Monthly Archives: March 2013

Ultimate Lasagna

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So, I’m not really sure what to call this dish. “The Best Lasagna Ever” is a bit subjective, right? “Roasted Red Pepper, Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna with Whole Wheat Pasta” sounds like a carnivore’s worst nightmare and fails to mention the chunks of Italian-style chicken sausage simmered into the sauce. “Homemade Lasagna” doesn’t sound right either. If I’m giving you a recipe for it, isn’t it homemade by default?

Perhaps I should just tell you about this “Ultimate Lasagna,” a carb and cheese-lovers favorite casserole that I created from many different recipes. It features layers of homemade chunky tomato sauce, homemade whole wheat pasta, homemade ricotta cheese blended with sautéed spinach, roasted red peppers and mushrooms and a generous helping of a combination of smoked mozzarella and regular mozzarella. It sounds complex, like a fan of Old English literature, but it’s not. It’s perfection in casserole form, if I do say so myself.

The great part about this dish is that you don’t have to make every component from scratch. I probably wouldn’t have made my own pasta, ricotta and sauce and roasted my own red peppers except for the fact that I am on spring break and nobody’s around, so the kitchen has become my best friend. If you’re pressed for time, you can just as easily use prepared ingredients, or prepare the sauce, ricotta and veggies a couple days beforehand. The components are pretty easy to make, even the pasta–but it all takes time. Fortunately, I think the finished product is well worth your time.

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Ultimate Lasagna

Ricotta Sauce
1 recipe ricotta (or 1 15-oz container)
6 oz fresh spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Salt & pepper

Tomato Sauce
1 recipe tomato sauce (I added 1/2 can tomato paste to thicken)
2 chicken, turkey or regular sausages (I used Italian-style chicken)

Vegetables
2 roasted red peppers, diced
2 Portabella mushroom caps, stem & gills removed, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt & pepper

Whole Wheat Noodles
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or, 1 cup wheat & 1/2 cup white)
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water

To Assemble
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (I used 1/2 regular mozzarella and 1/2 smoked mozzarella)

  1. Add 2 diced sausages to tomato sauce and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil, then add spinach, salt and pepper. Saute until the spinach is wilted. Let cool, then mix in a medium bowl mix together ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. In the same skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add mushroom pieces and sauté about 5 minutes, or until soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  4. Preheat oven to 375. Meanwhile, prepare the noodles.

For Noodles:

  1. Mix together flour and salt in a shallow dish. Make a well in the center of the flour and add egg and water.
  2. Beat the egg and into the flour with a fork until the dough comes together, then use your hands to knead it. Roll into a ball and let rest for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 9 even pieces and roll each piece into a 9×3″ rectangle. Place the noodles aside, storing in 3 layers of 3 noodles. Cover each with a piece of damp paper towel.
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.

To Assemble:

  1. Spread 1/3 of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9×9″ baking dish.
  2. Place three noodles in the pot and boil about 30 seconds. Remove from the water, rinse under cold water, pat dry, and layer on top of the tomato sauce.
  3. Spread about 1/2 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, followed by 1/2 of the peppers and mushrooms, 1/3 cup of mozzarella and then another 1/3 of tomato sauce.
  4. Repeat the process to make another layer–you should have used up the peppers/mushrooms and ricotta and have 3 more noodles, 1/3 tomato sauce and 1/3 cup mozzarella remaining.
  5. Boil the last noodles and layer on top of the tomato sauce. Spread the remaining tomato sauce on top then sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
  6. Place an oil-coated piece of aluminum foil over the lasagna and bake for 20 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling. Remove the foil and bake for another 30 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned. Cool 15 minutes before cutting & serving.

Adapted from Chow and Naturally Ella

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Homemade Ricotta

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I have returned home for spring break and there isn’t much to do, so I’ve been doing a lot of cooking and thinking about cooking. This week is a perfect time to try some food projects I’ve been hoping to work on. I want to master the multiple-day, highly involved croissant recipe from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook, but unfortunately the recipe calls for diastitic malt powder and after visiting at least five grocery stores in the state, I have come to the conclusion that it is not sold in RI. Which is a shame, because in the city I can walk two blocks to Whole Foods and they have it. Oh well, another time.

Although I cannot share the croissants, I do have something else to share with you–homemade ricotta! Tomorrow I’m planning on making a fully homemade lasagna (because I actually have time for that) with homemade pasta, sauce and the ricotta. Ricotta is surprisingly easy to make and only requires four ingredients, so if you’ve never tried making it, you should definitely do that. Like, right now.

I can’t say much about the store-bought kind, because I rarely use ricotta, but judging by the taste of the homemade version I’m almost 100% sure that it’s 10 times better. It’s super-fresh and flavorful and probably cheaper to make than to buy. Oh, and it takes less than an hour from start to finish. Are you convinced yet?

A couple weeks ago I tried my hand at homemade mozzarella with the Community Agriculture club at NYU. Making mozzarella is a bit more involved than ricotta; it requires less common ingredients like citric acid and rennet and there are more steps. If you want to try making cheese but are apprehensive, I recommend making ricotta before you move onto mozzarella. I highly recommend trying your hand at cheese making at least once in your life. Fresh cheese is unbelievably tasty and tastes even better when you know you’ve made it.

This particular ricotta recipe (from Ina Garten) requires only four ingredients: whole milk, heavy cream, kosher salt and white wine vinegar. Try and get the highest quality ingredients you can; you will end up with a higher quality cheese. You also need cheesecloth, which is not hard to come by and can be reused if you’d like.

The first step in ricotta-making is to prepare your strainer. Place a sieve or colander over a large bowl and dampen two pieces of cheesecloth. Layer the cheesecloth over the sieve and set aside.

Next, pour 4 cups of whole milk and 2 cups of heavy cream into a large pot and stir in a teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring the mixture to a full boil over medium heat while stirring occasionally. It could take up to 20 minutes for your mixture to boil, but don’t rush it. Good things take time! When the mixture is boiling, remove it from heat and stir in 3 tablespoons of white wine vinegar. Let the mixture sit for 1-5 minutes until it curdles. The mixture will separate in to curds (the chunky pieces that float to the top) and whey (the watery mixture underneath). If you tip the pot a bit, you’ll be able to see the layers separate.

Pour the mixture into the cheesecloth-lined sieve and let it sit for 20-25 minutes or longer, depending on how thick you’d like your ricotta to be. Every couple minutes, discard the whey that collects in the bowl. You can either throw this in the sink or use it in place of water in cooking rice or baking bread. This website has a bunch of ideas if you’d like to re-purpose your whey. I tossed most of it (and feel a bit wasteful, I will admit) but reserved a little to mix into my dog’s food, like a canine cereal. She seemed to love it.

Once the ricotta is to your desired consistency, transfer it to a container and cover the surface with a layer of plastic wrap and then cover with a tightly-fitting lid. The cheese will keep for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.

This may look like a super-involved process, but it’s not! I am so happy with the outcome of my ricotta and cannot wait to use it in a lasagna. I topped some crusty toasted bread with ricotta and a bit of honey and it was incredible. I’m trying to resist eating the entire batch right now.

If you have an hour, I suggest you go make some homemade ricotta. You will not regret it.

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The recipe comes from Ina Garten on foodnetwork.com

Oh, and if you’ve read this far, I’d also like to share that I’ve been writing some dining articles (as well as some others) for the features section of NYU’s Washington Square News. So I haven’t had much time to post while at school. If you’re interested, you can see my articles here.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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Happy St. Patrick's Day!

It’s never too late to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day! Make a batch of this super-easy Irish Soda Bread, toast it and slather with a pat of butter and cinnamon honey or jam.

If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can substitute whole milk plain yogurt thinned with a bit of milk.

The recipe from The Kitchn: http://bit.ly/WsC1IS

(Also please excuse the iPhone-quality photo. I’m on spring break and left my camera at school. Oops.)