Archive for the 'Italian' Category

Spinach Lasagna


This is superb lasagna.  Definitely the best I’ve ever made (but take that with a grain of salt because I don’t make lasagna that often).   I think one thing that it really had going for it was the noodles I used.  If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, look for their lasagna noodles.  They’re shorter and wider than typical lasagna noodles, and they don’t have those ruffly edges, which I think is a big plus.

Alright, I know this doesn’t really make sense in the middle of a post about lasagna, but it’s National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

The theme for the week is “Do Just One Thing” to promote awareness about eating disorders.  Since there are a few people out there who actually read this, it seemed like an appropriate place to share my story.

I’m not going to go into  too much detail about my eating disorder, which started around the time I turned 13.  It was hell.  It changed my personality, my relationship with my family, and my attitude towards life.  It sent me to the hospital for 10 days inpatient followed by months of intensive therapy.

But thanks to my incredibly supportive family, an absolutely wonderful therapist, and a hell of a lot of work on my part, I’m not suffering anymore.  In fact I don’t think I’ve really relapsed in at least 5 years.  It went from something that preoccupied all my thoughts and dictated all my actions to something that I only occasionally think of, and I am incredibly grateful that I’m here today to say that recovery IS possible.

Eating disorders are silent but powerful.  They will take over an individual’s life and change everything about them, and they’re incredibly hard to walk away from once they’ve taken hold.  If you are suffering or you know someone suffering, DON’T GIVE UP.  There’s no magic cure, and recovery doesn’t happen overnight.  There may be relapses.  It may seem hopeless.  It may feel so comforting to hold onto the eating disorder that the prospect of giving it up seems completely out of the question.  But it IS possible.  With support, with encouragement, and with the refusal to let the eating disorder dictate your life.

I know how hard it is to reach out for help.  I was in denial, my family was (in the beginning) in denial, and the prospect of no longer having the eating disorder, that illusion of control, completely terrified me.  But I’m here today, feeling more in control of my life than ever, able to have trusting relationships with people, and able to truly enjoy food and be proud of my body.  It was a long, hard journey, but it the end it was COMPLETELY worth it.

The reason lasagna seems like a fitting recipe to go with this post is because one day, not long after I got out of the hospital, we went to a family friend’s house for dinner.  They were serving lasagna, and I was able to actually enjoy a piece of it without completely panicking.  In those early days when I was still in treatment, that was incredibly rare, and it took years for me to be able to enjoy food without worrying about the calories.  But that night I saw a glimpse of what the future could be like when I no longer obsessed over every calorie I took in, and it was just another factor that helped push me towards recovery.

Recipe:

(adapted from Herbivoracious)

12 ounces baby spinach
1 lb. ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 head cauliflower florets and some stem, cut small
1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into thin slices
1 large (28 oz.) can + 1 regular (15 oz.) can plain tomato sauce
zest from 1 lemon
1 pound no-boil or regular lasagna noodles
salt, pepper to taste
1 lb. grated mozzarella
4 oz. grated parmesan cheese

Wilt the spinach in a frying pan over medium heat with a few tsp of water.

Let cool in a mesh strainer, then squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Mix with the ricotta, nutmeg, and some salt and pepper.

Beat in the eggs

Saute the onion & garlic one tablespoon of olive oil, then add the cauliflower and zucchini and saute 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft.

Add the tomato sauce and lemon zest, then simmer 5 minutes. Add salt to taste

Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ pan that’s at least 2″ deep. Start with a layer of red sauce in the bottom of the pan, then stack layers of noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella.

Sprinkle a mix of parmesan and mozzarella over the top.

Bake at 375 F for about 45 minutes, or until the cheese is brown and bubbling and you can easily pierce the noodles with a fork.

Remove from the oven and let rest 15 minutes before serving.

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Vegan Calzones

Sorry for the hiatus, but my kitchen looked like this for awhile:

all packed up in boxes.

Now we’re settled in a new apartment, with a new (smaller) kitchen, and a plethora of Asian grocery stores just a few minutes away. There’s also a Philipino bakery not far from my work, and I’ve already figured out that I may have a severe addiction to sweet rolls with ube filling. I’ll try and hold myself back, though.

With the kitchen all set up after a week of transition, I was really excited to get into the kitchen, and particularly excited to make some calzones.

I made some back when we were living in Korea but they were a total flop. Fortunately, these turned out much better, with a soft wheat dough on the outside, and a flavorful vegetable-herb filling on the inside. I didn’t miss the cheese at all (but Mike did) so it’s up to you whether you want to make them vegan or use ricotta and shredded mozzarella in place of the tofu. I also made a basic tomato sauce to go with them, which I highly recommend because I think they’d seem like they were missing something without it.

Recipe:
(adapted fromI Eat Trees)

dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup hot (100 F) water, plus additonal warm water if needed
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup bread flour

filling
1 tablespoon olive oil
2/3 cup finely diced zucchini
2/3 cup finely chopped broccoli
2 cloves garlic, finely micned
1/2 pound firm regular tofu, rinsed and patted dry
1 tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar

To make the dough, put the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the yeast and sugar. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the salt and flours with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together, then put the bowl into the mixer and mix with the dough hook on medium speed for about 5 minutes. If there is any flour not incorporated into the dough, add warm water a little at a time until it forms Turn dough out onto a floured board, and knead 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Lightly oil a clean, large bowl and place dough in it. Turn dough over so it is lightly oiled on all sides. Cover bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Start the tomato sauce: heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add garlic. Saute for about 2 minutes, then add the tomatoes, sugar, and salt. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then stir in basil and puree with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust salt and sugar, then set aside until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet. When hot, add garlic, and cook for about two minutes. Then add the broccoli and zucchini and sauté just tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Place tofu in a medium bowl and mash well. Add parsley, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and mix well. Fold in cooked vegetables and set aside.

Preheat over to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Punch down the dough and divide into 4 equal balls. Keep dough covered with the same towel that covered the bowl, and work with 1 ball of dough at a time.

Place the ball on a lightly work surface and stretch it into an 8″ round. Place 1/4 of the filling slightly off the center of the round, and fold the dough over. Seal the edges of the calzone by crimping them with your fingersk. Place them on the prepared baking sheet as soon as they are formed. Bake on the center rack of the oven until browned, about 20 minutes.

Spaghetti with Wheatballs

I never really thought meatballs were anything special. It might be because my mom used to serve spaghetti with Italian sausages, so meatballs seemed bland in comparison. Obviously, when I gave up meat, I didn’t really think about a future without meatballs. That is, until I saw a post about a vegetarian version on No Meat Athlete. For some reason, those seemed far more appealing to me than the original variety ever did.

There isn’t too much prep work involved in these – chop up a few things and measure a few others, then process them all together in the food processor and fry in a skillet. They don’t have exactly the same texture as meatballs would, but the flavor is great, and they’re definitely healthier than ground beef! I tossed mine with some marinara and served them over whole wheat spaghetti, and with a green salad it was a perfect, satisfying Sunday night dinner.

Recipe:
(adapted from Vegan on the Cheap via No Meat Athlete)

makes about 20

1 1/2 cups cooked or 1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 cup chopped white button mushrooms
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
1/2 cup oat bran
1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

whole wheat spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
marinara sauce

To make the wheat balls:
Combine the chickpeas, mushrooms, garlic, and parsley in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse to combine. Transfer everything to a large bowl and mix with your hands for a minute or two.
Heat about 2 tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Roll about 2 tbsp of the chickpea-mushroom mixture between your hands to make a ball and place in the skillet. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until browned all over (5-7 minutes).

Toss with a little marinara and serve over cooked pasta.

Pasta with sweet tomato sauce and baked ricotta

Our Jamie Oliver cookbooks have been getting a lot of use lately, and with good reason. He’s got such a great approach to food, particularly pasta! I used to think I was tired of Italian food, but his recipes just keep proving me wrong. Sometimes he can be a little heavy-handed with the butter and cream, but it’s easy to scale those back a little bit.

I was a little skeptical about baking ricotta cheese, but it makes it firm and creamy and a little more solid than it is right out of the container. I made fresh pasta for this because I’m now completely obsessed with it, but of course you can use dried if you want to. Taste your sauce before you add any sugar, because some brands of canned tomatoes already taste pretty sweet.

Recipe:
1 15-ounce container ricotta (I used part-skim), drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer for a few hours
2 tbsp olive oil, divided
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried oregano
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar (if needed)
1 pound wide pasta, such as pappardelle
a handful of fresh basil, torn
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan

After you’ve drained the ricotta, preheat the oven to 400F. Put a piece of parchment on a baking sheet and put the ricotta in the center. Flatten it so you have a 1″ thick disk.
Rub all over with 1 tbsp olive oil, then sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, then remove and set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil to cook the pasta.
Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium until soft, 3 or 4 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes, then crush the tomatoes with a spoon. Taste and add sugar (optional), salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and reserve some of the pasta water.
Toss the cooked with the sauce and a tablespoon or two of pasta water and the tomato sauce, and basil. Crumble up the ricotta and add to the pasta with the parmesan cheese.

Fresh linguine with pesto and roasted tomatoes

Discovering that I could make fresh pasta will probably remain one of the highlights of 2010, even though it happened on the third day of the year. I don’t know if you regularly eat fresh pasta, but it is so much better than dried (and it cooks much faster!) that I think there’s absolutely no reason not to try it.

Although I’m not particularly well-versed on all the Italian pasta terminology (is that a pile of fettuccine? linguinei? unclassifiable because there’s no consistency in the widths?) I do know that those noodles you see right there were GOOD. Yes, they were uneven, but lets be real, I cut them up with a pizza cutter, and I really didn’t care how even the widths were, I just wanted a vehicle for some pesto I had recently made.

Pesto and fresh pasta are both divine, this is true, but I upped the ante a little with some roasted cherry tomatoes, because for me the only way to eat cherry tomatoes (other than straight off the plant) is to toss them with some olive oil and sea salt and roast them for about 20 minutes in a 375 F oven. Then of course the whole thing needed to be sprinkled with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

I’m going to go ahead and give you the fresh pasta recipe (adapted from Jamie’s Italy by Jamie Oliver), even though I posted it recently, because it’s just easier that way.

Recipe
2 cups flour
3 whole eggs
sea salt
1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (give or take, depending on your preferences) pesto
parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
First, make the pasta.
Whisk together the flour and a few pinches of salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and crack the eggs into it. Using the fork, whisk the eggs without mixing in any flour until they’re smooth and yellow.
Once the eggs are beaten, mix them with the flour. When it becomes too thick to stir, turn the whole thing out onto the counter and knead for about 8 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for about half an hour.
(This can be done up to two days ahead of time – just knead the dough until it’s smooth, then wrap tightly and store in the fridge until you’re ready to roll it out. Flour your work surface and a rolling pin.)

While the pasta is resting, make the tomatoes. Toss the tomato halves with olive oil and a few big pinches of sea salt. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet and put them into the oven, checking after 15 minutes (the total time will depend on their size). You want really wrinkly skins that are beginning to look very dark in places. Pull the tray out of the oven and set aside.

Roll the pasta dough out into a large rectangle so it’s less than 1/8″ thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut it into long thin strips (how thick is up to you) and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil (you should have at least a gallon of water going). Drop the pasta in a few strands at a time, stirring so they don’t stick together. Cook for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until al dente. Drain but do not rinse, then return them to the pan (off the heat) and toss with some pesto.

Divide into pasta bowls, and sprinkle some of the roasted tomatoes and grated parmesan on top.

Homemade Ricotta

ricotta1
I know I’ve complained about the lack of affordable cheese in Korea, but now I just feel ridiculous. If I had known it was this simple to make ricotta, with ingredients I usually have on hand, I would have done it LONG ago!

I was initially inspired by this post by David Lebovitz on Simply Recipes, but it took me some time to actually get around to trying it out.

After a little internet investigating, I found that the acid didn’t have to be vinegar… it just needed to be something that would make the milk curdle. Like lemon juice! And because I happened to have a lemon in the fridge but no white vinegar, that’s what I used. I also used low-fat yogurt, instead of full-fat as the recipe suggested, but it still turned out wonderfully.

I like the texture of this so much more than the store-bought stuff, which can sometimes be a little gummy. This is definitely not the last time I make this!

Recipe:
(adapted from Simply Recipes)
1 quart whole milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt (not fat-free)
juice of one lemon
1/2 tsp salt

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a low boil over medium heat. Boil for about 3 minutes, or until the milk is curdled. Remove from the heat and let stand for about 10 minutes.

Line a strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth and set it over a deep bowl. Pour the milk mixture into the strainer and let stand for about 10 minutes. Squeeze the cloth to remove excess moisture from the cheese, then store for up to 2 days in the refrigerator.
Makes about 1 cup.

Pesto

I had the wonderful opportunity to cook during daylight hours today, something that doesn’t happen nearly enough in my life. As a result, I went a little photo-happy while I made some pesto. Why did I make pesto the day before Thanksgiving when I had plenty of other things to do in the kitchen? Good question. I guess because I had some sad-looking basil in the fridge that I didn’t want to let go to waste.
And because pesto is great.

2 cups roughly chopped fresh basil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
a few pinches of salt

Chop up your basil like this:
It doesn’t have to be finely or evenly chopped at all.
Put it in a bowl.  Add the chopped garlic.  I like 4 cloves, because I like garlic.  You can adjust the amount to your preference.

Add some pine nuts.  If you don’t have pine nuts, you can always use walnuts. 

Pour the olive oil over the whole thing.  I ran out of my cheap everyday olive oil so I had to add a little of the good stuff.  And man is this stuff good…

Today, for the very first time, I realized I didn’t have to dirty all 209340 pieces of my food processor.  Instead, I could use an immersion blender, and I’d only have to wash TWO things! (The bowl, and the blender).  Since I am without a dishwasher, this was an excellent discovery.

Look what a great job the immersion blender does!

Next, add about 1/2 cup shredded parmesan.  You could use Romano instead…up to you.
Stir that in, then taste a little.  It will need some salt.  Add a few pinches and stir well.  Taste again.  Keep adding salt, pinch by pinch, and stirring, until it tastes like pesto.  Trust your taste buds! You’ll know when you’ve added enough.

And there you have it: Home-made pesto!