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Archive for the ‘Pasta’ Category

As my sister said on her way through the security line at the airport: “I’m not eating again today.  Well, not until I get home”.  As is tradition, we spent the majority of three days being uncomfortably full, and now we’re hoping to take a break from overeating for a few days.   We had a spectacular experience though, and took advantage of our family’s diversity by having Persian cuisine one night, Norwegian the next, and good ol’ American to finish it off.  Pictures to come.

In case you’re not sick of feasting yet, have I got a beautiful meal for you.  This isn’t one of those recipes where your guests will think you’ve spent all day cooking, but in fact it’s just been whipped up last minute.  You’ll actually be putting in some labor time on this one, but it’s well worth it for the right occasion.  Ours was a lovely dinner with lovely friends before we all dispersed for Christmas.  I’d recommend doing it in stages – make the sauce and roast the squash the day before, and you’ll be golden.  I’m not usually too excited by white sauces, but the combination of the sweet, caramelized squash with this rich decadent sauce is too much to pass up.

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Roasted Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Garlic Lasagna
adapted from Cooking Light

8 1/4 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash (3 pounds or so.  I had a bigger squash, so just added an extra layer to the lasagna to use it up)
 Cooking spray
4 cups fat-free milk, divided
2 Tbsp dried rosemary
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (8-ounce) package no-boil precooked lasagna noodles
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
1/2 cup whipping cream

Arrange butternut squash in a single layer in a large roasting pan coated with cooking spray. Coat squash with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 25 minutes or until squash is just tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Lower oven temperature to 350°.

Combine 3 1/2 cups milk and rosemary in a medium saucepan and simmer on medium heat 5 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Let stand 10 minutes. Strain milk through a fine sieve into a bowl; discard rosemary.

Lightly spoon all-purpose flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and remaining 1/2 cup milk, stirring flour mixture with a whisk until well blended to form a slurry.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic; cook 1 minute or until tender, stirring constantly. Stir in steeped milk, and increase heat to medium-high. Gradually add slurry to pan, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cook 15 minutes or until thick, stirring frequently. Remove from heat; stir in 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Combine milk mixture and squash, tossing gently.

Spread about 1 1/2 cups squash mixture into the bottom of an 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 3 noodles over squash mixture; top with 2 cups squash mixture and 1/4 cup cheese. Repeat layers once or twice with 3 noodles, 2 cups of squash, and 1/4 cup of cheese. Top with 3 noodles.

Just before your guests are due to arrive, beat whipping cream and remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt with mixer at high speed until soft peaks form. Spread the whipping cream mixture over noodles; sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Cover with foil coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 15 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.

I’ve got another week off from work (eat that, suckas!), so am planning to tend to the winter garden (artichokes are so happy right now, but the beets, chard and turnips have been a little neglected), clean the house, and generally nest, getting ready to start 2008 on the right foot.

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Things came to a head last weekend – we had bags and bags of tomatoes and peppers, starting to lose firmness.  It was clear that drastic steps needed to be taken.  I made this sauce in a couple of steps, so I’ve written it up as such.  You’re welcome to do the marathon pasta sauce session if you’d like…

Carrie’s End of Summer Harvest Sauce

3 bell peppers, seeded and halved lengthwise (I had orange and red bells)
1 onion, sliced into 1-inch slices
5 cloves garlic, peeled
about 4 lbs tomatoes (give or take a pound), cored and halved

First step, roast these babies up.  I’m not afraid of tomato skins (and am a bit too lazy to peel them), so I toss everything with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper, lay them out on a large baking sheet or two (peppers and tomatoes should be cut-side down), and roast at 400° for 25 minutes or so.  If you’re anti-skin, peel the tomatoes before roasting.  Your nose will tell you when this mixture is perfectly smoky and soft and sweet.  Yum.  Allow this mixture to cool, then it will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days.

1 can organic tomato paste
One large handful fresh basil, cut into chiffonade
1/2 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

This is where your pasta sauce preferences will come into play.  I don’t mind some larger chunks of tomato and the like in my sauce, so I just use the tomato mixture as is.  It will break down into smaller chunks as it cooks.  If you like a smoother sauce, you can puree some or all of the mixture before continuing on to the next step.  Empty your roasted tomato mixture into a large pot.  Add the tomato paste, basil, wine, salt and pepper, and simmer over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes.  Stir occasionally, tasting often for spices.

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I froze a bunch of this in small containers, so we’ll have a big, flavorful shot of summer whenever we want it.

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My, that sounds appetizing, doesn’t it?  I suppose if my house were a restaurant, I would have to come up with a better name for this meal.  The road to this dinner started earlier in the week.  I had everything in place – milk, equipment, instructions, a microwave borrowed from a neighbor, and a hopeful heart – to welcome my second cheesemaking success, this time with mozzarella.  How the best laid plans…

Everything started out so well – the milk was separating, music was playing, I may have been dancing around the kitchen – and then I made my first mistake.  I stirred when I should have left alone.  Because the cheese never really set, I ended up with something in between mozzarella and ricotta – not firm enough to shape into a ball, but not crumbly enough to separate easily.

Imagine my shame in returning the microwave, untouched.  I didn’t even get to knead cheese!  Well, not yet.  I plan to tackle the mozzarella beast yet again this weekend.  In the meantime, I’m left with this ‘tweener cheese.  Waste cheese?  Not on your life.  This stuff is gooooood. 

Creamy, decadent cheesy goodness.  A perfect accompaniment to our dinnertime staple of salad.  It’s funny, I’m not really a salad person.  I tend to crave steamed veggies and warm meals over cold, crisp ones.  This is a CSA development, because I’ve yet to hear another suggestion for using up the heads of lettuce we receive in our box.  With the help of Annie’s Organic Papaya Poppyseed salad dressing, I’m acquiring a certain appreciation for the raw stuff.  When we are faced with an overflowing produce drawer, the salad becomes our vehicle for using everything up – enter the kitchen sink salad.  This one was the grateful recipient of 1/2 an avocado, some ready-to-be-used-or-tossed red onion, a cut up carrot, and some extra tomato.

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It’s a little silly to give you a picture of my mise-en-place when I’m making it up as I go along – I inevidably end up reaching for a new ingredient, adding more or less, and sending Chris to the garden for some fresh herbs.  So just assume that the picture is a starting point. I  had to find a way to showcase my fresh-made ricotta, and you know how I feel about baked pasta, so manicotti with greens it was.

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Chard and Ricotta Manicotti

1 package manicotti

about 2 cups ricotta cheese

1 or 2 eggs (depending on how wet your ricotta is)

olive oil

1 large onion or 2 leeks, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

a generous pinch of red pepper flakes

1 bunch chard, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped

diced tomatoes (optional)

2 cups mozzarella, divided

2 cups tomato sauce, divided

In a medium bowl, mix together the ricotta and an egg until combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and sauté the onions until softened.  Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute one minute more.  Add the chopped chard and cook, stirring occasionally for about 5 minutes, or until the greens are wilted and soft.  I added some left-over diced tomatoes that I had sitting around – this is optional, as you’ll have tomatoes on the outside of the dish as well.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Transfer the chard mixture to a cutting board and coarsely chop.  Add the chard mixture and about 1 cup mozzarella to the ricotta mixture and stir to combine.  This will be your pasta filling.

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add half of the noodles.  Cook 8-10 minutes, or until not-quite-al-dente (they’ll cook some more in the oven).  Remove with tongs and lay on a towel to dry. 

Grease a 9×13″ pan (or two smaller pans if you’d like to freeze one for later), and spread half of the tomato sauce at the bottom of the pan.

Now comes the dirty part.  If you have a pastry bag or some other fancy tool, you can stay clean, but the rest of us should roll up our sleeves and get to stuffing by hand.  I’ve tried other methods, but nothing beats the tools we were born with.  Stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture, allowing it to spill out both sides of the pasta tube.  Lay the tubes side by side in your prepared dish.  Repeat with the second half of the noodles and ricotta stuffing.  When they’re all layed in, snug as bugs in rugs, cover with the other half of the tomato sauce and mozzarella.  Cover with foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown.  Invite over the neighbors, cut up some greens for a salad, and feast away!

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When strapped for a dinner recipe and sick of Rice and Eggs, I rely on my other fall-back – baked pasta. I have all the ingredients I’ll need on hand, so there’s no last minute grocery shopping – Pasta? Check. Cheese? Check. Veggies coming out my ears? Double check. It also has the added benefit of providing us with the perfect leftovers for the next couple of days. Every time I make this dish, it’s a little different, based on what I have on hand, so feel free to adjust this recipe according to your pantry. Got some ricotta? An extra handful of mushrooms? Throw em in!

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Carrie’s Baked Pasta

Olive oil

1 onion or medium leek, chopped

3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced

1 fennel bulb with the stalks removed, cored and chopped.  Reserve the fronds.

3 medium zucchini, cut into 1″ pieces

2 tomatoes, chopped

tomato sauce/canned diced tomatoes – I had some reserved homemade tomato sauce, so didn’t have to use the diced tomatoes pictured

chopped greens – I used turnip and beet greens here and therefore ended up with a bit of a pink dish due to the beet dye.

1/3 cup chopped parsley

1 lb pasta of your choice – I prefer penne, but only had these curly-q’s on hand

1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese – again, whatever you have on hand.  I had asiago and parmesan.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Sautee the onion and garlic until golden, then add the fennel and zucchini.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the fennel is tender.  If I’m in a rush, I’ll speed the process along by adding a bit of water and covering the skillet to steam the veggies.  Add the chopped tomatoes and tomato sauce and stir to combine. 

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Add the greens and cover for about 3 minutes to let them steam.  Mix it all together and season/tweak as desired.  If it’s a bit dry at this point, try adding some more tomatoes or a splash of water.  Stir in the parsley and reserved fennel fronds, chopped.

Preheat the oven to 350°.  Your water should be boiling by now, so you can cook your pasta.  Since it will continue cooking in the oven, it should be al dente (not underdone, but not mushy), so try cooking it for one minute less than recommended.  Drain and return to the pot.  Add the sauce and stir to combine.

If you’re really in a rush, you can just pop this on the dinner table with no problem – it’s a wonderful meal in itself, but if you’ve got the extra couple of minutes, you may as well go for the golden, crusty gusto.  Transfer your pasta mixture to a 9×13 pan and sprinkle cheese over top.  Loosely tent the dish with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake 5 minutes more, until the cheese is golden. 

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I had some extra goat cheese sitting around, so I threw it in some goat cheese/black pepper biscuits that turned out to be heavenly.  Recipe to follow…

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My neighbor has constructed a compost bin in our shared yard, and in order for it to be turned, she needs some of the garden space.  Luckily, it was time to harvest the chard and beets which were planted there, so I had tons of fresh-from-the-soil vegetables to cook for dinner.  I made one of my favorite special occasion dishes – Chard and Eggplant Lasagne, again adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  It takes a little extra prep work, but it’s delicious and lasts for days in our small household.

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1 box lasagna noodles, or if you’re superwoman/man, freshly made egg pasta

2 cups tomato sauce or diced fresh tomatoes – I had some homemade tomato sauce in the freezer and supplemented the extra with that pretty Trader Joe’s box

1 1/2 lbs eggplant, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

2 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the eggplant

2 Tbsp butter

1/2 onion, finely diced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped or pressed

1 bunch chard, about 1 1/2 lbs, stems removed and reserved (I also had some beet greens which I added in – any hearty winter green would work in this dish, I think)

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup ricotta

1 egg

3/4 cup grated pecorino Romano

8 ounces fresh mozzarella, grated

Almost all lasagna recipes start with boiling the noodles, but I find that it’s impossible to keep them unstuck and prepared for the final assembly stage, so I do it a little differently – details of my innovation to follow 🙂

First, if your eggplant is less than garden fresh, you can salt the slices and let them drain for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 400° and lay the slices on a baking sheet.  Roast the eggplant for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, flipping once during the process.  Remove, let cool, and roughly chop, setting aside (after you pop a couple of pieces in your mouth – it’s a wonderful dish on its own).

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil and butter in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and saute until soft and golden.  Add the chard and cover, letting it wilt with the moisture in the skillet.  When it’s wilted and wet-looking, remove and roughly chop.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.  Combine the egg and ricotta and lightly beat together.  Add the chard mixture and eggplant, and you’re ready to start assembling.

Now for my cutting edge innovation: I boil the lasagna noodles one layer (4 noodles) at a time, letting the next batch boil as I assemble the other ingredients.  I’m sure other people do this, but when I discovered it, I felt very smart.  So, start the water boiling as you spread about 1/4 of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch pan.  Add the first layer of noodles, followed by 1/3 of the chard mixture, a handful of both cheeses, and begin again when the next batch of noodles are ready.  Layer away, ending with noodles covered with the remaining tomato sauce and a handful of mozzarella.  If you’re not eating right away, you can pop the lasagna in the fridge for later – otherwise, cover with foil and tent it in the center so that the foil doesn’t stick to your precious cheese.  Bake at 400° for 20-30 minutes, remove foil and bake 5-10 minutes more or until the top is golden.

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I’ll post about the other two dishes later, as all came from the garden and I’m very proud.

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