stovetop macaroni and cheese

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There are three things that lead to difficulties with self-control for me – chocolate chip cookie dough, macaroni and cheese, and alcohol. I’ve found a handful of tricks for dealing with the alcohol one (although tiki drinks can be tricky since even one can be strong enough to lower my resistance to more!), but with the other two, the best way I’ve found of controlling them is not to be around them. We normally eat macaroni and cheese maybe once a year, even though it’s one of my favorite foods.

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I’ve told myself for years that when I got pregnant and couldn’t drink alcohol or eat cookie dough, I’d make up the extra calories with macaroni and cheese. It turns out that making up extra calories hasn’t been an issue; since I got that positive test back in May, all I’ve wanted to eat is dessert. Pasta is tasting extra delicious too, and yes, especially when it’s coated in cheese.

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I love the baked recipe I’ve been making for years, but then someone mentioned the blue box mac and cheese, and while I haven’t had severe cravings, maybe I’m more suggestible than I would normally be. I couldn’t stop thinking about that blue box. Unfortunately, the last time I bought it, I distinctly remember being disappointed that it was bland and mushy.

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I figured there had to be a way to make a creamy, smooth sauce using real ingredients. It turns out, the most popular recipes for stovetop mac and cheese aren’t so different from the blue box; you still coat the cooked pasta with butter, then add milk and cheese – except in this case, that cheese is real shredded cheddar, not a powder. And it tastes reminiscent of that blue box, in the best possible way. Plus, the pasta doesn’t dissolve in my mouth before I get to chew it! This is so good and so easy that maybe one day, my daughter will be nostalgic for this recipe instead of that blue box.

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Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese (not really adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)

I’ve only made this with all cheddar cheese. Monterey jack could make the sauce smoother, but it won’t be as flavorful. I tried a different recipe that called for a combination of cheddar and American cheese, and, while the sauce was creamier, the flavor of the American cheese dominated, and I prefer cheddar. With just cheddar, the sauce is plenty smooth and creamy for me.

So far, I’ve only made a half recipe (multiple times), using a 5-ounce can of evaporated milk. It seems like plenty of liquid.

2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
8 ounces elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, American cheese, or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 3 cups)

1. Meanwhile, heat 2 quarts water to boil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and macaroni; cook until almost tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to pan over low heat. Add butter; toss to melt.

2. Meanwhile, mix eggs, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, pepper sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and mustard mixture in small bowl; set aside.

3. Pour egg mixture over buttered noodles along with three-quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining milk and cheese, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

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goat cheese and braised lamb shank ravioli

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I do use my pasta roller for dishes other than ravioli – but not often. I make the occasional lasagna when I can carve out half a day, but cut pastas like fettuccine are rare. Homemade ravioli lets me get some of the creative flavor variations of lasagna with less – although not insignificant – effort.

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Some of my favorite ravioli recipes lend themselves to a nice plated first course, particularly the ones with fillings based on vegetables. But with braised meat as the star of this one, it’s rich enough to be the main course. I think the slight funkiness of goat cheese is the perfect complement to the gamey lamb.

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I didn’t want to lose or overpower any of that wonderful lamb flavor, so I reduced the winey braising liquid down to a sauce. Instead of using a starch for thickener, which could turn the sauce pasty and dull the flavor, I used gelatin. This makes a sauce that forms a glossy coating on the pasta. A little soy sauce (you could also use fish sauce) amplifies the meatiness of the whole dish. This is definitely a dish worthy of getting out the pasta roller.

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Braised Lamb and Goat Cheese Ravioli

Makes about 32 ravioli, serving 4 as a main course or 8 as a first course

I made my pasta using this method and the following ingredients: 5 ounces flour, pinch salt, 1 egg, 2 egg yolks, and ½ teaspoon olive oil.

1½ teaspoon gelatin powder
2 cups chicken broth
2 (1-pound) lamb shanks
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 onion, diced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup unoaked red wine
1 sprig rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1½ teaspoons soy sauce
10 ounces goat cheese
1 egg
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
8 ounces fresh pasta, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller

1. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a measuring cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the chicken broth.

2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the lamb generously with salt and pepper. Add a drizzle of oil to the pot and add the lamb shanks; cook, without moving, until darkly browned on bottom, about 2 minutes, then turn and brown on all sides. Transfer the lamb to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the carrots, celery, and onions to the pot; cook, stirring constantly, until softened and lightly browned, 3-4 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cooking, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the red wine and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the broth with gelatin, rosemary, thyme, and browned lamb to the pot. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the lamb is tender and can be easily shredded, about 3 hours, turning the lamb shanks every hour.

3. Transfer the lamb to a clean plate. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and finely chop it.

4. Remove the rosemary and thyme from the liquid remaining in the pot and discard. Over medium-high heat, simmer until the liquid in the pot is reduced to ½ cup, about 8 minutes. Add the soy sauce. Cover and set aside.

5. Combine the shredded lamb, goat cheese, egg, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese.

6. Place one rounded tablespoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to wet the pasta along the long edges and between the filling. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling, pressing around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

7. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to a serving platter or individual plates or pasta bowls. Top with the sauce and addition parmesan and serve immediately.

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fresh pasta with braised quail

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I have never seen a Meyer lemon for sale where I live. My local store used to stock blood oranges in the winter and rhubarb in the spring, but I didn’t see either this year. Sheets of nori? I’ve started ordering them online, along with golden syrup, peppermint extract, a big container of sprinkles, espresso powder, 00 Italian flour, herbal tea, looseleaf black and green tea, passionfruit concentrate, and my favorite brand of soy sauce. Living in a small town has its disadvantages.

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But I seem to have a steady supply of game meats. I’ve bought quail a few times, and this is my favorite way to use it (which isn’t to say that chicken drumsticks or thighs wouldn’t also be great in this dish). What I’ve learned about quail is that they are so tiny that it can be hard to find the meat. As someone who doesn’t much appreciate messing around with their food as they eat it, a salad topped with a whole quail was frustrating (although pretty).

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This pasta dish, with so little in it besides the quail, cooks it down to its essence. What sauce there is is concentrated quail stock. It’s intensely savory. It coats the pasta in the thin layer, with bits of shredded quail meat dispersed throughout. You can garnish the dish with teeny tiny drumsticks. And, amazingly, this is a dish I can actually find all the ingredients for in my little town.

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Fresh Pasta with Braised Quail (adapted from Marcella Hazen’s Marcella Cucina via epicurious)

Serves 4

4 whole quail, washed and dried
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
½ stalk celery, minced
½ medium carrot, minced
1 fresh sage leaf, minced
6 rosemary leaves (remove from 1 sprig), chopped very fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 roma tomato, diced small
1 pound fresh pappardelle or fettuccine
½ cup (1 ounce) freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving

1. Season the quail generously with salt and pepper. Heat a large not-nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and quail, and cook without moving for 3-4 minutes, until well browned. Flip the quail; continue to cook until all sides are browned, propping the quail against the sides of the pan if necessary. Transfer the browned quail to a plate.

2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the vegetables and herbs; cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to medium-low, return the quail to the skillet, and cover. Cook, turning occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for another 20-25 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the pan from drying out, until the meat can easily be removed from the bones.

3. Remove the quail from the pan and shred the meat, discarding the bones. If desired, reserve the drumsticks with their meat for garnish.

4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until just tender, 2-4 minutes or according to package instructions. Drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water.

5. Add the shredded quail meat, pasta, ¼ cup pasta cooking water, and parmesan to the pan with the sauce. Toss the contents together until well mixed, adding more pasta water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan and the reserved drumsticks.

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carrot-ricotta ravioli

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I recently made potstickers, and it reminded me how much easier dumplings like these ravioli are to make with homemade dough than with those little square wonton wrappers. With homemade pasta, you have a long strip of dough; after you drop dollops of filling along the strip, you can just fold the whole thing over at once, sealing the long end before cutting in between the filling. Contrast this with individually folding and sealing each square of dough when you use pre-made wonton wrappers. Granted, my method based on homemade dough can only make square dumplings, but it’s so easy that I’m tempted to make square potstickers from now on to avoid individually sealing each one.

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This is an easy filling too. The carrots and shallots are roasted in large chunks, browning and sweetening in the oven. The vegetables are transferred to the food processor with ricotta and parmesan, and then your filling is made with the touch of a button.

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The sauce, if you can call it that, is simply melted butter with parsley. A generous shaving of parmesan on the ravioli provides some salty contrast to the sweeter filling. Homemade ravioli is one of my favorite starter courses, and it really isn’t that hard – provided you start out with sheets of pasta and not a tedious stack of tiny squares.

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Carrot-Ricotta Ravioli with Herbed Butter
(slightly adapted from Domenica Marchetti’s The Glorious Vegetables of Italy)

4 main course or 8 first-course servings

3 large carrots (12 ounces), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 large shallot, quartered
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon heavy cream
5 ounces (½ cup firmly packed) ricotta
6 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg yolk
1 recipe fresh pasta dough, rolled to the second-to-last setting on a pasta roller
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons minced parsley

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a baking dish, toss the carrots and shallot with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until tender and lightly browned. Let cool slightly.

2. In a food processor, combine the carrots, shallot, and cream and puree until smooth. Transfer the puree to a bowl. Stir in the ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg yolk.

3. Place one rounded teaspoon of filling every 2 inches along the length of a pasta sheet. Fold the pasta sheet lengthwise over the filling. Press around each ball of filling to seal the two layers of pasta together. Use a pizza cutter to cut between the filling to form squares of ravioli. Store the ravioli on a dry dish towel. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. (Ravioli can be formed several hours in advance and covered and refrigerated or can be flash-frozen, then transferred to freezer bags and frozen for several weeks. Do not defrost before cooking.)

4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add a tablespoon of salt and lower the heat until the water is at a lively simmer. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, melt the butter with ¼ teaspoon salt and the parsley.

5. Boil the ravioli in small batches until al dente, 2 to 3 minutes, using a skimmer or large slotted spoon to remove the ravioli from the boiling water and transfer them directly to the skillet with the butter. Once all the ravioli are boiled, lightly toss them in the butter to thoroughly coat. Serve immediately, topped with additional parmesan.

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soba bowls with tea-poached salmon and roasted broccoli

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I’ve lost count, but I think this is the fourth year in a row I’ve made it a goal to use my cookbooks more often. I love them so much, but on the other hand, the recipes online are available even when I’m not home, plus they all have reviews. But, again: I can’t justify buying new cookbooks unless I use the ones I have, and I can’t seem to stop buying new ones whether I use them or not.

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So I made a list, and everyone knows if you have a list, you have a plan. The goal is two recipes per week from cookbooks, and at least two recipes from each cookbook by the end of the year.

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Another advantage of finally opening up my cookbooks, instead of searching through epicurious yet again, is that I’m finding new ideas. Salmon poached in green tea? How interesting. Soba noodles, which I usually keep around but rarely think to use. Roasted broccoli combined with poached salmon and boiled noodles (which does seem a little inefficient, but it’s too good to care), all combined under a sauce of tahini, soy sauce, and grated ginger. My cookbook goal is off to a delicious start, which is hopefully just the encouragement I need to keep it going.

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Soba Bowls with Tea-Poached Salmon and Roasted Broccoli
(rewritten but barely changed from Sara Forte’s The Sprouted Kitchen)

Serves 4

I used about 6.5 ounces soba instead of 9.5, and it seemed like a fine amount.

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons agave nectar
grated zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 bunch or 2 small crowns broccoli, chopped into approximately 1-inch florets
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
pinch of sea salt
3 green tea bags
1 tablespoon peppercorns
½ cup mirin or dry white wine
1¼ pound salmon fillet
1 (9.5-ounce) package soba noodles
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup white or black sesame seeds

1. Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven and heat the oven to 425 degrees.

2. In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, tahini, agave nectar, lime juice and zest, soy sauce, and ginger. Set aside.

3. Remove the hot baking sheet from the oven. Spread the olive oil on the sheet, then add the broccoli and a pinch of salt, tossing to coat the broccoli with oil. Roast until the broccoli is tender and caramelized, about 15 minutes, stirring once.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

5. In a medium skillet, bring 1 cup of water to a simmer. Add the tea bags and peppercorns, cover, reduce to the heat to low, and let steep for 3 minutes. Discard the tea bags and add the mirin to the skillet. Place the salmon in the liquid, skin-side down. Cover and cook over low heat until the salmon flakes and is no longer translucent in the middle, 8-10 minutes.

6. Cook the noodles in the boiling water according to the package instructions, 4-5 minutes. Drain and briefly rinse.

7. Remove the skin from the salmon and transfer the meat to a large bowl, breaking it into large chunks. Add the broccoli, noodles, dressing, green onions, and half the cilantro to the bowl; toss to combine. Top with the remaining cilantro and sesame seeds; serve.

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creamy brussels sprouts and mushroom lasagna

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After making a few lasagnas that all started to look the same, I needed new ideas. Here’s one, cooked in homemade broth with meatballs between the layers of pasta, that breaks the mold. 19 steps! 125 miniscule meatballs! I’ve been excited about that recipe since the moment I saw it, almost a year and a half ago, but even with my obsessive weekend cooking habits, I haven’t found time to make it.

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This one isn’t quite that original, but I had never put brussels sprouts, one of my favorite vegetables, in lasagna before. I can’t remember adding heavy cream to lasagna either, instead depending on the bechamel and cheese to add rich creaminess.

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I did reduce the cream by half, and I still found it plenty decadent. The mushrooms dominated the flavor, but not in the overly earthy way of some pure mushroom lasagnas. It definitely hit the spot, even without meat or tomatoes, some of my standard lasagna crutches. But I still want a completely free weekend that I can spend making homemade broth and (125!) tiny meatballs to layer with fresh pasta.

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Creamy Brussels Sprouts and Mushroom Lasagna (slightly adapted from The Food Lab)

8-10 servings

Stirring the creamed mushrooms and the creamed brussels sprouts together does not result in an attractive mixture. However, it won’t make a difference in the final lasagna, and it simplifies the layering.

As the picture above shows, I divided the ingredients between a loaf pan and an 8-by-8-inch pan. I baked one immediately and put the other in the freezer for an easy and indulgent meal a few weeks later.

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.

I’ve increased the brussels sprouts and decreased the mushrooms slightly, because even though I didn’t have enough mushrooms when I made this, they were the dominant flavor. I love brussels sprouts and want to taste them.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
16 ounces button mushrooms, roughly chopped in a food processor in 4 batches
2 medium shallots, finely chopped (about ½ cup)
4 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 4 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon picked fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup white wine or sherry
½ cup heavy cream
salt and pepper

Brussels sprouts:
2 tablespoons canola oil
24 ounces Brussels sprouts, shredded on the grated disk in a food processor
salt and pepper
½ cup heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
12 ounces mozzarella, shredded
salt and pepper

To assemble:
1 pound fresh lasagna noodles or 12 7-by-3-inch lasagna noodles, boiled and rinsed
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
½ cup (1 ounce) grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves

1. For the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until the foaming subsides. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid they give off has evaporated and the mushrooms begin to sizzle and brown, about 12 minutes. When the mushrooms are browned, add the shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the wine, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until the mixture is reduced to a loose paste, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl; wipe out the skillet.

2. For the brussels sprouts: In the same skillet, heat the oil over high heat until shimmering. Add the shaved Brussels sprouts and a pinch of salt. Cook, tossing occasionally, until well-charred on most sides, about 10 minutes. Add ½ cup heavy cream and cook until reduced to a loose sauce-like consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper and transfer to the bowl with the mushrooms; stir them together.

3. For the bechamel: In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture is pale brown and nutty, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the milk in a thin, steady stream. Bring to a simmer, whisking constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the nutmeg and 12 ounces mozzarella. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. To assemble: Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread one-sixth of the cheese sauce on the bottom of a 9-by13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a slightly overlapping layer of boiled noodles, cutting them as needed to fill any gaps. Top with one-fourth of mushroom/sprouts mixture, another one-sixth of the cheese sauce, and a sprinkle of grated mozzarella. Repeat the pasta, sprouts, and sauce layering three more times. Layer a final layer of noodles, then cover with the remaining béchamel and mozzarella.

5. Transfer to oven and bake until heated through and top is browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle with Parmesan and parsley, let rest 10 minutes, and serve.

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sweet potato mezzalune with sausage ricotta filling

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Last year, I got all excited about turchetta and couldn’t wait to get started cooking it as part of a big turkey feast. And then I waited, and waited, and waited, until I had time to spend two days cooking an extravagant meal (not required, I realize, but I love doing it). It was January before I could dedicate the time, plus round up some friends to help us eat all the food I insist on making.

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The wait wasn’t bad though, because it gave me time to peruse untold numbers of recipes to find just the right ones for my fusion of Italian food and Thanksgiving food. That was my favorite part. I had a lot of fun cooking too. The meal itself…well…of the thirteen recipes I made, I’ve chosen to share just four with you (although the rustic dinner rolls were really good too). The turchetta and wine-braised turkey legs were overcooked, the pumpkin panna cotta separated, the green bean pasticcio wasn’t beany enough.

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Or maybe the main meal just didn’t seem as good because I’d already filled up on the mezzalune I served as an appetizer. Mezzalune are like ravioli, but wrapped in gnocchi dough instead of pasta dough. Gnocchi dough, it turns out, is easier to work with than fresh pasta; it’s sticky, but on a well-floured surface, it stretches easily and doesn’t break.

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I made turkey sausage with the turkey tenderloins that don’t get used in the turchetta, but if you don’t feel the need to go overboard on everything, feel free to just buy some sausage, turkey or otherwise. (I also made these with homemade venison sausage for Game Night.) The mezzalune can be formed and boiled ahead of time, so when it’s time to eat, you just need to add them to a skillet with some butter and push them around a bit until they’re nice and crisp and brown. And then don’t spoil your dinner by filling up on them. Or, even better, make these your dinner so you can eat as many as you want.

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Sweet Potato Mezzalune with Turkey Sausage Ricotta Filling (mezzalune inspiration from John Besh; gnocchi from Gourmet via epicurious; filling from Lidia Bastianich)

Makes about 50 appetizer-sized dumplings

1¼ pounds russet potatoes
1 (¾-pound) sweet potato
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
1½ to 2 cups (7.2 to 9.6 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
⅓ cup (0.67 ounce) grated parmesan cheese

12 ounces turkey sausage
1 cup ricotta
¼ cup (½ ounce) grated parmesan
¼ cup minced parsley

4 tablespoons butter
additional minced parsley for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Pierce the russet and sweet potatoes in several places with a fork. Arrange on a rimmed baking sheet and bake, turning once, until no resistance is met when pierced with a fork or skewer. Cool the potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer or the fine holes of a food mill into a large bowl. Spread the potatoes over the surface and up the sides of the bowl to allow steam to evaporate. Cool potatoes completely, stirring once or twice to release more steam.

2. Push the potatoes to the sides of the bowl, forming a well in the center. In the well, beat together the egg, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir the egg mixture into the potatoes. Add 1½ cups of flour and ⅓ cup parmesan to the potatoes, kneading to evenly incorporate. Add additional flour as necessary, until the mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, ricotta, ¼ cup parmesan, and parsley.

4. Divide the dough in half. On a well-floured surface, roll half of the dough to 1/16- to ⅛-inch thickness (a millimeter or two), flouring the top of and below the dough as necessary. Use a 2½-inch round cutter to cut as many circles as possible. Scoop a scant 1 tablespoon of filling into the center of each round. Working one a time, pick up a round, gently pull two opposite sides of the circle, then fold the stretched ends of the dough over the filling, pinching the edges to seal. Transfer to a floured tray or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining cut rounds. Before re-rolling the scraps, roll, cut, fill, and seal the other half of the dough. Re-roll the scraps as necessary to use up the remaining filling.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-high, add one-quarter of the mezzalune, and cook until they begin to float, about 2 minutes. Transfer the mezzalune to a tray or damp dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. At this point, the mezzalune can be covered and chilled for several hours before finishing.

6. In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Transfer half of the mezzalune to the skillet. Cook, flipping occasionally, until browned and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining mezzalune. Serve immediately, topping with the remaining parsley.

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tomato soup with chicken meatballs and pasta

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I have been loyal to the first homemade tomato soup recipe I ever made. It was ten years ago, when I was just starting to up my cooking game. I’ve seen so many tomato soup recipes since then, but I’ve never felt any temptation to stray. My favorite recipe was comfortingly familiar, and I always knew that I’d be disappointed about any other recipe.

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Apparently, adding meatballs to tomato soup puts it in a different category, so I’m willing to try it, even though there are more similarities than differences between the two recipes. The flavor base of my old favorite is shallots, which are cooked in butter with tomato paste until the mixture is dark and caramelized. Canned tomatoes are roasted until they’re dry and lightly browned before being stirred into aromatics along with the canning juice and chicken broth.

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Replace the butter with olive oil and the shallots with a combination of onions, carrots, and celery, cook them a bit less, skip the tomato paste and add the tomatoes without roasting them, and you’ve got this new soup. The flavor is lighter, but I enjoyed it nearly as much and might actually prefer it once in a while.

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The meatballs, of course, are a fun addition, and together with the pasta, put this almost in the spaghettio’s category. I’d say it’s different enough not to compare to my standard recipe, but I just compared them. And that’s okay, because they’re both so great.

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Tomato Soup with Pasta and Meatballs (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Light and Healthy 2011)

4 servings

My meatballs ended up looking more like chicken-flavored pesto than pesto-flavored chicken, which might be because my homemade pesto has less oil (and therefore more basil per volume) than store-bought versions. Still, I’ve increased the chicken slightly. The soup could use more meatballs anyway.

I’ve probably made this slightly less healthy by increasing the pasta, but the original amount (4 ounces) was just a tease.

I usually cook with canned whole tomatoes instead of diced, because they break down more. I just chop them by sticking a pair of kitchen shears in the can and snipping away.

8 ounces ground dark chicken (or a mix of dark and light meat)
3 tablespoons pesto
3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
⅛ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery rib, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2½ cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes or whole tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces uncooked small pasta, such as ditalini or alphabet noodles

1. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the chicken, pesto, bread crumbs, and salt. Mix thoroughly, then form into approximately forty ½-inch balls. Chill until needed.

2. In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, then uncover and cook until the mixture is dry, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth and tomatoes; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary.

3. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or transfer it in batches to a stand-up blender to puree, then return the soup to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and add the meatballs and pasta. Cook, stirring frequently, until the noodles are tender and the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Serve.

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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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Printer Friendly Recipe
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
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

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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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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Printer Friendly Recipe
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
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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