Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wish This Were My Lasagna

This is based on a gorgeous lasagna that my friend made for me several weeks ago. She, at first, based it on my original recipe, but couldn't resist changing things to suit her palate. I think it is a superior lasagna to mine, and I only wish I had another one sitting in my fridge right now. I also wish I'd taken photos before it was devoured.

The essential difference between hers and mine is fresh, farmers' market tomatoes picked at the height of ripeness at the end of the season. I generally use canned or even (gasp!) a jar of spaghetti sauce, mixed with a few fresh, pureed tomatoes. However, she used 4 pounds of the reddest, ripest, most burstingly perfect tomatoes I have seen in a very long time. The tomatoes didn't even come from NJ -- they were grown in northern California! Additionally, what also may have contributed to the intense flavor was the fact that she chopped these tomatoes very slowly while chatting outside, inadvertently allowing the tomatoes to warm somewhat in the sun. I think that she and the tomatoes were out sunning on the deck for about 45 minutes in total, but I have no scientific proof that this additional sunshine changes the recipe any. I believe, however, that chopping while having a leisurely chat at least improves the cooking process.

3 boxes no-boil lasagne noodles
28 oz. ricotta
2 eggs
1 c. parmesan cheese
handful fresh italian parsley, chopped fine
4 cups shredded mozzarella

for sauce:

1/2 small onion, minced.
2 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
4 pounds fresh, very ripe tomatoes.
5 leaves or so fresh basil.
1 sprig fresh oregano
2 tablespoons of tomato paste
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350.

For the sauce:

First, cut tomatoes into 8ths, set aside. Saute the onion in olive oil over low heat, season with a sprinkle of salt, wait a few minutes, and add garlic. Saute until onions are translucent and a tad brown. Add tomato paste and cook till brown and thick- 5 minutes.

Pour in a bit of the juice from tomatoes and scrape up the sides. Sprinkle with more salt and add a grinding of pepper. Add tomatoes and let simmer, stirring, for about 5 minutes.
Get out the stick blender (or put half of the sauce in a blender then put back) and give it a few rounds; taste for salt and pepper. Cook another five minutes. Chop up the basil, it's best to do it right before and tear apart the thyme. Add to sauce; cook 5 more minutes. Finally, add two or three tablespoons of really good olive oil and stir well.

Meanwhile, mix together ricotta, eggs, parsley, parmesan, salt and pepper.

The single most important thing to do when making lasagne is this: first spray your lasagne pan with spray oil (preferably olive oil). Then spoon down a layer of tomato sauce, and to make it even better, follow that by a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes. This ensures that the noodles don't stick to the bottom of the pan (and then burn).

Layer the pan this way:
noodles (do not let noodles overlap - break them to fit)
ricotta mixture
ricotta mixture

Finally, top with more parmesan and a thick layer of shredded mozzarella cheese. Bake covered for about 45 minutes, at 350. Remove cover and continue baking another 15 minutes, or until cheese is browned and bubbling.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Roasted White Vegetable Soup

I would love to include pictures of this soup, but it seems that I have packed up my card reader, so I have no way of transferring photos from my camera to the computer at the moment. Sorry!

4 parsnips
2 large potatoes
3/4 head cauliflower
5 cloves garlic
spray olive oil
1 pkg thawed winter squash
1-1/2 tsp celery seed
4 strands saffron
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese
3 tbsp butter
1 cup milk
3 cups chicken or veggie stock
1/3 c. dry white wine or vermouth
1/2 tsp sage
handful fresh parsley, chopped
sea salt and black pepper

Chop raw veggies into bite sized pieces. Arrange on a roasting pan with garlic and spray with olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast in oven on broil, turning occasionally, until veggies are golden brown and soft.

Working in batches, transfer veggies to food processor and add milk and stock to liquefy. Add the thawed squash (this will turn the soup more yellowish, but whatever.) Process till smooth. When all veggies, milk and stock have been blended, pour into a large pot to heat. Stir in wine, parmesan, herbs, butter, and saffron, and allow to simmer 10 minutes. Taste, and season with salt and pepper.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Better Flank Steak Marinade

Dare I improve on my grandmother's recipe? Indeed, I do. And with impressive results, methinks.

3 oz. soy sauce
3 oz. rice wine vinegar
1 oz. orange juice
1 inch grated fresh ginger
2 heaping teaspoons honey
3 cloves garlic, pushed thru press

Combine all ingredients in a jar and microwave for 25 seconds on high to melt the honey and to help flavors blend. Seal tightly (I like to use old, clean jam jars for this purpose) and shake vigorously. Let sit in refrigerator overnight.

When ready to marinate meat, shake marinade again. Rub meat with olive oil, then sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper. Place meat in a pan, pour marinade over, cover with foil, and let sit on counter four hours. If marinating overnight, place in fridge.

This is less salty and less overwhelming than my other recipe.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elbows with Spinach, Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce

1/2 pkg elbow noodles
1 pkg chopped spinach, thawed
8 oz. shredded mozzarella
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
2 cloves garlic, pushed thru press
olive oil
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1/2 small white onion, diced small
salt & pepper

For the sauce, begin by sauteeing onion and garlic in about 1 tbsp olive oil for about 5-7 minutes, long enough for the onion to turn translucent. Add red pepper and tomatoes. Mash the tomatoes up a bit in the pan with a potato masher. Add another 2 tbsp olive oil, and cook at a low simmer about 1/2 an hour. When tomatoes are very soft and mushy, stir in half the spinach. See how it goes - you might like it with less, you might prefer more. I like the whole package. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to package directions. When pasta is ready to eat, stir the shredded mozzarella into the sauce, and toss with the pasta. Yum!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Shame, Shame, Shame

Forgive me, readers, for I have sinned. It has been many weeks since my last post.

Things have been a bit hectic for me lately: my daughter started daycare, we decided to leave our tiny apartment, and have been spending a lot of time looking for a new place. We finally found one, and will be moving next week! As a result, my home is a mess, I'm up to my ears in packing materials, and I'm already out of tape... Of course, we have been ordering delivery a lot lately. But since we have only one week left in this place, and lots of food left in the cupboards, I will be forced to cook it up!

Therefore, I anticipate a cooking (and hopefully posting) blitz over the next week. Wish me luck.