Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Behold make-ahead cold weather goodness:

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I wanted lasagna. A homemade, gooey, bubbling-with-marinara, weighing 10 pounds-or-something-that-feels-like-a-brick lasagna. I didn’t care how long the prep time was as long as it yielded enough for lots of leftovers and/or the freezer.

Traditional lasagna wasn’t in the cards this time around. Although I usually like one slice of a lasagna bolognese with a bechamel sauce, having the rest for leftovers is like eating an entire French Silk pie to yourself. So I searched for the perfect marinara-based version out there, eventually deciding to go with a roasted vegetable recipe from Ina Garten.

Like most lasagna recipes, it has many steps. The vegetables, as you can imagine from the name, are indeed roasted before assembling the dish. There is also lots of cheese to grate, along with a separate ricotta/egg/goat cheese mixture to whip in the mixer. If you’re like me, you also might end up making everything more difficult by adding your own steps along the way. Since this recipe calls for a vague “marinara” sauce, offering the jarred brand Rao’s as an option (no way I’m spending over 10 dollars on grocery store sauce, gourmet of not), I decided to make a quick 30 minute marinara on my own from two 28oz jars of crushed tomatoes. I used this version from Martha. I also wanted to make my own homemade lasagna noodles, mainly because I had extra defrosted swiss chard that was the perfect amount for green pasta. I used Marcella Hazan’s spinach pasta recipe from her seminal cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. So both of these steps probably added another hour and a half of prep work. See how I create small complications for myself along the way?

My thoughts on tweaking the recipe:

-I erred on being very exact with the amount of eggplant and zucchini that were roasted, and the dish really could have used a bit more vegetables. I say add a little more to the roasting pan, and if you don’t use everything it will work with another lunch or dinner. If you don’t add a few additional slices of eggplant and zucchini, I wouldn’t use the entire 2/3 cup of olive oil suggested. I would go for a 1/2 cup, maybe a little more if you feel that the eggplant is too dry.

-If you want a little more vegetables, I would saute 1/2 a container of sliced button mushrooms and adding that to the mix here.

– When assembling the dish, it seems like the amount of ricotta mixture looks a little overkill. I used all of it and it was fine.

-If you use fresh pasta sheets, there is absolutely no need to boil the noodles before assembly.

-If your casserole dish is on the smaller side, you might want to turn this into two lasagnas. (especially if you have extra amounts of sauce and vegetables) I was able to put this into a 9 x 11 and a 8 x 6 dish.

-If you live with carnivores that cannot live without a little meat in their dinner, this also works with sausage crumbles. Take 2 sweet Italian sausage links out of their casing, cook until brown, and top on each marinara layer.

-The overall dish is salty, which my household likes so we were ok with it. If you want to tone the sodium conten down somewhat, make sure your marinara isn’t overly salted. Also hold back slightly with the vegetable seasoning.

Recipe Credit: Ina Garten via The Kitchn

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. You’ll liable to get flour and marinara on the floor with this one. Get help with the dishes and you’re good to go.

Recommended For: Dinner Parties, Easy-To-Freeze Meals, Sunday afternoon meal prep.

Not Recommended For: Anyone avoiding cheese and/or nightshades.

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Roasted Cauliflower Pasta With Capers

november-pasta Pasta, if I may generalize a bit, is everyone’s favorite comfort food. Cauliflower is a highly popular vegetarian entree on it’s own. Together they create a quite yummy pasta entree. Despite it’s popularity, cauliflower is a veggie that isn’t usually my first pick for pasta toppings. But when you want pasta for lunch and you have 2 heads of cauliflower hanging around, you might as well go for it. This recipe gave me a reason to use half of my brassica stash. Oh, and the recipe is called Pasta With Roasted Romanesco and Capers, but says you can sub cauliflower or broccoli as needed. Versatility is my friend.

The recipe has a few steps so don’t bother when you need a 10 minute dinner fix. It also requires multiple pans: one for frying almonds and capers, then a roasting sheet, then a dutch oven, and yet another pan for cooking the pasta. The perfect detail from this meal is that it makes a full 4 servings of pasta, so even if you spend a little time on this then planned, you will definitely have another meal for a 2-person household.

Here are my tips/thoughts:

  1. Perhaps I’m throwing off the pasta-to-vegetable ratio here, but I used the whole head of a small cauliflower even though the recipe calls for half. In my opinion, the more veggies the better.
  2. I used rotini pasta instead of shells. Close enough, sort of?
  3. No white wine in the house = I went with chicken stock instead.  I’m usually a proponent of subbing one out for the other in an emergency. This time it worked fine – I can see why the white wine might flesh out the overall flavor, but overall stock was a decent stand-in.
  4. Best to take the recipe’s directions seriously and use a dutch oven for the pasta tossing. It’s probably not as fun or as easy to toss this much pasta & oily nut bits without high walls shutting you off from the mess.

Anyways, this gets an A for being leftover-friendly, flexible (choice of brassicas in the recipe, liquid substitutions, possible nut switches), and vegetarian.

Recipe Link: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 3 out of 4 stars (seriously, how many pans can you mess up for one pasta meal? Apparently a few.)

Recommended For: Dutch Oven Owners, Fall Sunday Dinners, Vegetarians and Those Who Love Them

Not Recommended For: Brassica Haters, Non-Tomato Sauce Pasta Haters

Spicy Sausage and Swiss Chard Pasta

CSA season, which lasts from May to November, is my crazy challenge. A CSA, short for Community Supported Agriculture, is a way to buy into a local farm for the growing season. You pay for a yearly subscription upfront and, in turn, receive a share of produce from the farm on a set schedule (usually weekly). The produce is, of course, picked that week and so you receive whatever is in season right then, with no exceptions. Some CSAs give you other share options besides vegetables, such as fruit, eggs, or cheese. I’ve been doing this for 3 years now. The vegetables are exceptional and I enjoy being able to pitch in to support an area farm.

The one downfall? My weekly veggie share is a bit, well, aggressive for a 2-person household. So I have fun with it and take a certain perverse pride in using up whatever I can by the end of the week.

This can get daunting, especially when you weekly box has multiples of one item. How many meals can you eat with cucumbers? What about kohlrabi?  Should you just pickle everything? Freeze it into small portions for later meals?  So many options, and usually so little time.

For the rest of the July I’m going to share recipes that have been helpful in my own weekly conquest to finish up the veggie box.

Behold, recipe #1: Penne with Spicy Sausage and Chard, AKA a simple yet elegant meal that uses up an entire bunch of swiss chard.

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A cause for a celebration.

This recipe is everything to me. It’s the best weeknight meal you can throw together in a half hour. It’s budget friendly and calls for normal pantry staples (box of pasta, stock, garlic). It also has room for improvisation. Don’t have chard? Cook down some other greens instead. No ricotta salata AND no feta?  Maybe throw in a salty cheese like pecorino, or perhaps even try a sprinkle of goat cheese at the end (I say at the end because soft goat cheese won’t toss well.) Clearly from the picture I’ve gone ahead and used ziti instead of penne – all in the spirit of improvisation, right?  Ziti, penne, whatever – I’m not really a pasta purist so it’s all close enough to me.

What really makes this dish stand out is the cooking down of the chicken stock. Don’t skip this step!  It works as a sort of binder and slightly thickens the overall dish with a savory sauce. It feels more complete instead of simply throwing together the ingredients after the pasta is cooked. Think of it as a more savory version of leftover pasta water that cooks use when tossing linguine and red sauce.

There you have it, one bunch of greens down. If you happen to have TWO bunches of chard, you can always cut the other bunch, blanch it in boiling water for 2 minutes, dry thoroughly, and portion it out for the freezer…

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Mini bunch of frozen swiss chard to be put to use later. (really, I’m not eating that now.)

Recipe: Food and Wine

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4.

Recommended For:  After work, ways to use up a couple links of really good hot Italian sausage, a crisper overflowing with greens.

Not Recommended For: Show-offs.

Grandma Style Pizza

I’m a coal-oven pizza loving person but I also want to occasionally make a pie at home. Yes, even if it will be cooked in my conventional, not-hitting-crazy-high-temperatures home oven. Ever since I was young I looked forward to homemade pizza nights. As an adult I realized there was a good reason for why those nights were so rare as a child: there are many little steps to homemade pizza night. Pizza delivery night, on the other hand, can be as spontaneous as needed. You have to really be into cooking to not just call in an order. Even if homemade pizza has a certain happy, soothing quality that can’t be replicated in a cardboard box delivery.

So in lieu of “professional” pizza cooked in large commercial ovens, this homemade grandma pizza recipe is easy to create at home. It is also great for a small crowd or simply for leftovers (my personal favorite).

Despite the prep time, I enjoy how this pizza recipe can be put together in piecemeal. The most important step to to make the dough 24 hours in advance so it will properly rise. The other steps involved, like making the sauce, can be done anytime within that time period, technically anytime before you are ready to roll out the dough on the sheet. You’ll also likely need to purchase mozzarella and toppings, unless you are really, really prepared for pizza at all times.

The sauce has a mild complexity to it and doesn’t need much tweaking. I do tend to throw in an extra anchovy or two because, well, umami is my favorite.

Overall the dough is forgiving, although I always have trouble stretching it out to reach the edges of my pan.  The recipe suggests that you wait a short amount of time after you take the dough out of the fridge to start stretching it, which I would also stress. Despite waiting I still have trouble. Luckily the finished product has yet to taste tough and overworked. The cooking times have been spot-on in my oven so far. When you take the first bite you’ll likely want to make a second pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner the following day. Luckily the 24-hour dough rise will deter this from happening, keeping you from becoming a constant-pizza-making-glutton after all.

Fresh from the over
Fresh from the oven

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit- Dough here, Pizza here

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. Relatively clean despite being a messy sort of meal. Not so clean if you double the recipe and add new toppings.

Recommended For: Sunday Football Parties, Weekends, Winter Meals

Not Recommended For: Pan Pizza Snobs, Events on Short Notice, Summertime

Carne Asada – Roy Choi recipe

This week I was set to host a midweek dinner party and thought a Mexican spread would be fun. While in the early planning stages of the get-together I almost either forgot (or more likely started denying) how many tiny dishes can go into a taco dinner for 8 people. Little did I think about how I would end up building on the details along the way. You need the taco meat of course, then a pot of beans, fresh salsa, then again maybe two kinds of salsa, guacamole, maybe even homemade tortillas, and so on…it all builds up fast. (don’t forget rice – probably with stock and tomatoes…) At some point you might start driving yourself mad with all of the additions. In the end it was definitely too much prep work for a Wednesday, but it came together nicely and everyone left happy. Oh well, next time I host a weeknight dinner party, I’ll stick to a nice hearty one-pot stew.

Grinding ancho chili powder.
Grinding ancho chili powder.
Jalapenos, post-broil.
Jalapenos, post-broil.

This skirt steak tacos were made with a nontraditional recipe from the LA-based chef Roy Choi. It calls for an amazing flavor combination including orange juice, a seemingly excessive amount of ancho chili powder, and a hearty glug of good ol’ Budweiser. The addition of Japanese mirin wine helps give it more of a twist to a traditional Mexican flavors. I mixed up the marinade the night before as it had a ton of steps. I broiled the jalapenos to create a charred exterior, juiced the citrus, and had one extra step that was not specified in the recipe but I ended up having to do: grind my own ancho powder as I only had whole chilies. The skirt steak was added to the mix in the morning for an “overnight” or 8-hour marinade. Really the marinade is a little time-consuming but works like a charm. I will certainly make this again as everyone was raving. The flavor is spot-on, the meat was tender, and it easily pairs with traditional taco accoutrements.

The finished product.
The finished product.

On a side note, we pan seared the steak on a cast iron skillet, as we are apartment dwellers without a grill. The smoke level in the house was intense, like really really thick and not great for when you have guests, but I would do it again with better ventilation and perhaps no visitors to a smoky grease cave. Still, super worth it for the flavor.

The rest of the dishes were super traditional and mostly taken from a falling-apart 25-year-old edition of Rick Bayless’s cookbook Authentic Mexican: Salsa Mexicana, Guacamole, Salsa Verde Cruda, Brothy Beans, Mexican rice, and homemade tortillas. I also made sure to have queso fresco, crema (sorry, store bought!) and chopped cilantro for toppings. Next time I’ll go for a few unique changes in the rest of the spread for fun.

Recipe Credit: Roy Choi, NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. Red powders, sticky juice, possibly smoke, and all sorts of dirty bowls.

Recommended for: tacos with a twist, large groups, summer grilling

Not Recommended for: midday dinner, food purists