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.

Weeknight Dinners- Linguine with Olive Sauce

I am an absolute sucker for anything salted and briny. Any dish that calls for olives, capers, and anchovies is immediately a friend of mine. Extra points if it also calls for lemon zest.

This recipe is one of those pasta dishes I like to subtitle “how to use up all the useless herbs in the fridge.” Extra herbs can always be a problem for a home cook. I find it happens most often with parsley, AKA the herb that is always and forever packaged in massive bunches at the market even when you need to use one tablespoon in a recipe. It never fails. I always feel a little sense of accomplishment when I’ve found a way to not let the leftover herbs in the fridge rot.

Overall this is the sort of dish I love to make midweek: cheap, full of pantry items, and flavorful. It is the sort of dish I might throw together on my own, but the overall ratios in this recipe make it worth using. As I said, I’m a sucker for the salty briny accents, and this has an overall zesty brightness that is balanced and hard to resist. The sauce is also a perfect match for linguine- which is saying a lot from me, as I tend to try to avoid long pastas at all costs. What would I change?  I’m definitely a maximalist when it comes to pasta, so I could have used a little more of the olive sauce and the breadcrumbs. Most people would be fine with the amount allotted, however.

Herby olive goodness.
Herby olive goodness.

Some final notes:

– I used green castelvetrano olives and oil-packed Italian anchovies. I think using the best ingredients possible here is a must for flavor, if you can swing it. (although the capers used were the ones packed in brine, not the supposedly-superior salt cured variety)

– The green olive sauce seemed to not need salt- I thought the dish was fine as-is. I did lightly salt the breadcrumbs as the recipe states.

-I used all the pasta water suggested and thought it might have needed a little more liquid when tossing, so leave a little extra just in case.

Recipe CreditBon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 2.5 out of 4. Lots of chopping, mincing, and zesting, but nothing too intense.

Recommended for: Olive fanatics, weeknight dinners.

Not Recommended for: Anchovy haters!