Posts tagged ‘Italian’

July 22, 2013

Butternut Squash and Mushroom Lasagna

Pasta carbonara, pizza Margherita, and a fresh panzanella salad.  I love classic Italian dishes, but sometimes I like to experiment.  I had to make a vegetarian dish for a dinner with friends, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to take a new look at lasagna, traditionally interweaving layers of pasta, ricotta, ragù, béchamel, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

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But let’s take a step back. Many of you might be remembering that dire lasagna from church potlucks – soggy pasta and waterlogged ground beef.  I recall separating the pasta and pulling out clumps of tacky ricotta, while trying to remove the cracked fluted edges of noodle from the top layer.  Please, try not to associate frozen lasagna with a freshly made version – it’s not even comparable.

The key to this lasagna is the pasta, which lends a wonderful texture and coarseness to the dish.  Its chewy, dense consistency reminds me of traditional Italian pastas, perfectly al dente with a slight bite.  What I love about this dish is it’s combination textures from creamy ricotta, silky butternut squash, and an earthiness from the crimini mushrooms.  The luscious combination of ingredients can stand up to one another, and among all the flavors I can still pick out subtle hints of nutty parmesan.

This recipe is inspired by one I found in an old copy of Bon Appétit.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms, diced (about 3 cups)
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 1/2 cups)
  • 1 14-ounce carton vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped and divided
  • 4 tablespoons fresh sage, sliced and divided
  • 3 15-ounce containers whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese, grated and divided
  • 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated and divided
  • 4 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 2 9-ounce package lasagna noodles.  (My favorite brand is Rustichella d’Abruzzo Lasagne all’uovo These noodles need to be boiled before being layered into your lasagna.  The original recipe calls for no cook noodles if you want to take out a step)

Method

  1. Melt butter into a large skillet over medium-high heat.  I recommend using a skillet with high sides so you can use one pan for all your steps – heads up you’ll need to simmer your squash and noodles in vegetable broth so pick a larger pan than you might think.
  2. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 8 minutes and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.
  4. Increase heat to high; add mushrooms and cook until tender, stirring constantly, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then transfer the mushroom mixture to a bowl and set aside until you’re ready to assemble the pasta.
  5. In the same skillet, add squash, broth, 3 tablespoons thyme, and 3 tablespoons sage. Cover and simmer over medium heat until squash is just tender, about 6 minutes. Uncover and cook until squash is very soft but still retains shape, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Skim the squash from the skillet and set aside.  Don’t worry if it starts to fall apart a little, and discard the thyme and sage.  Keep any vegetable broth left over in the pan.
  7. Add 4 cups of water to the broth and bring to a low boil for your pasta sheets.
  8. While your broth comes to a boil, mix ricotta, 2 cups mozzarella cheese, 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, spring onion, and remaining 1 tablespoon thyme and 1 tablespoon sage in large bowl.
  9. Mix in eggs and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  10. Once your broth is at a low boil, place pasta in broth and let simmer for 3 min.  Once slightly softened, you can turn off the heat and begin to assemble your lasagna.
  11. Brush 13x9x2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish with oil. Spread 1 cup ricotta mixture over bottom. Arrange 3 – 4 noodles on top (I usually cut a few so I can cover the entire dish). Spread 13/4 cups ricotta mixture over noodles. Arrange 1 1/3 cups squash mixture over. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup mushrooms and 1 cup mozzarella. Top with 3 noodles, then 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, half of remaining squash, 1/2 cup mushrooms, and remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Repeat with noodles, 1 3/4 cups ricotta mixture, remaining squash, and remaining mushrooms. Top with 3 noodles. Spread remaining ricotta mixture over; sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.
  12. Cover with oiled foil.
  13. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake lasagna, covered, 35 minutes. Uncover; bake until heated through, about 25 minutes longer.
  14. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
  15. Serve with a fresh arugula salad!
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October 15, 2012

Rosemary Tomato Basil Soup

Tomato basil soup paired with a stringy mozzarella grilled cheese sandwich is a classic.  It’s been copied and modified a million times over and I still think the traditional rosemary scented soup and crunchy buttered sandwich makes any Tuesday night a little more special.

Soup should really be considered it’s own food group.  I pride myself in being the sole person to order a warm tortilla soup in the middle of Houston summer, or chilled cucumber-melon bisque when it’s 20 below.  (I happened to have both melon bisque and puréed corn chowder with chili oil at my wedding.)  There’s something about soup I find utterly addicting.  The combination of flavors, the variety of textures, and most importantly the crunchy garlic croutons, crispy bacon, or fresh herbs that get delicately placed on top and slowly sink into the silky, savory bisque.

The roasted, sweet tomatoes combined with the tangy bite of rosemary sourdough bread soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day.  The bread gives this soup a thick texture with a mouthy richness I often find missing in perfectly velvety broths.  Aromatic sweet basil with hints of mint and pepper brighten the flavor and offer you a taste of summer just when you think fall has taken over.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 28oz
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. salted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp. Italian seasoning
  • 4 large slices of sourdough rosemary bread
  • 3/4 cup light whipping cream
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • Freshly sliced mozzarella cheese for topping
  • Basil for garnish

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 2 tbsp. olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
  2. In a heavy bottomed stockpot over medium heat, sauté the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  3. Add butter and red pepper flakes and sauté for 10 minutes on medium heat.  Onions should become transparent but should not brown.
  4. Add stewed tomatoes, canned tomatoes (including juice), salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning in a large saucepan on medium heat.
  5. Bring to a simmer.
  6. Roughly tear the bread into smaller pieces and add to the pot.  I break up the bread so it’s easier to spoon out and purée.
  7. Next you’ll puree the soup in small batches, so I usually remove it from the heat and let it cool a little before I begin this process.  The soup should still have texture and not be completely smooth.  The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s perfectly silky in texture.
  8. Carefully puree, along with the basil leaves in small batches. You can use a blender, food processor, or better yet, one of those handy hand-held food blenders, right in the pot.  If you use a blender BE CAREFUL!  The heat will force the top off the blender and you’ll be cleaning soup off your ceiling for weeks, or you’ll burn your hands so just fill it up half way and pulse it gently.
  9. Return to saucepan and add cream and milk, while stirring, over low heat.
  10. Garnish with basil leaves, mozzarella cheese and serve with a warm slice of sourdough bread.

For a healthier version, leave out the butter and replace the cream with non-fat milk.  Enjoy!

July 11, 2012

Capellini with Arrabbiata Sauce and Grilled Chicken Breast

I can’t bring myself to buy jarred pasta sauce when it takes less than 10 minutes to make it from scratch.  It just doesn’t compare to the bright flavors of freshly made pasta sauce – and it’s not just better tasting it also better for you.

The simplest, and most authentic marinara is a quick sauce, seasoned only with onion, garlic, pepper, and, if you like, basil or oregano. The pieces of tomato are left chunky, and the texture of the finished sauce is fairly loose.  It’s that easy. Toss with your favorite pasta and you’re weeknight meal is a quick trip to Italy!  Once you have this base, with just a few adjustments, you can make a range of sauces from a few simple ingredients.

Today we’re making Capellini with arrabiata sauce.  This dish’s name – arrabbiata – comes from the Italian word for “angry” because of the spicy tomato and red pepper.  The sweet tomatoes balance the heat from the peppers and will awaken any palate.  The salty, charred flavor from the grilled chicken offsets the heat and adds an element of texture to this luscious bowl of pasta.  No need for take out tonight, make a large bowl of pasta for your family and I promise you’ll go to bed with full bellies and a full wallet. 

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast
  • 1 packet Capellini pasta (angel hair)
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, 8 oz.
  • 2 cans stewed tomatoes, 16 oz.
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 2 tbsp. red-hot chili pepper (use more or less depending on the level of heat desired)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 tbsp. Fresh Italian parsley, roughly chopped
  • Handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped

Chicken seasoning

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. Italian Seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder

Method

  1. Place large pot of water on stove to boil for the pasta.  Once it boils lower it to a simmer until everything else is ready.  The pasta only takes 4 minutes to cook so it’s the last thing you want to do, but you want to have the water ready to go.
  2. Place skillet on medium heat and add olive oil.
  3. Saute onion, garlic, salt and pepper for about 5 minutes.  You want the onions to turn opaque; you don’t want them to brown.
  4. Add diced tomatoes, stewed tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir in Italian seasoning and red-hot chili peppers and return to a low simmer.
  5. Carefully spoon out about half the mixture and place it in a food processor.  You can also use a blender but be careful and hold the lid down tightly since the heat will want to push it up.
  6. Blend half the sauce and add it back into the skillet.  This will add richness to the sauce while still keeping some texture.
  7. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and lower heat to low.  Now it’s chicken time!
  8. Turn grill on medium~high (350 degrees)
  9. Mix chicken spices in a small bowl and sprinkle on top and bottom of chicken breast
  10. Spray hot grill with PAM and place chicken over direct heat.
  11. Close lid and cook for approx. 6 minutes, then flip and cook another 6 minutes with the lid closed.  Chicken’s done at 165 deg. There is no rare or med rare for chicken. You have to cook it done every time! Try not to prick the breast much, it will make the juices run out and cause it to be dry.
  12. Remove chicken from grill and let it rest while you cook the pasta.  Don’t slice immediately; wait until you’re ready to serve.
  13. Return water to a boil, salt water (1 tbsp. salt) and add pasta.
  14. Stir well and let boil for 4 minutes.  Start the 4 minutes as soon as you drop in the pasta.
  15. While pasta cooks, add parsley and basil to the sauce.
  16. Drain well and reserve a cup of pasta water to add to the sauce.  This thin pasta is very delicate and will turn to mush if you over cook it.
  17. Add drained pasta directly into sauce and stir.  Add some of the pasta water if needed; it will help loosen the sauce if it gets too thick.
  18. Fill a large bowl with a healthy serving of pasta and top with sliced chicken breast.

Diverti!

February 12, 2012

Flip’s Spiced Chicken Sausage Soup

I came back from a business trip with a box of tissues, cough drops, and a sore throat that wouldn’t pass.  By day 4 I developed a hacking cough so I eventually gave in and went to the doctor.  Well, there I was, 2 ear infections and bronchitis and my other half had just left for New Zealand for 2 weeks.  I was miserable.  After a hot shower and a little dusting off, I decided to end my pity party and headed to the store for some key ingredients.

With all my congestion I wasn’t able to taste anything.  I know, my worst nightmare.  So, the traditional chicken noodle soup was going to need a little kick.  I made a twist on the original with a little heat and some Italian sausage.  It’s as if gumbo and chicken noodle soup had a child.  On day 1 I wasn’t really able to taste it, but it did have a great combination of textures from soft vegetables and tender meatballs swimming in a warm, silky broth.  I figured I’d let it stew overnight before adjusting the spice, in hopes my taste buds would make a quick recovery.  Thanks to some antibiotics, prescription strength cough syrup and decongestants, I woke the next morning to the fragrant bouquet of rosemary and Italian sausage seeping through the house.  Ok, I’ll admit it, I had it for breakfast.  I just couldn’t resist!!  The hint of spice and cumin, mixed with the expected aroma of thyme, rosemary and soft tender chicken was a welcome home.  By the end of day 2 I feel like a new person.  It has everything I needed in one bowl to fight back, who can ask for more than that?

I packed up my weeks worth of lunches, and as long as I stop sneaking into the refrigerator for another bowl it should last me until Tuesday.

Ingredients

Stock

  • 4lb. raw chicken
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 large carrot, roughly chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. thyme
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bullion cube
  • 1 gallon cold water (enough to cover the chicken and all the contents)

Soup

  • Homemade stock (above)
  • Chicken from stock, shredded
  • 2 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 3 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 handfuls baby potatoes, quartered
  • 5 Italian sausages, casing removed
  • 1 bullion cube
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper
  • Salt to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish

Method

  1. Wash raw chicken with cold water and remove giblets
  2. Place in large stockpot and add onion, celery, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, thyme, rosemary, salt, peppercorns, and bullion cube.  Don’t worry about chopping anything nicely, this is just to flavor the stock and it will all be strained out when the stock is ready.
  3. Fill pot with water until chicken and all contents are fully covered
  4. Place on stove on high and bring to a boil
  5. Once boiling, bring heat to low and simmer for 2-2½  hours.  The longer to simmer the better the flavor.  You can always make the stock the night before and let it sit overnight in the fridge.  Then you can strain it in the morning and you’re ready to make your soup.
  6. Remove chicken and strain stock
  7. Place stock back on stove and turn off heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes and then skim some of the extra oil off the top.  No need to go crazy, just skim some of the extra.
  8. Let the chicken cool about 15 minutes. Carefully remove and discard skin and bones and shred chicken with a fork.
  9. Sprinkle shredded chicken with cumin, paprika, and cayenne pepper.  Mix spices into chicken and return to stockpot.
  10. In a  sauté pan, cook onions and garlic in a tbsp. of olive oil.  Sauté on medium~high until slightly golden (about 7 mins).
  11. Add onions and garlic to stock along with celery, carrots, and potatoes.
  12. Use the same sauté pan for the sausage.  Remove sausage from casing and drop small bite size balls into pan and cook until slightly golden.
  13. Remove sausage from heat and add directly into stock.
  14. Add bullion cube and tomato paste, stir and let simmer.
  15. Let soup simmer on medium~low for 1 hour, taste and add salt/pepper if necessary.
  16. Serve and sprinkle with cilantro and Parmesan cheese.

I ran out of Parmesan so decided to try it with a little French feta crumbled on top.  Let me say, it’s worth trying!  The salty bite was perfectly balanced with the warm spice of the soup.

October 7, 2011

Sautéed Potatoes with Garlic and Red Pepper Flakes

I was on my own for dinner the other night, and I was feeling like a pile of hot, tasty French fries.  As I don’t have a fryer and don’t intend to get one, I went with the next best thing, sautéed potatoes with garlic and red pepper.  In the end, they turned out much better than any French fries, and for some reason I felt better about eating them, even if I did finish the whole plate!

I like my potatoes with a nice, crispy coating, but they’re still soft and creamy in the inside.  The only way to achieve this is to go low and slow.  If you brown the potatoes too quickly, they won’t get cooked in the middle, so you need a little patience.  I’ve tried par boiling the potatoes before sautéing, but they always seem to fall apart, so I just cut them up and drop them in the pan raw, that way they have a nice bite but still get cooked through.  The vibrant color of the purple potatoes will turn any sautéed potatoes into a gourmet dish.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. golden Yukon potatoes, cut into bite size pieces (1-inch pieces)
  • 1 lb. purple baby potatoes, cut into bite size pieces (1-inch pieces)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
  • 1 – 1 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt, to taste
  • 1 tsp. pepper, to taste

Method

  • Rinse potatoes under cold water; drain and pat dry
  • Cut potatoes into bite size pieces, leave the skin on
  • Heat olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat
  • Add potatoes once the oil is hot, sprinkle with salt and pepper
  • Watch the potatoes and turn frequently for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
  • Add garlic and red pepper flakes and toss until evenly coated
  • Cover and reduce heat to low. Cool, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.
  • Remove from heat and add parsley, stir until evenly coated
  • Add additional salt and pepper to taste
  • Let cook for a few minutes before digging in, they’ll be very hot!
October 2, 2011

Spaghetti with Italian Sausage and Creamy Tomato Sauce

It’s starting to cool down (well, maybe not in Houston) but my mind-set say it’s time for Fall, and with it comes a new array of dishes for the colder weather.  Pasta is my all time go to, there is so much you can do with it and I always fee like it’s a perfectly balanced meal, especially when you add a side salad.

Instead of starting from scratch with ground pork or beef, I start with hot Italian sausage, which already has a great base of spices and seasoning.  It just needs a little doctoring up, and you have a great base for any pasta sauce.  I love the heartiness of this dish, and the spice you get from the sausage.  The auburn color of the sauce reminds me of the leaves changing in Vermont, and it pops with the addition of the fresh green basil and the creamy specks of Parmesan cheese.

Ingredients

  • 18 oz hot Italian sausage
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground back pepper
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 6 roma tomatoes, diced with seeds and juice removed
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 chicken bullion cube
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 lb. spaghetti pasta (or whatever’s your favorite)
  • Fresh Parmesan cheese (I highly urge you to buy the real stuff, not the cheese in the green can that shall remain unnamed)
  • Handful of fresh basil leaves for garnishing

Method

  • Heat medium size skillet to medium~high
  • Peel the casing off the sausage and crumble into skillet
  • Add fennel, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes
  • Brown sausage and continue to break it up with a wooden spoon into bite size pieces, it doesn’t have to be even, just break it up as much as you can.  Takes about 5-10 minutes for sausage to cook through
  • Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and place on paper towel lined plate, leave the oils and juices in the skillet, you’ll use this to cook the onions and garlic
  • Lower heat to medium~low and add onion, garlic salt and pepper, cook for 10 minutes (this is sweating the onions, you want them to become translucent, not brown)
  • Add canned tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, tomato paste and stir for 1 minute
  • Add bullion cube, water, sugar and cooked sausage
  • Simmer on low for 10 minutes
  • While sauce simmers, place large pot of water on high and bring to a boil for the pasta
  • Once boiling, add 1 tbsp. of salt and pasta and boil for 9 minutes, or longer depending on the type of pasta you’re using.  I like mine al dente, so I boil mine about 30-60 seconds less than what the package recommends.
  • Strain pasta
  • Add cream to sauce and stir, then remove from heat
  • Usually I would recommend stirring the pasta in with the sauce, but tonight I wanted to put it on top so you could see the vivid color and velvety consistency of the sauce
  • Top with parmesan cheese and basil
  • Repeat for seconds!

Feel free to use different sausage or mild Italian if you’re sensitive to the heat.  I don’t find this dish too spicy, but it would be for kids, so just mellow it out to match your taste.  Happy Fall!

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