Pasta Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage
  • 1.5 lb lean ground beef
  • 2 large onions, 1 diced & 1 cubed
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 (28oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
  • 2 (6.5oz) cans tomato paste
  • 1 (3.8oz) can of sliced black olives
  • 1 lb fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 bunch fresh basil (hand torn or chiffonade)
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a large pot or dutch oven, cook the sausage, beef, diced onion, and garlic over medium heat until well-browned; drain fat.
  2. Stir in whole tomatoes (with liquid), tomato sauce, tomato paste, and water.
  3. Stir in sugar, Italian seasoning, salt & pepper.
  4. Add cubed onion, mushrooms, olives and 1/2 bunch of basil.
  5. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve with your favorite pasta, top with Romano and/or Parmesan cheese and garnish with remaining basil.

Minestrone Soup ala Peep

After an atypically spendy Christmas, and to cater more to Bikenut’s new year resolution to eat healthier, I’ve been thinking of ways to stretch our dollars and pack more fruits and veggies into our diets.  The first thing that came to mind was to make a big pot of soup or stew that would last us at least a few days, if not the whole week.  I opted for a vegetable soup, since that accomplished all of my goals in one fell swoop.

Of course, I didn’t think about the blog until everything was in the pot, so you’ll have to settle for a picture of the finished product and the list of ingredients.  Sorry about that.  I did the same thing with the teriyaki chicken I made a couple of weeks ago, which I thought I created a draft post for but apparently did not. 😛

One thing to note… when I say to use a large pot, make sure it’s at least 5.5 quarts.  My cast iron pot is 5.5 quarts and it is filled to the brim!

At any rate, here’s the recipe…

Minestrone Soup ala Peep

Ingredients:

The broth:

  • 2 – 32oz containers of beef broth
  • 1 – 8oz can of tomato paste
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon dried parsley
  • Dash of each: celery seed, nutmeg, thyme
  • Salt & pepper to taste

The rest:

  • 1 can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans)
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans
  • 1 large white onion, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1 jumbo russet potato, cut into large dice
  • 1 large carrot, cut into large dice
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup of dry mini ravioli pasta (or your favorite small pasta shape)
  • 2 ears of white corn, cut from the cob
  • 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1 large yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 1/2 cup of frozen chopped spinach (or equal amount of fresh)
  • 1/2 small cabbage, cored and chopped

Directions:

  1. In a large soup pot, add all broth ingredients and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer while preparing the vegetables.
  2. Add cannellinis, garbanzos, onion, potato, carrot, celery and pasta.  Bring back to boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Add corn, zucchini, and yellow squash.  Cover and reduce heat to simmer.
  4. Check the potatoes, carrots and pasta for doneness.  When tender, add spinach and cabbage.  Simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Serve topped with grated parmesan.

Mushroom Risotto

Every time I tell Bikenut I’m going to make risotto, he always asks the same question, “That’s pasta, right?”  “No, silly.  ‘Risotto’ is Italian for ‘rice’.  You are thinking of orzo, which is a rice-shaped pasta.”  “Are you sure?”  Who is the cook here!?  Of course I’m sure!!!

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Every time I make risotto, I always hope that it will take less time to cook this time than it did the last time.  That never happens.  I’m always standing in front of the stove for about 45 minutes, but the reward for that effort is usually worth it.  This time was not an exception.

I’ve made a few risottos since I became somewhat obsessed with them a couple of years ago.  Surprisingly, with mushrooms being one of my all-time favorite ingredients, I’ve only attempted a mushroom risotto once before.  (That happened to be one time that the effort was not well-rewarded.)  I opted to try it again because I needed to use up the mushrooms I bought at the farmer’s market this past weekend.

First things first, the mushrooms (a combination of both white and brown) had to be cleaned and sliced.  I don’t know about you, but I wash my mushrooms under running water.  I go as far as to use a vegetable brush on them.  And each time I clean mushrooms, I think of my friend and one-time co-worker saying, “I bet you’re just like me and scrub those things!  I don’t trust that ‘Just brush them with a damp paper towel’ business.”  Yeah, me either!  It was another saying that would circulate through our group that reinforced that behavior — “They treat us like mushrooms — keep us in the dark and cover us with ****…”  Not something I want in my risotto, that’s for sure!

I started the risotto off by heating up some chicken broth (a 32oz carton) in a pot, and putting my 10″ stainless steel pan over medium-high heat and adding a swirl of olive oil.   Once that was good and warmed up, I added a little bit of butter and 3/4 of a cup of rice, gave it all a stir to coat the rice in the oil, then tossed in the mushrooms along with some salt and pepper, a half teaspoon each of dried thyme, garlic powder and onion powder.   (You could use fresh thyme, garlic and onion, but I didn’t have any on hand.)  I sauteed the mixture until the rice took on a nice golden color.

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Toasty rice... and mushrooms!

From this point on is where all the time and devotion to risotto is spent.  Once your rice is all toasty, you start adding the hot broth.

TIP: The trick to risotto is to use HOT broth, and to add it in stages until the rice is cooked through.  I typically add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of broth at a time, then stir, stir, stir until the broth has been absorbed.  Once the risotto starts looking dry again, it’s time to add another 1/2 cup of broth to the rice, and stir, stir, stir.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

You may need to heat additional broth (or if you are like me and run out of broth, you can use hot water) to continue this process until the rice is fully cooked.  I usually start biting into undercooked grains of rice at about the time I have one to two more portions of broth left to determine if I need to start heating more.   In this case, I did need to heat some water, but before adding the last bit of chicken broth, I tossed 2 sliced green onions into the broth to blanch them a bit, then poured it all into the risotto pan when it was ready for more broth.

mushroom_risotto2

Almost time for more broth!

I have started to cheat on my risottos.  I don’t stir constantly, like every recipe I have seen has said I should do.  My arm gets tired!  And to be honest, my best risottos have been the ones where I’ve “forgotten” about it between adding the broth and giving it an initial stir.  Once the rice starts to puff up and is mostly al dente, then the constant stirring is actually more critical because it starts to stick together (and to the pan) a little more.

When I notice that the risotto starts taking on this creamy appearance, I start tooth-testing a bit more.  My advice to you is, once you think that it’s done, hit it with another dose of broth.   It usually won’t suffer for the added liquid, and it’s better to be safe than to have spent 45 minutes stirring rice and broth around only to have undercooked risotto in the end.

Give it a final taste for seasoning adjustments, and you’re done!  To serve it up, just put it in a nice bowl or along side a nice pork chop, top it with some fresh herbs or maybe a little grated parmesan if  you like, and enjoy!

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Mushroom Risotto

mushroom_risotto3-2Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup of rice (arborio or other short/medium grain white rice)
  • 1 – 32oz container of chicken broth
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 2 green onions, white and light green portion, sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, dried thyme, or fresh garlic, onion, thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • Fresh herbs or grated parmesan cheese to garnish

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat broth.
  2. In a large pan, over medium-high heat, add olive oil and butter.
  3. When butter has melted, add rice to the pan, stir to coat.
  4. Add mushrooms, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, salt and pepper.  Stir.
  5. When rice appears golden in color, add 1/2 cup of heated broth to the pan.  Stir.
  6. When the added liquid appears to be absorbed, add another 1/2 cup of heated broth to the pan.  Stir.
  7. Add green onion to the risotto.
  8. Repeat Step 6 until rice is cooked through and risotto appears creamy.  You may need to heat additional broth or water.
  9. When rice is fully cooked, remove risotto to a serving dish and garnish with fresh herbs or grated parmesan cheese.

Chocolate Almond Biscotti

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching Everyday Italian on the Food Network, and saw Giada making biscotti.  She whipped up these lemon almond numbers that looked really good, so I decided that I’d make them too!

Now, I may not appreciate Giada’s insistence on pronouncing every Italian word with an Italian accent, but she makes some delicious looking food.  My boyfriend, who I will lovingly refer to as Bikenut, went crazy over these cookies.  He seriously loved them, saying they were the best that he’s ever tasted, and even went raving about them to my friends at our monthly Aluminum Chef gathering.  With such a great response, I decided to use the same basic cookie recipe but add chocolate instead of the lemon to make Chocolate Almond Biscotti.

chocbiscotti_01

The ingredients, less a tablespoon of homemade vanilla extract.

I was really surprised at the number of ingredients that were used.  It was far fewer than I imagined, and these cookies could not be any easier to throw together.   To top it off, there’s not really much of a mess to clean up afterward — something Bikenut appreciates.  I mentioned to him that I was making the biscotti today and he said, “I hope they turn out as good as the first ones!  And don’t destroy the kitchen!”

Dirtying only two bowls, the beaters of the hand mixer, a measuring cup and a couple of measuring spoons, I was able to get the biscotti logs ready for the oven.  The dough is extremely sticky, and the tip about wetting your hands before attempting to form them is an excellent trick!

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Biscotti logs, going in the oven for 35 minutes.

While the biscotti was baking, I sat back down to do some work.  Ahh, the advantages of working at home;  I can take a 15 minute break and whip up some yummy treat, then let it bake while I respond to email and the like.  Sooner than I knew, the timer was beeping.  The first bake was done!

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Cooling after the first bake. "Biscotti" apparently means, "twice baked" in Italian.

While waiting the five minutes for the cookie logs to cool, someone came knocking at the door.  My neighbor’s new girlfriend (I assume) had locked herself out of their apartment and wanted to know if I had a chair that she could borrow so she could climb through their bedroom window.  Funny how you end up meeting some of your neighbors.

With Annie safely through the window and my step-stool returned, it was back to the biscotti.  The logs had cooled enough to be handled, but the chocolate was still warm, so it dirtied the bread knife I was using a bit while I was slicing the logs into the half-rounded cookies and left chocolate-y streaks on the cut-side of some of the cookies.

chocbiscotti_04

On the sheet, ready for the second bake.

Back into the oven for another 25 minute bake.  You can see in the picture above that the cookies are still somewhat moist, particularly towards the rounded tops.  The second bake drew out all of that moisture, leaving me with a yummy, crunchy, crumbly chocolate almond biscotti!  Now all I need is a nice latte to dunk them in.

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Chocolate Almond Biscotti

(adapted from Giada de Laurentiis’ “Almond and Lemon Biscotti“)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped almonds
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips (bittersweet, semi-sweet, or combination)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Line a large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, add eggs, sugar and vanilla extract.  Beat until mixture is a pale yellow color and all the sugar appears incorporated.
  5. Combine the flour mixture a third at a time with the egg mixture, beating until just blended.
  6. Stir in almonds and chocolate chips, then let dough rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Divide dough in half and place on a baking sheet.
  8. Wet your hands with water and form each half of the dough into a log, approximately 9″x3″.
  9. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove to cool for 5 minutes.
  10. Slice logs into 1″ thick cookies and place cookies cut-side down on the baking sheet.
  11. Return to oven, bake for an additional 25 minutes.
  12. Remove from oven, cool completely.  Enjoy!