antipasti salad

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It took me a few tries to get the office potluck right. In the meantime, I learned that goat cheese is a bad idea; the old cowboys think it sounds gross and won’t try it. Dips and spreads don’t work well because you have to dish both the spread and the item to be spread onto and guess at the ratio. Grabbable snacks are fine, but not necessary, because people aren’t hovering and grazing; they just fill a plate and find a seat at the crowded table in the conference room.

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Food in crockpots is always popular, but anything that requires a bowl is too much work for people; you need one hand for your plate and the other to scoop more food onto that plate, so a bowl overloads you. That still leaves a lot of good food though – meatballs, beans, pastas. I considered bringing macaroni and cheese in the crockpot, but after a look at the potluck’s sign-up sheet, decided that more carbs was probably unnecessary.

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So then I started thinking that something more on the healthier side would be nice. A green salad doesn’t work though; I’m okay with my foods touching, but not grape jelly-chile meatball sauce and lettuce. Instead, I combined all of my favorite antipasti ingredients into one bowl, mixed it up, and let it sit overnight. In that time, the brine from the olives, seasoning in the salami, and herbs in the artichoke marinade seeped into the chickpeas and milky mozzarella.

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I couldn’t stop eating it when I made it. At the potluck, it didn’t get overshadowed by tasty choices like chile relleno casserole, green chile corn pudding, and green chile stew (green chile is how we do potlucks in New Mexico).  I don’t know if the picky old cowboys tried it, but several other people gave me compliments. My favorite was the leftovers though – I didn’t have to share and there were no distractions from the salad itself.

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Antipasti Salad

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 clove garlic, unpeeled
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 (6.27 ounce) jars marinated quartered artichoke hearts, preferably grilled, drained but not rinsed
1 cup kalamata olives, halved
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cubed
4 ounces sliced salami or mini pepperoni
½ small red onion, sliced thin
2 ounces parmesan, diced small
¼ cup minced parsley
¼ cup pepperoncini, sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet; place the garlic on the baking sheet. Bake until the tomatoes are slightly shriveled and the garlic is soft, about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

2. In a large serving bowl, mix the tomatoes and all of the remaining ingredients. Squeeze the garlic into the mixture; stir. Marinate at least 1 hour or cover and refrigerate for up to three days. Serve at room temperature.

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swiss chard mushroom sausage lasagna

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I have this weird thing with lasagna, in that I love it, and I love making it, but I have a hard time bringing myself to repeat recipes. I’m always searching for the next new lasagna recipe, but the truth is, my favorite lasagnas involve tomatoes and cheese and probably bechamel and something that tastes meaty (which could be mushrooms and not meat). And there’s only so many ways to combine those ingredients and still call it in a new recipe.

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This one, however, I did make twice, because the first time wasn’t quite right. I was thinking that because I enjoy both bechamel and ricotta in lasagna, that I would enjoy having them both there. It turns out, though, that it was overkill, so I nixed the ricotta. Also, the original recipe didn’t include tomatoes or sausage, but they both mix in so well with béchamel and cheese and greens that I couldn’t resist adding them.

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I can’t call this my favorite lasagna. With my compulsion to keep trying new recipes, I can’t claim any favorite. But this is certainly worth adding to the list of great recipes. It’s almost like a classic lasagna with some extra vegetables, and those vegetables fit in perfectly with the cheese and tomatoes and meat. It’s so good I might even make it again someday. But in the meantime, tell me: what’s your favorite lasagna recipe?

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Swiss Chard Mushroom Sausage Lasagna (adapted from Bon Appetit via epicurious)

For instructions on boiling and rinsing the noodles, see step 4 of this recipe.  You’ll only need half of a recipe of fresh pasta.

Béchamel sauce:
3 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ large onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
pinch nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese

Swiss chard and mushroom layer:
8 ounces Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ large onion, diced
1 pound crimini mushrooms, sliced
salt
4 large garlic cloves, minced
¼ teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with juice
1 pound Swiss chard, center rib and stem cut from each leaf
pepper

Lasagna:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces (1 cup) provolone, shredded
4 ounces (1 cup) mozzarella, shredded
2 ounces (1 cup) finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. For the béchamel sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming subsides, add the onion and the garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk. Add the bay leaf, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. When the mixture simmers, reduce the heat to medium-low, add the nutmeg and salt, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the parmesan. Cover and set aside.

2. For the swiss chard and mushroom layer: Heat the oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion; sauté until the onion is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the mushrooms and ½ teaspoon salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms release their liquid and then brown, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes; simmer until slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Mix in the chard; cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir the sausage back into the sauce; season to taste with salt and ground black pepper.

3. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of the béchamel sauce on the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Evenly spread ¾ cup of the sauce over the noodles. Top with one-third of the sausage-mushroom mixture and one-fourth of the cheeses.  Repeat the layers twice more. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and cheeses.  Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

4. Bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the lasagna is bubbling around the edges and golden on top, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle evenly with parsley and serve.

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salad with pancetta, peperoncini, and parmesan

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My favorite way to spend a Saturday night is cooking. It’s the only night of the week I feel like dinner can be a project; I’m busy being busy on weeknights, and I’m busy being lazy Friday and Sunday. So when I finally get the chance to cook a lot of food, I have a habit of cooking too much food.

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One strategy I use to eat as much as possible without stuffing myself silly is to eat in courses, with time between each to allow for some digestion. Another is to serve food that’s fairly light, so I don’t get filled up by just a few bites.

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This salad has become my go-to light salad course. It doesn’t hurt that it’s easy, plus the combination of ingredients is just perfect – briny peppers, salty meat, and parmesan to make it seem hearty and filling when it really isn’t. I’ve served it to pretty much everyone who’s come over for dinner in the last few months. I’ve also served at least four other courses each time, because there’s no better way for me to spend a Saturday night.

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Salad with Pancetta, Peperoncini, and Parmesan

Serves 4 to 6

Before adding garlic to dressings, I always toast it, with the peel on, in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until the peel is black where it hits the pan.  It tames the harsh bite of raw garlic.

Dressing:
2 cloves garlic, pressed through a garlic press
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salad:
2 romaine hearts, washed and chopped
8 peperocini, stems removed, chopped fine
6 ounces pancetta, cooked and crumbled
½ cup (1 ounce) shredded parmesan

1. For the dressing: Mix everything.

2. For the salad: Mix everything; toss with dressing.

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pasta with zucchini cream sauce

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I love love love Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pastas of Italy. Although it isn’t my newest cookbook, it’s still the one that gets me the most excited to cook. But somehow I’d convinced myself that it was a cookbook for winter, full of baked pastas and braised meats. A recent perusal through the book proved me wrong. Not only are there four soups specifically designed for each season, there was this recipe, based on zucchini, the butt of everyone’s summer garden jokes.

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I’ve never been presented with the problem of too much zucchini, but while I happen to love the vegetable, this might be more because I’m a terrible gardener. Regardless, this is yet another great way to use it.

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Summer squash can be difficult to cook without it getting mushy, but this recipe solves that problem for you. It’s supposed to be mush; the vegetables cook down into the sauce. There’s still toothy bites, but this isn’t pasta with zucchini; it’s pasta in sauce made from summer squash. Everything else is just playing a supporting role, with savoriness from the pancetta, body from the cream, and salty richness in the cheeses. It’s a great new way to eat this summer vegetable and a perfect example of why I love this cookbook so much.

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Pasta with Zucchini Cream Sauce (adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pastas of Italy)

Serves 4 as a side dish or starter course

I made this once without checking the recipe before shopping and had to substitute prosciutto for pancetta, skip the basil, and double the parmesan because I didn’t have pecorino. The dish was still delicious.

I’ve reduced the cream a bit, but the only major change I’ve made is to drastically reduce the amount of pasta, so every bite of pasta gets some creamy zucchini with it.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, cut into narrow strips
2 cloves garlic, cut into paper-thin slices
6 to 8 small to medium zucchini or other summer squash, sliced into thin coins
salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup heavy cream
8 ounces dried pasta
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ cup freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
5 large fresh basil leaves, cut into narrow strips (chiffonade)

1. In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the pancetta; cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned. Add the garlic; cook and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the zucchini, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper; stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash breaks down, about 30 minutes. Stir in the cream.

2. Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta. Cook according to package instructions; drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.

3. Add the pasta, ½ cup of the reserved water, and the cheeses to the zucchini mixture. Cook and stir until the pasta is coated, adding more water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Stir in the basil and serve immediately.

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whole wheat biscotti with pistachios, apricots, chocolate, and lavender

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Sometimes you want the comfortable and familiar. You want brownies. You want vanilla or strawberry ice cream. And who am I to begrudge you a good ol’ chocolate chip cookie craving?

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Sometimes, though, maybe you want something more interesting, maybe even a bit challenging. You want something more adult. But you should keep the chocolate. This is dessert we’re talking about here, a treat, not a chore.

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For those times, you can add fruit. Nuts, maybe. Use whole grains and unrefined sugar. Add…flowers?  Why not?

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I made a half batch of these for a gathering of myself, Dave, and two of our guy friends. They were all gone (except one, which was perfect with coffee the next morning) by the end of the evening, and I swear I didn’t eat them all myself! Grown-up food isn’t so bad.

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One year ago: Ginger Fried Rice
Two years ago: Green Pea Ravioli with Lemon Broth
Three years ago: Pizza with Figs, Prosciutto, Gorgonzola, Balsamic, and Arugula
Four years ago: Pan-Roasted Asparagus
Five years ago: Sichuan Green Beans

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Whole Wheat Biscotti with Pistachios, Apricots, Chocolate, and Lavender
(adapted from 5 Second Rule)

Makes 72 1-inch bites

You can probably choose one type of sugar and one type of flour. I was hedging my bets on the healthier additions.

I used 6 ounces of chocolate, and it was delicious but too much for the dough to hold onto, so I’ve reduced it slightly.

1 cup (4.8 ounces) whole wheat flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (3 ounces) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) turbinado sugar
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
2 extra-large eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 ounces (¾ cup) semisweet chocolate chips, chopped
½ cup finely diced dried apricots
½ cup pistachios, rough-chopped
1 teaspoon dried lavender

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mats or parchment paper.

2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the flours, sugars, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs until well combined, then add the olive oil and vanilla extract. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mixture and use a rubber spatula to stir the ingredients until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. Stir in the chocolate, apricots, pistachios, and lavender.

3. On a dry work surface, knead the dough until it’s no longer sticky. Transfer it to the prepared baking sheet and press into a ½-inch thick rectangle measuring about 10 by 6 inches. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until the top no longer looks raw. Transfer the baking sheet with the dough to a cooling rack. Let dough cool for at least 5 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a cutting board. Cut each block into 6 long strips, then cut each strip at 1-inch intervals to form squares. Transfer the pieces back to the baking sheet. Bake for 10-14 minutes, until the squares just begin to brown at the edges. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack to cool completely.

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bolognese hot dogs

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Having my picture taken with the RockerDogz hot dog truck guy in San Antonio might be one of the dorkiest things I’ve done in my life. I did walk over two miles (in ballet flats – ouch!) to his truck, which already pretty well establishes that I’m an oddball. But when I was looking into where we should eat on our weekend in San Antonio last fall, this hot dog cart got more positive – raving really – reviews than any real restaurant. I was determined to eat there.

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Once I had, I was then determined to steal all of his ideas to copy at home. Probably the best of the hot dogs we had from there were the Thai Kick Boxers, with a cabbage slaw, pickled Serrano peppers, cucumbers, and artfully applied sriracha. The dog topped with carne guisada was a delicious mess, and I was expecting the same from the Bolognese-topped sandwich, but not a drip was dropped.

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And that one, at least, was easy to mimic at home. At least it would be if you had leftover Bolognese sauce lying around. I didn’t, but I did have pot roast pappardelle, so I finely shredded some beef into the sauce and then simmered the mixture until it was thick (and resembled something regurgitated, but let’s bypass that aspect of it).

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The pot roast sauce was, as I said before, a little lighter in flavor than a red wine-braised roast or regular Bolognese would be, and the sweet all-beef sausage almost overpowered it. It was still really good though, and not nearly as messy as you might think; just like in San Antonio, we managed to eat our sandwiches without napkins or drips, so using a thick Bolognese (or whatever meaty Italian sauce you happen to have around) really makes a difference. It was just as delicious as the one we had in San Antonio, but this time, acquiring a tasty and creative hot dog didn’t give me any blisters.

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One year ago: Lentil Salad with Squash and Goat Cheese
Two years ago: Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Three years ago: Chocolate Oatmeal Almost Candy Bars
Four years ago: Caramel-Topped Flan
Five years ago: Country Crust Bread

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Bolognese Hot Dogs

Makes 8 sandwiches

8 all-beef hot dogs
8 hot dog buns, split
4 cups Bolognese sauce, warm
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan cheese
¼ cup fresh parsley, minced

Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Grill the hot dogs until they are browned and heated through, about 5 minutes. Toast the buns on both sides. Transfer the buns and hot dogs to plates. Fill each bun with a hot dog, then divide the bolognese sauce evenly between the sandwiches.  Top with parmesan and parsley; serve immediately.

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pot roast pappardelle

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Our company closed between December 21st and January 1st. That’s twelve days – count them! I did! – off from work. We knew we’d be spending a big chunk of it visiting my family for Christmas, but we weren’t sure about the rest. We considered taking an overnight detour on the way back from Albuquerque, but sleeping in our own bed was too tempting, so we came straight home. But we were still thinking of ways to fill the time – maybe a long hike? kayaking? going to the movies?

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We did none of that. Mostly we hung out at home, reading, watching movies, catching up on sleep. Dave played his guitar and I cooked. It was glorious. I made fresh pasta twice in four days!

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I thought this pot roast would turn out a lot like this one, since it has most of the same ingredients, but I was pleasantly surprised by the difference. It seemed lighter, maybe because this meat is braised in white wine and tomato juice instead of red wine and broth. I don’t have a preference either way; both are delicious.

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Most of the fresh pasta I make goes into lasagna, which is a huge hours-long process. Compared to that, this was simple – it’s just browning meat and sautéing vegetables, then forgetting about it for almost 3 hours while it tenderizes and soaks up flavor in the oven.

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The cookbook recommends serving the pasta and sauce as a first course and the meat as a second course. Being American, we don’t generally eat in courses, and besides, that would require dragging myself off of the couch halfway through dinner, interrupting the movie, to serve the beef. (We are classy folk.) Instead, I served the beef on top of the pasta and sauce, and it was perfection. Just like the entirety of my break.

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One year ago: Ricotta
Two years ago: Chocolate Madeleines
Three years ago: Lighter Chicken and Dumplings
Four years ago: German Apple Pancake
Five years ago: Macaroni and Cheese

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Pot Roast Pappardelle (adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

Serves 4

The original recipe calls for cooked tomato sauce and water. Because I didn’t have cooked tomato sauce on hand, I simply replaced the sauce and water with a can of diced tomatoes with their juice.

1 (2½ to 3 pound) boneless chuck roast, tied
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed
1½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
1 cup dry white wine
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 batch fresh pasta, rolled to the third-to-last setting, cut into ½-inch strips
freshly grated parmesan cheese, for serving

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Season the roast on all sides with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot, place the roast in the pot and brown it on all sides, turning it every 3 to 4 minutes for even coloring. Transfer the browned roast to a plate. Reduce heat to medium, add onions, carrots, celery, and garlic, and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the onion is golden. Stir in the thyme, wine, tomatoes, and ½ teaspoon salt. Return the meat to the pot, along with any juices that accumulated on the plate. Bring liquid to a simmer, cover, and place the pot in the oven.

2. Braise the meat, turning it every 45 minutes or so, for about 2½ hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and the sauce has thickened.

3. When the meat is almost done, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and stir to separate the noodles. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil, then uncover and cook the pasta for just a few minutes, until al dente. Drain the pasta.

4. Remove the roast from the pot, and slice or shred it. Serve with the pasta and sauce, topped with the cheese.

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vegetable lasagna

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After spending the better part of a week visiting my parents and celebrating Christmas, Christmas Eve, my dad’s birthday, and a rare opportunity to eat sushi and get takeout from my favorite pizza joint and carne adovada breakfast burritos from my favorite burrito place (twice!), I thought maybe some vegetables were in order when we got home. On the other hand, we were still on break from work and I got a new lasagna pan for Christmas. Vegetable lasagna was clearly the answer, even if it isn’t necessarily healthy.

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I was feeling pretty good when I bought three big eggplants, three zucchini, three yellow squash (not the most seasonal recipe, but let’s face it, the quality of zucchini is pretty constant year-round even if it is a summer vegetable), and two bags of baby spinach. It seemed like an awful lot of vegetables for one pan of lasagna, but I figured they’d cook down a bunch. Besides, this is a Cooks Illustrated recipe, so they must know what they’re doing.

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Maybe they do, but my grocery store apparently doesn’t know what they’re doing when it comes to calibrating their scales in the produce department. Three eggplants resulted in quite an intimidating pile of ½-inch cubes, especially for someone who doesn’t generally love the vegetable. It didn’t lose much volume during its trip to the microwave, and the pan was so crowded when I sautéed the eggplant with the squashes that the vegetables mushed instead of browned.

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Once it became clear that I had far more vegetables than necessary, I adapted my cooking method and ended up with a big bowl of properly cooked vegetables in addition to a big bowl of mushy vegetables, plenty for two generous layers in my lasagna. The browned squash and wilted spinach were a great match for the bright tomato sauce and cheesey white sauce. But…

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That eggplant. It was just a bit rubbery and chewy. It tasted okay, but the texture was disappointing enough that I dreaded the eggplant bites, and with as much of the stuff as this lasagna contains, every bite is an eggplant bite.

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It seems like there’s a simple solution though – mushrooms. Mushrooms would go just as well with the other ingredients in this lasagna, and it’s such an easy fix that there’s no reason not to share this lasagna that has so much else going for it. And even if the eggplant was disappointing, at least I ate some vegetables and used my new pan.

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One year ago: Rice Noodle Salad with Peanut Dressing
Two years ago: Pasta Puttanesca
Three years ago: Asian-Style Chicken Noodle Soup
Four years ago: Pasta with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers
Five years ago: Pad Thai

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Vegetable Lasagna (from Cook’s Illustrated)

I bought three of each of the eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash, but two of each would be plenty. And if you decide to substitute mushrooms for the eggplant, like I will in the future, skip the microwaving step and just sauté them separately from the squashes until they soften, release their water, dry out, and brown.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce:
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

No-Cook Cream Sauce:
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (2 cups)
1 cup whole-milk cottage cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Vegetable Filling:
1½ pounds eggplant, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 7 cups)
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound zucchini, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
1 pound yellow squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 4 cups)
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
12 no-boil lasagna noodles
12 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1. FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

2. FOR THE CREAM SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl; set aside.

3. FOR THE FILLING: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Toss eggplant with 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Line surface of large plate with double layer of coffee filters and lightly spray with vegetable oil spray. Spread eggplant in even layer over filters. Wipe out and reserve now-empty bowl. Microwave eggplant, uncovered, until dry to touch and slightly shriveled, about 10 minutes, tossing once halfway through to ensure that eggplant cooks evenly. Let cool slightly. Return eggplant to bowl and toss with zucchini and squash.

4. Combine 1 tablespoon oil, garlic, and thyme in small bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add half eggplant mixture, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Push vegetables to sides of skillet; add half of garlic mixture to clearing and cook, mashing with spatula, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir to combine garlic mixture with vegetables and transfer to medium bowl. Repeat with remaining eggplant mixture, 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining garlic mixture.

5. Return skillet to medium-high heat, add remaining teaspoon oil, and heat until shimmering. Add spinach and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 3 minutes. Transfer spinach to paper towel–lined plate and drain 2 minutes. Stir into eggplant mixture.

6. TO ASSEMBLE: Spray 13 by 9-inch baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Spread 1 cup tomato sauce in bottom of baking dish; shingle 4 noodles on top of sauce. Spread half of vegetable mixture over noodles, half of cream sauce, and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat layering with 4 noodles, 1 cup tomato sauce, remaining vegetables, remaining cream sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella. Place remaining 4 noodles on top layer of cheese. Spread remaining 1 cup tomato sauce over noodles and sprinkle with remaining 1 cup mozzarella. Lightly spray large sheet of aluminum foil with vegetable oil spray and cover lasagna. Bake until bubbling, about 35 minutes. Cool on wire rack 25 minutes. Cut into pieces, sprinkle with basil, and serve.

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mussels fra diavolo

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Dave took to mussels before I did. They, along with all the other bivalves, weren’t even on my radar when he came home from a dinner with coworkers raving about them. It was one of the first foods he’d tried before I had.

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Not long after, we went to a Belgian mussels and beer restaurant, and after that I was hooked. It took me a few bites to get past the slightly boogery texture, but I was sold when I tasted the liquid they were served with. It was buttery and winey and briney, and the housemade ketchup didn’t hold a candle to it as a dip for the crisp French fries served alongside.

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We’ve eaten mussels many, many times since then, but this is our favorite way. It’s garlicky and spicy, and the pasta is the perfect vehicle to mix with the sauce the mussels cook in. And the best part? Dave likes it so much, he’s willing to make dinner. This makes me love mussels at least as much as he does.

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One year ago: Normandy Apple Tart
Two years ago: Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies
Three years ago: Herbed Lamb Chops with Pinot Noir Sauce
Four years ago: Truffles (chocolate brand comparison)

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Mussels fra Diavolo (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Shrimp fra Diavolo and Gourmet)

Serves 4

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
12 cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about ¼ cup), divided
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup medium-dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
salt
¾ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ teaspoon sugar
1 pound linguine
3 pounds mussels, cleaned and debearded
¼ cup minced fresh parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil.

2. Heat a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the oil and 9 cloves of garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until the garlic is sticky and light golden and begins to foam, about 7-10 minutes. Mix in the tomatoes, wine, 1 teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes, and sugar. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer until thickened and fragrant, about 8 minutes.

3. While the sauce is simmering, add 1 tablespoon salt and the linguine to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain; return the pasta to the now empty pot and add about ½ cup of the sauce. Toss well to coat.

4. Add the mussels to the remaining sauce and cook, covered, until they just open wide, checking frequently after 3 minutes and transferring to a bowl. Discard any mussels that remain unopened after 6 minutes.

5. Stir the remaining garlic and the parsley into the sauce. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Divide the pasta among warmed serving bowls, topping with the mussels and sauce. Serve immediately.

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pizza with ricotta, caramelized onions, and prosciutto

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My pizza making goes in phases. I’ll go through long stretches where, every other Friday, I’m arranging turkey pepperoni over green chile-spiked tomato sauce. If I want to get fancy, I’ll add sliced mushrooms.

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And then that will turn around, and each pizza for months will be different from last. Rarely do these varied pizzas have tomato sauce and mozzarella; it seems that if I’m choosing anything resembling a traditional pizza, it’s going to be topped with that pepperoni and green chile. In fact, of the last few pizzas I’ve made, this is the only one that even uses predominately Italian ingredients.

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But those ingredients make it a safe bet, because you can never go wrong with creamy fresh ricotta, salty prosciutto, and sweet onions. The original recipe made the onions into a marmalade with sugar and balsamic vinegar, but I think caramelized onions are plenty sweet on their own. I chose to add the prosciutto after removing the pizza from the oven, instead of before baking, because I find the baked prosciutto turns into little more than crisp bits of salt. Letting the heat of the pizza soften the bite-sized pieces of ham leaves their meaty flavor. Altogether, it makes for a worthy departure from pepperoni and green chile.

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One year ago: Turkey Ricotta Meatloaf
Two years ago: Red Kidney Bean Curry
Three years ago: Brown Rice with Black Beans
Four years ago: Mulled Cider

Printer Friendly Recipe
Pizza with Ricotta, Caramelized Onions, and Prosciutto (adapted from The New York Times via Smitten Kitchen)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
salt
pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 ounces prosciutto, cut or torn into approximately 1-inch pieces
1 cup ricotta cheese (made from 4 cups milk, if homemade)
1 pound pizza dough, fully risen and at room temperature (⅓ of this recipe)

1. Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees.

2. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering; stir in the onions and a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions just begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the crushed red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened and are medium golden brown, about 15 minutes longer.

3. Meanwhile, shape the dough into a ball. Set it aside for 10 to 30 minutes, loosely covered, to allow the gluten to relax.

4. Working on a lightly floured surface or a damp cloth, flatten the dough, then pick it up and gently stretch it out, trying to keep it as circular as possible. Curl your fingers and let the dough hang on your knuckles, moving and rotating the dough so it stretches evenly. If it tears, piece it together. If the dough stretches too much, put it down and gently tug on the thick spots. Transfer the round of dough to a large square of parchment paper; slide the parchment with the dough onto a pizza peel.

5. Spread the ricotta evenly over the dough, then evenly disperse the onions over the ricotta. Slide the pizza with the parchment onto the hot baking stone. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until the crust is browned around the edges. Transfer the pizza to a cooling rack without the parchment. Top with the prosciutto. Let the pizza rest for 5 minutes before serving.

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