lasagna with heirloom tomato marinara sauce and fresh ricotta

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Since it’s been such a long time since I last posted, I will try to make up for it with a three-fer:  three recipes that make up an AMAZING  lasagna – the addition of heirloom marinara and fresh lemon-y ricotta cheese make it truly special.  Of course, if you’re in a hurry, you can make this lasagna with store-bought marinara and ricotta to save time.  And it’ll still be pretty good. But it won’t be the same.  While I admit it is time consuming to make all of the parts to this dish, the finished product is excellent, and it was a fun weekend cooking project.

The sausage can also be omitted to make this dish vegetarian (here’s another recipe for a great veggie lasagna).

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Lasagna with Heirloom Tomato Marinara and Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Yields 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

2 to 3 cups baby kale/chard/spinach, roughly chopped (bought mine at Costco)
1/2 pound button mushrooms, sliced
8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 cups heirloom tomato marinara sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (see recipe below)
1 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 cup provolone, shredded
1/4 cup Romano or Parmesan, grated
12 to 14 lasagna noodles
6 to 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat one tablespoon olive oil in small saute pan.  Add kale/chard/spinach mixture and saute until greens are wilted, about two to three minutes, adding 4 cloves of garlic when there is about 1 minute cooking time remaining.  Remove to bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat one tablespoon olive oil in small saute pan and add mushrooms and 4 cloves of garlic.  Saute until tender, five to six minutes.  Remove to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Heat medium skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and cook until browned, about five to six minutes, crumbling sausage with a spatula.  Drain sausage, remove to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
  4. In the bottom of a 9 by 13 inch baking pan, spread 1 cup tomato sauce and cover it with a layer of pasta.  Pour another cup of sauce over the pasta, followed by all the greens and half of the mushrooms.  Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella, 1/3 of the provolone, and 1/3 of the Romano cheese.  Add another layer of pasta and spread the ricotta evenly on top, then top with all of the sausage and half of the mushrooms, adding a cup of tomato sauce, 1/3 of the mozzarella, 1/3 of the provolone, and 1/3 of the Romano on top.  Add a final layer of pasta and top with one final cup tomato sauce, remaining cheese, and sprinkle with chopped basil.
  5. Place pan in oven, uncovered, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.  Let rest 5 to 10 minutes after baking before cutting the lasagna.

 

Heirloom Tomato Marinara Sauce

Yields about 2 quarts (8 cups)

Ingredients

1 cup sweet onion (like Vidalia), chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup butter
10 large heirloom tomatoes, peeled and diced (I also seeded about half)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup (lightly packed) fresh sweet basil, chopped
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
6 ounces tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 cup white wine
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Method

  1. Heat olive oil and butter in medium skillet over medium heat until butter is melted.  Add onions and saute until translucent, then add garlic and saute for another 30 seconds or so.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients, bring to a low boil, then turn down heat and simmer on low heat for 30 to 40 minutes.  Stir occasionally.
  3. Serve with pasta and freeze any leftover sauce.  (I’ve also used 4 cups sauce with 1 pound of gemelli pasta + 1/2 pound of sauteed mushrooms + mozzarella cheese = 6 meals for 2 people.)

 

Fresh Ricotta

Yields about 1 1/4 cup ricotta

Ingredients

3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, coarse
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Method

  1. Pour the first three ingredients into a non-reactive 3-quart pot or saucepan.  Attach a thermometer to the side of the pan and heat to 190 degrees F, stirring occasionally.  Remove mixture from heat, add lemon juice, stir a bit, and leave the pan undisturbed for at least 5 minutes.
  2. Place a colander over a large bowl and line it (the colander) with several layers of cheesecloth.  Pour the mixture from the pan into the colander and allow it to strain for at least an hour.  Leaving it to strain for two hours will give you a firmer ricotta.
  3. Ricotta may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

 

bucatini with morel mushroom cream sauce

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morels

If you live in the midwestern United States, the short and wonderous morel mushroom season is either impending or currently underway.  While I’m still looking for my first morel of the year, I’m reminiscing about the dish I prepared with part of last year’s mushroom haul (and hope to make again very soon) – bucatini with morel mushroom cream sauce.  Now, I love eating morels that are prepared simply, sauteed with just some butter and salt; but I also love finding new ways to prepare and enjoy these little treasures.  This is one of my favorite morel recipes yet.  Happy (and safe) hunting!  Please don’t eat anything you forage if you’re not sure what it is.

Bucatini with Morel Mushroom Cream Sauce

Yields 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 pound fresh morel mushrooms, cleaned and halved lengthwise
3 cups chicken stock or broth
3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup shallots, finely chopped
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup parsley, curly or Italian flat-leaf, chopped
3/4 pound bucatini

Method

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, but save 1/4 cup pasta water.
  2. Prepare sauce:  In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add shallots and a 4 to 5 of the mushrooms.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes.  Sprinkle flour into the saucepan, stir to combine and cook for 30 seconds.  Slowly add broth, stirring until smooth, and reduce heat to low.  Cook uncovered for about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in thyme, salt, and white pepper, then whisk in the heavy cream.  Cook over medium heat for about 7 more minutes, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens.  Stir in the remaining morels and the parsley.  Cook another 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Spoon the sauce over the pasta, sprinkling with additional parsley if desired.

 

apple dip

I guess this is my minimalist post (need to do more of these so I can share recipes even when I’m busy busy busy).  I’m enjoying some Honeycrisp apples and apple dip tonight for what may be the last time until fall.  So easy and so good.

Apple Dip

Yields about 1 cup

Ingredients

1 package (8 ounce) cream cheese (softened)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  1. Add all three ingredients to a medium sized bowl and blend with an electric mixer until creamy.
  2. Serve with apple slices.

pork marsala

marsala

For some reason I’m sure I’ll never understand, I’ve never liked Chicken Marsala.  I’m not sure what it is about the dish that I dislike exactly.  I’ve tried to like it – I’ve cooked a few different versions of Chicken Marsala and ordered it in restaurants several times.  I’m not a glutton for punishment, it just seemed insane to me that I could not like a dish that had so many good things going for it. Mushrooms? Check! Gravy?  Check! Cooking with booze?  Check!  Who wouldn’t love all of that?  Unfortunately, the resulting dish was never more than the sum of its parts.

So when I found a similar recipe that used pork instead of chicken, I was game to try again, even though I was deeply skeptical that it would win me over.  But as it turns out, pork is the white meat for me, at least as far as a “Marsala” dish is concerned! It’s so goood! This recipe is easy enough to whip up on a weeknight, but fancy enough that you could unashamedly serve it to guests.  The base recipe is for two servings, but it can easily be doubled.  I like serving it with a side of mashed potatoes due to all of the extra Marsala gravy goodness going on – you can’t let that go to waste!

Pork Marsala

Yields 2 servings

Ingredients

1 pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, unsalted
1 medium shallot, diced
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Marsala
1/2 cup chicken stock or broth
1-1/2 tablespoons half and half
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped

Method

  1. Season the pork with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the pepper.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the olive oil, then add the pork once the pan is very hot.  Cook until pork is browned on one side, approximately 2 minutes, then flip and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes on the other side..  Once pork is browned on both sides and slightly firm to the touch, remove it from the pan to a plate and tent with foil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add melt the butter in the pan.
  4. When butter is melted, add shallots and a pinch of salt; cook for 30 seconds.  Add the mushrooms to the pan and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
  5. Sprinkle mushrooms and shallots with the flour and remaining salt.  Saute for about 1 minute, stirring constantly, to make sure the “flour” taste cooks out.
  6. Add the Marsala and cook until it has almost fully evaporated.  Add chicken broth and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.
  7. Add the half and half, parsley, pork, and any accumulated juices from the plate.  Cook until heated and slightly thickened, and pork is cooked through, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve with mashed potatoes!

(Originally prepared 5/23/13)

linguine with mussels and chorizo

mussels

I had never cooked mussels at home before I made this recipe.  I honestly don’t know how it took me this long, especially since I now know how easy it is to cook them.  Something else to keep in mind: cleaning mussels is less time consuming than cleaning shrimp (or at least seemed like it to me – notes on cleaning them can be found below).  That’s always a bonus when you want to make something quick during the week.

Notes about mussels:

  1. Make sure you are buying live mussels.  Try to use mussels the same day you purchase them.
  2. The shells of live mussels should be closed.  If you find any open mussels when you are in the process of cleaning them, tap the closed shell against the counter top once or twice – if it closes, it’s still alive and kicking in there, and you can go ahead and clean it.  If it stays open, discard it.
  3. Cleaning and debearding mussels is pretty much a cinch.  Scrub the mussels with a brush (I use a vegetable brush).  Then look for the “threads” poking out between the shells.  Grasp “threads” and pull – they should release fairly easily.  Then discard the “threads” and you’re ready to clean your next mussel.

Linguine with Mussels and Chorizo

Yields 2 servings

Ingredients

4 ounces linguine, or other pasta
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/4 cup red pepper, chopped
2 ounces Spanish chorizo sausage, thinly slices, then cut in quarters
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
1 cup tomato, chopped
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded (about 30 mussels)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

Method

  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat.  Add oil and heat for 1 minute.  Add onion, red pepper, and chorizo to the skillet, sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic and saffron and sauté for another 4 minutes, or until the chorizo starts to brown.
  4. Add the tomatoes and cook for two minutes.
  5. Add the wine, black pepper, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat slightly, add the mussels, cover the skillet and cook for about 4 minutes, or until the mussels open.
  7. Remove from heat, discard any unopened mussels.
  8. Stir in parsley; serve over pasta (optional: serve baguette alongside, to sop up the sauce).

French onion soup

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Happy New Year!  Here’s a nice, warming bowl of soup to enjoy on a day like today, when it’s snowing non-stop and unlikely to stop for a few hours.  This is a lovely  dish to enjoy after spending some quality time outside shoveling the driveway.  It takes a bit of time to make, which means it’s perfect for making on the weekend or on a holiday (like today).

French Onion Soup

Yields about 8 servings

Ingredients

1  1/2 pounds (5 cups) yellow onions, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
1 quart beef stock
1 quart chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
freshly ground pepper

Topping

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 to 2 cups grated Gruyere cheese
1 day-old baguette, sliced into 1- inch rounds

Method

  1. Melt butter and oil together in a heavy-bottomed pot (I used a 4-quart cast-iron Dutch oven) over medium-low heat.
  2. Add onions to the pot and toss to coat with oil/butter.  Cover, reduce the heat to low, and allow onions to cook for 15 minutes.
  3. Raise the heat to medium-low (or so), uncover pot, add the salt and sugar, then cook onions for 30 to 40 minutes, or until they have turned a deep golden brown in color.  Stir frequently.
  4. After onions have caramelized, sprinkle with flour and cook for 3 minutes; stir continuously here.
  5. Add the wine to deglaze, then add both types of stock.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover pot, and allow soup to cook for another 30 or 40 minutes.
  7. Before soup is done, preheat the broiler to 425 degrees F (I have an electric stove – not ideal, I know – and I place my oven rack in the top position for this, since my broiler element is located at the top of my oven).
  8. When soup has finished simmering, ladle it into oven-safe bowls, and float baguette slices on top.  Top each slice of bread with a dab of butter and sprinkle with Gruyere cheese.  Place bowls on a rimmed cookie sheet and broil in oven for about 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bread is browned in spots (we do 2 bowls at a time, since there are 2 of us – but more will fit on the baking sheet, if needed).
  9. Bowls are hot!  Serve immediately (leftovers will keep for a few days in the refrigerator – the next day, we just reheat the soup on the stovetop, ladle into bowls, assemble with baguette/cheese, broil, and enjoy).

beer cheese soup

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Brrr!  In light of the wintry temperatures we’re experiencing tonight, I want to share another recipe for a hearty, warming soup.  For the beer, feel free to experiment with different kinds – that being said, we generally use a light beer or ale, so you get just enough beer taste.  And if you feel inclined to make them, the sourdough croutons add a nice crunch (the recipe for croutons can be found at the bottom of the page, and makes more than enough to use in as a garnish; use the extra croutons in stuffing or freeze and use handfuls in soup all winter).

Beer Cheese Soup

Yields about 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12-ounce) bottle beer (we used New Glarus Spotted Cow)
3 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups skim milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese

garnishes (optional)

sourdough “croutons” – see note below*
fresh chives, chopped
bacon crumbles

Method

  1. Heat oil over medium-high heat in dutch oven or large pot.  Add onion and saute about 4 to 5 minutes, then add garlic and cook for about 1 more minute.
  2. Add beer and chicken stock to pot, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer soup for about 20 minutes.
  3. Ladle soup mixture into a blender or food processor, and puree until smooth (in batches if needed).
  4. Return soup to pot/dutch oven, bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for around 10 minutes.
  5. Whisk together 1 cup of milk and flour until smooth (I whisk the mixture in the measuring cup).  Stir flour mixture into soup, along with remaining milk, salt, and pepper.  Simmer on low heat until thickened, stirring frequently to ensure that the mixture doesn’t burn.
  6. Remove soup from heat, stir in cheddar cheese until smooth.  Serve with optional garnishes of your choice.

*Note:  For sourdough croutons, take loaf of sourdough bread, cut into 1-inch slices, then cut those into 1-inch cubes, removing most of the crust (about 8 cups of cubes). In a small bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Toss cubes in oil mixture, spread on baking sheet, and bake in preheated 400 degree oven for around 10 minutes (or until golden brown – check every 5 minutes or so).