Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lasagna made with leftover sauce

Remember the sauce we made last Sunday? Well the meatballs and sausage are long gone, but I had enough sauce left, and the additional requisite ingredients, to make lasagna for dinner. I found some fresh spinach, and the whole onion I'd cooked in the sauce still had some life left in it. There was a pint of ricotta in the freezer, and a box of lasagna noodles in the pantry, so I was good to go. Plus, my hubby LOVES lasagna, so he'll be thrilled. What cook doesn't like satisfied customers?

One box of smooth lasagna noodles
4 cups of sauce
1 bag of baby spinach
1 pint of ricotta cheese
Tbsp fresh parsely
1 egg
Fresh or shredded mozzarella

Mix the pint of ricotta with 1 egg, fresh parsley, salt, pepper, and a handful of Pecorino or Parmesan cheese:

Add some olive oil to a saute pan. Add one clove of sliced garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add the bag of fresh baby spinach, salt and pepper, and saute until tender. About 3 minutes:

I uses two small loaf pans (8" x 3.5"), which are the exact size of the lasagna noodles, so it was very easy to put together. Start by putting a layer of sauce in the bottom of the pan, then place a noodle over it.  There's no need to cook them ahead of time:

Add a layer of ricotta and some spinach. You can also sprinkle a little grated cheese. Cover with a noodle and repeat the process (2 layers of ricotta and spinach):

Now make a layer with sauce and the sliced onion. You can also use sauteed onions, or just the spinach again, if you'd prefer:

After you finish that final layer cover with a noodle and sauce. Sprinkle with a little grated cheese. It should come almost to the top of the pan. Cover loosely with foil, so the foil doesn't touch the tomatoes. Bake in a 325 oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. 

Remove the foil, sprinkle with grated, or fresh, mozzarella cheese then place under the broiler until the cheese starts to brown:

Remove from the oven and let it sit for at least 20 minutes before serving.  The lasagna needs to set up. If you cut it too soon it will fall apart, and that's not pretty. Plus, like most food it tastes better when it sits for a while. The secret to a delicious lasagna is a good sauce, fresh vegetables and good quality cheeses. Serve with a green salad and enjoy!

Note: Try other veggies,and you can also add a layer of sliced sausage or crushed meatballs.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rosemary Lamb Chops a la Lisa...

I went shopping today intending to buy some nice pork chops that I could prepare in the 'Milanese' style, but I came up short. My eyes landed on the Australian lamb chops, they looked good and we haven't had them in a while, so that would be dinner. Plus, I LOVE lamb.

Usually, no matter what the weather is here in New England, I cook them outside on the grille, but tonight I wasn't up for it. So I marinated them in a little extra-virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon, and rosemary (the Greek-style) and decided to broil them. I've watched my friend, Lisa, cook them this way and they're always delicious. I've also come to realize that when I grille all year long, I no longer have the special 'first grilled meal of the season' experience that signals summer is around the corner. So maybe I need to stay away from it for a while.

I let the lamb marinate for about 1.5 hours, turning them once in a while. 

Tonight's Menu:
Broiled Rosemary Lamb Chops
Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds
Collard Greens sauteed with Onion, Carrots and Vinegars

Peel and slice the sweet potatoes into 1/4 thick circles. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast on a cast iron skillet, or in a roasting pan at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. Turn after about 10 minutes.

When the potatoes are golden, turn on the broiler. You can leave the potatoes on the lowest rack. Place the lamb chops on a broiler pan and cook for 10 minutes, then flip and cook another 6-8 minutes for perfectly medium rare lamb chops. While they are broiling you can prepare the greens.

Chop 1/4 of a white onion and 1 carrot into 1/2 inch dice:

Add 1/2 tbsp of olive oil to a saute pan and saute until tender:

Add 1.5 tsp of balsamic vinegar:

Wash and dry the collard greens. Cut off the stems and slice them down the middle. Now slice them across into 1/2 inch strips:

Add them to the saute pan:

Continue sauteing until the green are just tender.  Add a sprinkle of ume plum vinegar, or rice wine vinegar, to taste. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, or Taylors Toasted Sesame Seasoning.

What a combination! The slightly crunchy sweet potatoes, the tangy greens, and tender, juicy lamb chops. While enjoying each delicious bite, I thought of Lisa. She would have loved them.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

French Apple Tarte by Nicholas

My very talented nephew, Nicholas Flowers, posted this lovely creation on Facebook yesterday and I immediately asked him if he would do a guest post. What a work of art!

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

Nicholas just graduated, summa cum laude, from the School of Hospitality at Boston University, which if pastry making was part of the final grade it's easy to see why. Actually it's a rigorous curriculum of hospitality specific courses taught by a full time Ph.D. faculty, combined with English, mathematics, foreign language, history, and other liberal arts classes in the College of Arts and Sciences at BU. The program looks to be delivering some of the up and coming talent in the industry.

Nicholas' interest in food started when he was very young. At four years old he had a rule about restaurants; they had to have white tablecloths and serve pesto, or he wasn't much interested in eating there. I recall being with him in NYC during the depths of winter walking down Madison Avenue searching for a place that met his criteria. We settled in at Paola's, which thankfully was able to rustle up some pesto in the middle of February. They also had folded napkins that Nicholas was completely enthralled with, and Paola gave him one to take home. He may still have it.

Nicholas and I have cooked many meals together over the years, and I've watched him sail right past me in the skills and talent department. At 21 years of age I didn't know a sliver of what he has already mastered. His innate sense and understanding of how to combine foods, his presentation skills, and his composure and control under pressure are all remarkable.  Who's to say whether his career path was preordained, but it is rewarding to foster a child's interests and see what becomes of it. Of course with my own love of food, I was thrilled to have my little partner in crime!

We recently went to Paris together, so we continue to share our passion for food whenever we can. I'm so proud of Nicholas, and so happy that another generation is experiencing the joy that comes from preparing fresh, delicious, homemade food. Perhaps Paris was the inspiration for this beautiful tarte. Thank you, Nicholas, for sharing your talent.

Nicholas' French Apple Tarte
(Adapted from Ina Garten's French Apple Tarte recipe)

2 cups flour, plus extra for rolling
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
12 tablespoons cold butter
1/2 cup coldest tap water
There are two ways to make this pastry, by hand or in a food processor. I don't have a food processor, so I made mine by hand, but I will explain both ways of making it.

If making by hand, add the 2 cups flour, salt, and sugar to a large mixing bowl and blend together with your hand or a pastry cutter, if you have one. Dice the cold butter into approximately 1/4 inch cubes and add to the flour mixture. If you have a pastry cutter begin cutting into the dough, blending the butter and flour until the largest pieces of butter are the size of large peas. If you don't have a pastry cutter, run your hands under cold water to chill, dry completely, and then use your hands to break apart the butter and mix it into the flour. This takes a little longer, but it works perfectly well (that is the method I used). Once the butter has been sufficiently blended, add 1/4 cup of the water, blend quickly together until evenly incorporated, add the rest of the water, and blend again. When you are adding the water, be sure to lightly knead the dough rather than squeeze it so as to prevent overworking the dough or breaking up the butter too much. (An overworked dough will result in a tough pastry). Lightly work the dough into a ball form.

If making in a food processor, blend the 2 cups flour, salt, and sugar. Dice the butter into 1/2 inch cubes, add to the food processor, and pulse until the bits of butter are the size of peas. With the motor running pour in the cold water, and turn off the machine as soon as the dough begins to form a ball.

After either of the above processes, move the dough to a floured work surface, sprinkle with a little flour, and form the dough into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Remove the dough from the fridge, unwrap, and place on a floured work surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle that is 10x14 inches, using a ruler to measure. Cut the dough to this size and disgard the extra dough (you can reform it to a new disk, re-chill, top with butter and sugar, and bake for a simple cook's dessert). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the dough on the baking sheet. Chill in the fridge while you prepare the apples.

4 Granny Smith Apples
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons cold butter, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

Peel the apples and slice in halve from the stem to the bottom. Use a melon baller or spoon to remove the core with the seeds, and slice small wedges on the top and bottom to remove the stems. Toss the apples with the lemon juice in a bowl to prevent them from browning while you slice them (a little browning is fine). Slice the apples across in 1/8 inch slices, and keep the sliced halves together (this will make it easier to form the tart). Layer overlapping slices of apple down the middle of the tart, and continue on either side to cover the pastry. Fill in any awkward spots however any extra slices fit best. You will be able to use all the apples. Sprinkle the apples with the sugar and salt so they are evenly covered (it seems like a lot of sugar, but you need to use all of it for the tart to properly carmelize) and dot with the butter.

Bake the tart 35-45 minutes, or until the edges of the tart are browned and the edges of the apples are caramelized (will be golden brown). After about 20 minutes of the baking process, turn the tart around so it bakes evenly. When you do this, if you notice that any particular section of pastry is puffing up significantly, prick it with a knife.

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

The juices and sugar will burn in the pan, but the tart must be golden brown before it is cooked. Remove the tart from the oven, let cool for 1 minute, and run a spatula around the edges of the tart to make sure the melted sugar does not stick to the parchment.

For the topping:
1/3 cup Apricot jelly (sometimes called "fruit spread")
2 tablespoons Calvados (apple brandy), or water

In a small pan, melt the jelly with the Calvados until it is warm and smooth. Use a pastry brush to brush the jelly topping onto the tart, covering it evenly. When it is cool enough to handle transfer the tart to a serving platter (you can use a clean baking sheet if you don't have a large enough platter) and serve warm or at room temperature. Enjoy!

Photograph by Nicholas Flowers

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Italian Sauce with Meatballs and Sausage

Making sauce on Sunday is a tradition in my big Italian family, and I can't think of anything more satisfying to my palate, or my soul. My grandmother made sauce every Sunday, one only had to show up and she happily fed you her homemade macaroni of the day. It was always a treat, and a great way to catch up with relatives that I didn't see on a daily basis. Oh how I loved gathering around the table, eating delicious homemade food, and listening to the wisdom of a woman who raised fifteen children.  Grandma was pragmatic and she had a great sense of humor. Yes, she was a bit loud, as Italians can sometimes be, but she was also kind, thoughtful, and very generous with the little that she had. I'm pretty sure that nothing made her happier than serving her family a delicious meal. You felt the love in every bite, and the memory of that happy, boisterous voice coming from the kitchen continues to inspire me.

My mother, who married into the Italian family, took to the weekly ritual and it's her sauce (or a slight variation of) that I make today. We always had meatballs, and sometimes she threw in a pork chop. She added a whole onion, which adds a wonderful flavor, and if you're an onion lover it's quite tasty to eat along with your pasta. While my mother never had any fresh basil lying around in those days, we both use it now. We also like to add some good Italian sausage, as it adds more flavor, and you'll have a variety of things to pick at while the sauce is cooking. The evolution of the sauce, which happens over a 4.5 hour period, offers several opportunities to sample a meatball, or a piece of sausage, and enjoy the unique tastes that occur at each stage of the cooking process. Stay tuned and I'll point them out as we make the sauce.

Sauce with Meatballs and Sausage:
1.5 lbs of good ground beef, or sirloin (naturally raised meat is best)
1/2 lb ground pork
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano Cheese
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves of chopped garlic
2-3 tbs of water
salt and pepper

1.5 lbs of high quality Italian sausage
3 cans of San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz)
1 whole sweet white onion (peeled)
1 can tomato paste
Fresh basil leaves (8)

Saute the sausage in a little bit of olive oil until browned on both sides. Then set aside.

Place the ground beef, pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, eggs, water, and salt and pepper (about a tsp of each) into a bowl, and mix well. Roll into meatballs, then saute in olive oil until golden brown on all sides. Set aside with the cooked sausage.

Add the canned tomatoes to a heavy pan and crush with a potato masher, or your hands. Rinse the cans with a little bit of water to collect the remnants of tomatoes from the sides and bottom. Add this to the pan.

Add the onion, meatballs, and sausage (cut them in half) to the tomatoes.

Gently stir the sauce using a wooden spoon, as this will prevent the meatballs and sausage from breaking apart. Cook, covered, over medium to low heat (a nice gentle simmer) for 3.5 hours. Stirring occasionally, with the wooden spoon.

Here's the first taste of a meatball that's cooked in the sauce for about an hour. The sauce is still young and the meatballs have not quite absorbed the tomatoes, but it's tasty, and confirms that we're heading in the right direction.

Oh, I forgot to mention the smell. If you want to have dinner guests swooning the minute they walk into your house, then make this sauce. While I offer you pictures that I hope whet your appetite, you'll have to make it to experience this olfactory bonanza. Believe me, it's worth it.

At about 2 hours you might want to taste a sausage. Be sure to sprinkle with your favorite grated cheese.

Once the sauce has cooked for 3.5 hours, add the can of tomato paste. Use a rubber spatula (this prevents the meat from breaking apart) to mix it into the sauce, then simmer, covered, for one more hour.

Add the basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste, and let it sit for 1/2 hour. Serve with your favorite pasta.

 Couple of important things to note:
  1. We NEVER put oregano in our sauce. While I know it's common in store bought sauces, most Italians don't use it in their homemade sauce. My family is from Abruzzo, and for them it's a big no-no. Personally, I think the taste of oregano is too strong when paired with cooked tomatoes. Basil is much better.
  2. Sauce should always be a bright, vibrant red color. If your sauce is dark red, bordering on maroon, then you've overcooked it and the taste will be bitter. Just because Nonni was in the kitchen all day, doesn't mean that the sauce was cooking the whole time. A good sauce is a red sauce, so be sure that if you are taking on this labor of love that you don't over do it.
  3.  And that brings me to the love part. That comes from you, the cook. Putting your heart into what you cook for family and friends is what touches their soul when they devour every delicious bite. Make a sauce, invite some family and/or friends over, and let me know what happens.
Buon Appetito!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rosemary Chicken Cooked Under a Brick..

...or in my case on, and under, a cast iron skillet. I found this recipe while reading a tweet by Jessica Seinfeld. Jessica is also committed to cooking wholesome food for her family, and I have visions of her hovering over the stove while Jerry is in the background spitting out hysterical one-liners about the more banal aspects of our lives.

There's a great video on her blog, and I pretty much followed her recipe, except for a little addition at the end to deglaze the pan.

Rosemary Chicken Cooked Under My Skillet 
(recipe adapted from Do It Delicious)
2 packages of boneless chicken thighs (Trader Joe's has free range, antibiotic free that are nice)
Fresh rosemary (about 3 sprigs)
Salt and pepper
1/2 lemon
2-3 tbsp of white wine
2 tbsp of butter or Earth Balance

Place the chicken thighs in a bowl, or on a plate, and salt and pepper on both sides. Remove the rosemary from the stems and sprinkle over the chicken breasts.

Place your skillet, or frying pan, on the stove over medium heat. Add about a 1/2 tbsp of good olive oil. I got this wonderful cast iron skillet at Marshall's and couldn't wait to get home to use it. Actually it appears to be a cast iron pizza pan, but it worked well for the chicken. Note to self: Try pizza next.

Place the seasoned chicken thighs on the skillet once the oil is heated. Then cover the chicken with another heavy pan, or skillet. I guess you could use a brick if you have one handy.

Allow them to cook for about 15 minutes. Then turn them over and cook for another 5-8 minutes, or until cooked through.

Add the lemon juice, wine, butter, or Earth Balance to the pan and deglaze. Deglazing basically means adding some liquid to the pan to melt the small bits of caramelized food  that remain after cooking. Those little bits are chock full of flavor, and will create a nice light sauce. Remove the excess rosemary and pour over the chicken. Serve with a mixed green salad. The chicken will be tender, juicy, and delicious. Enjoy!

Note: Bone in thighs are fine, too. That's what Jessica uses in her recipe. I opted for boneless as they seemed to appeal to my teenage daughter a bit more. She loved them, so I guess it was the right choice.