December 16th, 2013

Funky Kitchen Karma and Yummy Eggplant “Lasagna”

DSC_0089

It was more than my hope, it was my intention to have numerous posts this month. The kitchen muse thought otherwise. What a spate of not-quite wonderful dishes and complete duds the past two weeks!

The first was the worst: my glaceed chestnuts. Mealy and a misery. Ugh. A chuck into the trash bin was all they deserved, with no looking back.

DSC_0032

Next up, Maggie and I made panettones. What an involved fun project! We ordered the special baking forms and Fiori di Sicilia extract. I candied orange, grapefruit, and clementine peels. Maggie made the Biga, or starter.

DSC_0048

As the breads baked, they imparted incredible aromatics but they lacked the distinctive soft, spongy texture that makes them a pleasure to eat. Maggie and I both plan on turning that misfortune into panettone bread pudding.

More yolks? A better rise? I will rework the recipe, and try it again. Practice! Failing that, I will respect that most Italian households with accomplished cooks in the kitchen still purchase their Christmas panettones from their local bakers.

DSC_0069

And lastly, something went awry with the beautiful Linzer cookie recipe that I found here. The crumbly dough would not roll out. I’ve since figured out what I did wrong.(I used frozen raw egg yolks—but I should have added 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar to the 4 yolks before I froze them. Then, they wouldn’t have been gummy.) I rescued that though, by baking the cookies in individual petite tins in a variety of shapes, and filling them with raspberry preserves.

DSC_0078

Okay, The power of threes–three up, three strikes, three outs. Let’s hope this spell of funky kitchen karma is over.

In the meantime, I want to share a successful recipe that you’d be pleased to serve during the holidays. It’s vegetarian; it’s gluten free, and will serve a crowd. It’s even got the Christmas colors going for it: roasted tomato-sweet red pepper sauce and fresh spinach-laced ricotta are spread between thick roasted slabs of eggplant. It is not eggplant parmesan. It’s not lasagna either. There’s no pasta–the eggplant takes the place of the noodles. The best part: it is simply delicious.

DSC_0087

I’ll be back soon, with other good things, I promise.
I wish you beneficent times in the kitchen. May the muse smile upon your efforts.

DSC_0093

ROASTED EGGPLANT “LASAGNA”

Like most lasagna recipes, there are 3 easy steps to the recipe, before you assemble the layers.

RED SAUCE: Sweet Red Pepper-Tomato

4 large red bell peppers, each cut in half, stemmed and seeded
2 medium onions, peeled and quartered
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
salt and black pepper to sprinkle over the vegetables
28 oz can whole plum tomatoes and sauce

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the red bell pepper halves and onion quarters onto a baking sheet. Coat with olive oil (about 3 tablespoons) and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place the canned plum tomatoes and their sauce onto a separate baking sheet. Drizzle with remaining oil. Season with salt and black pepper. Place both baking sheets into the oven. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until the red bell pepper skins are blackened and blistered. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, peel the pepper skins and discard.

Combine the roasted red bell peppers and onions with the roasted tomatoes into a large saucepan. Using an immersion blender, puree them together until smooth. You may add a little water–start with 1/2 cup—-if the mixture is too thick. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

DSC_0083

“GREEN CHEESE” Spinach Ricotta
1/4 pound fresh spinach leaves
1 pound whole milk ricotta
1 egg
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic

Place all of the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse until all of the spinach is finely chopped and incorporated into the ricotta. The mixture will be creamy green.

ROASTED EGGPLANT
3 large eggplants
kosher salt
olive oil

2 cups shredded cheese: 1 cup mozzarella, 1 cup sharp white cheddar

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Slice the eggplants lengthwise, about 1/2 inch-3/4 inch thick. Lay the pieces onto a baking sheet and sprinkle with kosher salt.
Allow them to “sweat”—about 15 minutes—-then gently dab the water droplets with a paper towel.

Drizzle both sides of the eggplant with olive oil and place back onto the baking sheet. Place into the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
Remove, and using a metal spatula, flip the eggplant. Roast for another 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Keep the shredded cheese handy for the assembly.

DSC_0086

ASSEMBLY

Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 casserole pans with olive oil. Ladle a generous spoonful of red sauce onto the bottom. Cover the sauce with a layer of eggplant, followed by a layer of spinach-ricotta, and a sprinkle of shredded cheese. Repeat the process: red sauce, eggplant, ricotta, shredded cheese.

Baked uncovered for 25-30 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling hot. Let the eggplant lasagna sit undisturbed for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 15-20

DSC_0096

Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 20 Comments »




March 26th, 2013

Little Lasagna Rolls, spinach-ricotta-speck filling, red pepper-tomato sauce

DSC_0046

The old saying for March, “in like a lion, out like a lamb,” isn’t faring well this year. It’s lion all the way: blustery cold, temperatures skirting the freeze point at night. The threat of snow might only manifest as a swirl of icy flakes, hardly worth mentioning. Except that there are competing signs of spring–pear and plum trees blooming; branches of forsythia fleck sunny yellow, tulips and hyacinths in varying purpled hues; Against the stark grey, they all glow.

So, the recipe that I’m sharing with you today is one of those that straddles the seasons. Like most members in the family of baked pastas, it is substantial, hearty. The kind of dish you’d want on a chilly March night, when that lion wind roars through the cracks of your doors and windows.

DSC_0047

At the same time, it is lightened. The sauce combines sweet red bell peppers and tomatoes, roasted together and pureed to a gorgeous vermilion. The ricotta is whipped with baby spoon spinach into a creamy pale green smear. Impossibly thin ripples of speck, that marvelous cured ham from northern Italy, impart smoky woodsy notes. Ash, juniper, pepper, laurel.

And, they are dainty rolls.

DSC_0001

While I do like squares and rectangles of beefy lasagna, and lush vegetable towers: layer upon layer spread with bechamel, ricotta, braised artichokes
I found that these small roll-ups had an endearing and easy way about them–

DSC_0008

and made a delicious presence on the potluck table.

True to the way of lasagna, the most time is spent working with each component—prior to assembly.

Sauce pureed, filling whipped, pasta cooked al dente: you are ready to spread, cut and roll.

Lay out your lasagna noodles like fat ribbons on the counter;
spoon and slather the spinach ricotta from end to end. A little palette knife, used for icing cakes, is especially handy.

DSC_0010

The slices of speck, almost transparent, seem custom made for the pasta roll, and fit neatly over the ricotta.

Make a cut through the center of each layered ribbon, creating two pieces to curl into clever spirals. I think you’ll like this smaller style roll-up, rather than the giant ones made from the entire piece.

DSC_0012

For potluck, I also made a vegetarian version with shiitake mushrooms. They have a meaty texture and flavor that works well with the other ingredients. The recipe I’ve given below makes enough sauce and filling to make 2 casseroles: one with speck (or prosciutto, if you can’t find speck at your market) and one with shiitakes.

DSC_0015

As I finish writing this post, this early spring snow has picked up: swirls of white past my windows, and a pretty dusting over the yard.
Lion March! It shouldn’t last.

And April, with the promise of balmier days, will be here soon. Memories of winter and cold will fade as we anticipate tilling and planting the garden, and dream of asparagus and sweet peas and strawberries.

DSC_0021

LITTLE SPINACH-RICOTTA-SPECK (OR SHIITAKE) LASAGNA ROLLS WITH
SWEET RED BELL PEPPER-TOMATO SAUCE

Red Bell Pepper-Tomato Sauce:
4 red bell peppers, cut in half, stemmed and seeded
1 large onion, cut into eighths
4 cloves garlic
1-28 oz can plum tomatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

Place red bell pepper halves onto one side of a baking sheet. Tuck onion pieces and garlic cloves underneath. Brush the tops with olive oil.

Pour remaining oil onto the other side of the baking sheet. Spoon the entire contents of the can of plum tomatoes and sauce over the oiled area.

Sprinkle tomatoes and red bell peppers with salt and black pepper.

Roast in a preheated 425 degree oven for 25 minutes until the skins of the peppers are blackened and blistered.

Remove from oven and allow to cool. Peel the blistered skins and discard.
Place roasted vegetables and juices into a bowl. Using an immersion blender, process the ingredients into a brilliant red-orange sauce. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

Spinach-Ricotta-Speck Filling: (for vegetarian version, use shiitake mushrooms instead of speck)
8 oz. fresh baby spoon spinach
2 lb. ricotta
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon granulated garlic
2 eggs
1 ½ cups shredded or grated parmesan

4 oz. speck or prosciutto, very thinly sliced
-or-
4 oz shiitake mushroom, sliced and sauteed

1 box lasagna: 18 pieces, cooked according to package directions, drained and cooled
½ cup shredded pecorino romano to sprinkle over the top

Coat 2 9″by 13″ (or size thereabouts) casserole dishes with a little olive oil.

In a food processor fitted with the swivel blade, pulse the spinach until it’s chopped. Scrape into a mixing bowl and return the work bowl to the processor. Refit with swivel blade.

Add ricotta, eggs, salt, black pepper, and garlic and processor until well blended.

Stir the ricotta mixture into the spinach. Fold in the parmesan.

Lay out the lasagna in rows on your work counter. Dollop a few tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and spread it along the length, covering the pasta. Place slices of speck (or prosciutto) over the ricotta.

Cut the lasagna ribbons in half. Roll up each piece. You will have 36 nice lasagna roulades.

Cover the bottom of the casserole dishes with a layer of sauce. Arrange lasagna rolls in the dish. Spoon sauce over the tops. Sprinkle with pecorino romano.

Bake uncovered for 35 minutes in a 325 degree preheated oven. Serves 12-15

DSC_0051

DSC_0050

Posted in Casseroles, Pastas, Recipes | 19 Comments »