Smoked Salmon Quesadillas

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Back when I catered, I once created a quesadilla bar for a smallish party. It was a lot of work, with two skillets going, but the guests enjoyed choosing their custom ingredients and their ooey gooey appetizers.

If my memory serves, I had chicken, beef, and shrimp, peppers and onions, tomatoes and mangos, good cheeses, plus cilantro. There are just so many options with quesadillas.

On this blog I’ve posted on what I’d call traditional, southwestern-style quesadillas, which I’ve made a lot over the years, especially when my kids were home. I love serving them with both red and green salsas.

With flour tortillas that get extra crispy in butter, and all of the cheesy goodness inside, you hardly need anything else. But I do. And smoked salmon quesadillas are a perfect example of going beyond the traditional quesadilla.

Smoked Salmon Quesadillas
Makes 3 – 8″ quesadillas

6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
6 ounces soft goat cheese like chèvre, at room temperature
1 generous tablespoon chopped chives
1 generous tablespoon finely chopped parsley
2 teaspoons olive oil or butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
6 – 8” flour tortillas
12 ounces grated mozzarella
6 ounces high quality smoked salmon
Butter, about 3 generous tablespoons

Mix together the cream cheese and goat cheese along with the chives and parsley until smooth. Don’t overstir.

In a 12” skillet, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots and sauté them for about 5 minutes. Remove the cooked shallots to a small bowl, and keep the skillet on the stove. Get out a lid that works with the skillet as well as a large metal spatula.

Set out a large cutting board for cutting the quesadillas, and a serving platter.

Spread the soft cheese on all 6 tortillas.


Then add the slices of smoked salmon to 3 “bottom” tortillas, and top the salmon with 1/3 of the cooked shallots on each of the 3 tortillas.

When ready to start cooking, have all of the tortillas, tops and bottoms, the grated mozzarella, and butter on hand. It’s best to be fully prepared.

Heat the skillet over medium-high heat and add the butter; some browning is good. Carefully place the bottom tortilla in the skillet, tortilla side down, then immediately add a generous amount of grated cheese, about 4 ounces per quesadilla, followed by the top tortilla (that only has the soft cheese spread on it.) Press gently on the quesadilla.

If the tortilla has crisped up golden on the bottom, carefully turn over the quesadilla using a heavy spatula. Press down on it with the spatula, then cover the skillet, turn down the heat and put on the lid.

The heat is lowered to allow the cheeses to melt thoroughly and the quesadilla to heat through.
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Carefully place the quesadilla to the cutting board. Add more butter to the skillet, turn up the heat, and repeat with the remaining 2 quesadillas.

Let the quesadillas rest for at least five minutes before cutting up like a pizza, using a long knife or pizza cutter, then layer onto a serving platter.

Cover with a clean towel to keep them warm, but keep it loose. You want to retain the crispiness of the tortillas, which is why it’s best to work fast.

As an appetizer, these will serve quite a few people; they’re quite rich.

Keep in mind that these alone are fabulous with a rosé or Prosecco, or better yet, a sparkling rosé!

And if you prefer, use raw shallots instead of sautéed. Even capers can be used in the quesadillas.

You can play with my version of these quesadillas, but I highly suggest you stick to my cheeses because they’re mild. You want to taste the luscious smoked salmon in these.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

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There an adorable young Italian woman whose blog I follow. Her name is Alida, she was born in Friuli in North Eastern Italy, and her blog is My Little Italian Kitchen.

I follow her on Facebook as well, because her daily food photos make me happy. Like these. So colorful and enticing!

Although now living in London, Alida travels often throughout Italy, visiting artisanal bakers and cheese makers, and has also won cooking competitions. Let’s just say she knows what she’s doing, and is passionate about Italian food.

To quote Alida, “Cooking is an expression of who you are and your personality. You have to put your whole self into it: your passion, feeling and experiences all go into the food and you become part of the recipe.”

In the spring of 2017, Alida posted a recipe for Asparagus Ham Lasagna that I couldn’t ignore. “Traditional” lasagna is so wonderful, but I love other varieties as well, even meatless varieties. It’s my idea of comfort food.

Fresh pasta sheets, bechamel, a purée of asparagus, ham, asparagus pieces, and Parmesan, all layered and baked to perfect deliciousness! I can’t believe I’ve waited a year to make it. Plus, it was an excuse to finally use my Kitchen Aid pasta rolling attachment.

Ham and Asparagus Lasagna

Ingredients
fresh lasagne sheets – 400 g – about 15 sheets
fresh asparagus – 700 g – 6 cups
grated parmesan cheese – to sprinkle
ham – 240 g – 1 + 2/3 cup
olive oil
salt
butter – knob

For the bechamel sauce:
milk – 1,5 Liters – 1.58 qt
butter – 100 g – 1/2 cup
plain flour – 80 g – 3/4 cup
grated nutmeg – pinch
salt and pepper

The pasta dough I started with included 3 eggs plus 2 yolks, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Whisk the eggs and olive oil together and gradually add flour until a dough forms. Turn out onto a slightly floured board, knead a minute, then wrap up in plastic wrap and let sit at least 30 minutes to rest.

Roll out the lasagna sheets to the desired thickness. They can be a little thicker than sheets you would use for making ravioli. I used #6 on my attachment.

Cut to 13″ lengths and set aside.

Clean and peel the asparagus if they are large. Remove the thicker ends and cut the tips off. Cut the asparagus in small pieces and cook them in salty water. I cooked the tips first just to keep it simple.

Whiz the stems into a purée and set aside.

Make the bechamel and set aside; I’ve included a link to my own in case you’ve never made it before.

Have the grated Parmesan and ham handy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ baking dish.

When you’re ready to prepare the lasagna, add some bechamel to the bottom of the baking dish and cover with a few lasagna sheets.

Add some asparagus purée, ham, cheese, and more sauce. Cover again with lasagna sheets.

Continue layering. On the top, make sure there is bechamel, ham, cheese, and the remaining asparagus.

Bake, covered, for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake another 20 minutes.


Let the lasagna sit for about 30 minutes before cutting up the servings.

The lasagna actually sliced very well while it was still warm.

You can see the lovely layers on white sauce, ham, asparagus puree, and asparagus tips.

I sliced the asparagus tips lengthwise after they had cooked and cooled, because I felt they were quite thick.

I love traditional lasagna, but this is definitely second best! And in spite of the bechamel, this lasagna doesn’t seem as heavy as traditional, probably because the only meat is thinly shaved ham. I’ll definitely be making this again!

Lasagna Soup

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I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t love lasagna. It’s hard not to love, with the luscious layers of red sauce, pasta, and multiple cheesiness. But what’s odd for me, is that I rarely make it. In fact, if I do make it, it’s for a post-funeral family get-together or such. I make it for other people. I can’t remember the last time I made it for my own family.

Sure, making lasagna is a bit tedious, but there’s nothing difficult about it. But unless there’s another funeral to cook for, I may never make lasagna again, thanks to my girlfriend. Years ago she showed me a recipe from a cooking magazine, and since then I’ve been hooked on making lasagna soup!

It’s got all of the elements of lasagna – pasta, red sauce, a few cheeses, plus a few extras. It’s hearty and delicious, and a big pot of this soup goes a long way. It’s great for company.

I don’t have the original recipe, but here’s what I did today. As with most of my recipes, you can put your own stamp on it by substituting ingredients. Just as you keep the soup tasting like lasagna, it will be delicious!
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Lasagna Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 – 1 pound packages bulk Italian sausage
19.2 ounces of ground turkey
2 onions, finely chopped
1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 – 32 ounce cartons beef broth
10 ounces baby spinach
1 – 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried basil*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Cheese(s) – you can use ricotta, mozzarella, and Parmesan, or any combination thereof

For the lasagna soup, I chose a combination of Italian sausage and ground white-meat turkey, but you could use beef and pork if you prefer.


Begin by adding the oil to a large stockpot. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meats, and spend about 10 minutes slightly browning and cooking them.
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I have a wonderful tool that this same girlfriend gave me last Christmas that helps cut up ground meat into smaller pieces. Grab one of these if you spot one.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onions. Stirring occasionally, cook the onions for about 5 minutes, then add the mushrooms.


Cook the mushrooms for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and give it a stir. Then add the broth.

Break up the lasagna noodles and place them in the broth.
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Submerge the noodles as best you can, cover the pot, and lightly simmer the noodles for about 30 minutes. I used whole-wheat noodles. If you’re using white noodles, be careful not to overcook them.

Add the spinach, and carefully stir it into the broth until it wilts. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and add the seasoning.


Give everything a good stir. Spinach and mushrooms aren’t necessarily traditional in lasagna, but in this soup the vegetables are a great addition, making the soup a little healthier by stretching the meat.
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Heat the soup, taste for seasoning,and serve hot.
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In the past, when I have made this soup for a crowd, I offered cheese choices so everyone can customize his/her lasagna soup. You can place a little blob of fresh ricotta in the bottom of your bowl, add the hot soup, then add a few fresh mozzarella pearls and freshly grated Parmesan. Or simply offer grated mozzarella. It’s all good. But some cheese is absolutely necessary or it won’t be lasagna soup.

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Today I placed grated fresh mozzarella in the bottom of the bowl, and topped the soup with finely grated Parmesan. When you stir the melted cheese with the soup, you’re tasting lasagna. And it’s fabulous!

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* Which herb or herbs to use in a red sauce that would be used in a traditional lasagna are widely debated. Some people only use oregano, some a mixture of basil and oregano. I just love the flavor of dried basil, when no fresh basil is available. Make this soup your own.

note: It’s important to add all of the broth to this soup. For one thing, it’s important for cooking the noodles. But secondly, you don’t want the soup so tomatoey thick that you’re eating spaghetti sauce instead of a soup. Keep a good balance between the crushed tomatoes and broth.

Baked Mozzarella

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If you have been reading my blog, you know that I love baked brie – of any kind. I’ve posted on two savority varieties, my tomatillo-sauce topped baked brie and a baked brie with sautéed mushrooms.

So this recipe, although not about brie, really caught my attention. First, it is all about hot cheese. Secondly, the topping is very different than anything I’ve ever seen, which made making this recipe even more tempting. Third, it’s about hot cheese.

The recipe comes from this cookbook, Barbecue, with an unknown publishing date. I bought it in London, and it was printed in the UK.

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So you think this recipe would be about meat, but in the last chapter, entitled The Bits on the Side,” I found the recipe I’m making today, which Mr. Reynaud calls “Crumbed Mozzarella.” The reason being, the mozzarella is covered with a mixture of ground pistachios and bread crumbs. Interesting, yes?!!!

I just knew I had to make it. I’ve only made one other recipe from this book, called surf and turf, which were kabobs, and so far, so good. But this recipe was really odd, which forced me to prepare the mozzarella differently. I didn’t, however, mess with the ingredients.
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Baked Crumbed Mozzarella
adapted from Barbecue and Grill

1 – 8 ounce mozzarella ball
1 ounce pistachios
2 teaspoons bread crumbs
Big pinch of thyme
A few grindings of black pepper
1 egg
Olive oil (optional)
Salt (optional)

Remove the mozzarella from the plastic and let it sit on paper towels to dry off.
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Meanwhile, weigh the pistachios.
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Add the bread crumbs, black pepper and thyme.
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Place everything in a food processor and process until almost fine; I like a little texture.

Place the mixture on a plate and set aside.
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Break the egg into a medium bowl, large enough to fit the mozzarella, and set aside.

Get out a small plate and have handy.

Dip the mozzarella in the egg.
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Then place it on the pistachio-bread crumb mixture. Turn the mozzarella around to coat on all sides.
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Then place the mozzarella on the small plate and place the plate in the freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Get out a skillet that is well seasoned. Heat it over medium heat. Add the mozzarella ball, and begin to brown it on all sides, although you might do a better job than I did. It was supposed to be done on a hot plate, whatever that is, for a total of 7-8 minutes. The browning process, which Mr. Reynaud simply refers to as cooking of the mozzarella ball, I think is also supposed to cook the egg and create a seal for the cheese.
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Right before serving, I gently heated the mozzarella in its serving bowl in the microwave.

Then I served the hot mozzarella with crostini.

note: Mr. Reynaud’s recipe called for 3 mozzarella balls, of undisclosed size, and I just wanted to use one. But I thought it was a poorly written recipe to not have included the weight of the cheese balls. There were other problems as well… But I still love this cookbook!

verdict: The flavors are fabulous! However, I think I’d prefer to chop up fresh mozzarella, place it in an oven-proof shallow baking dish, Top the cheese with pistachio mixture, and bake it. That way, there is more pistachio to mozzarella ratio. Because I find melted mozzarella quite rubbery. I prefer baked brie and camembert…

Got Stale Bread?

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Got stale bread? Make panzanella!

Panzanella is an Italian salad made with stale, or at the very least, leftover bread, and you wouldn’t believe how wonderful it is. I’m sure its origins are peasant-based, because the peasant approach to making meals is all about using everything available to you, without any waste. And that means you never throw away old bread. You just turn it into a salad!

Besides bread, other additions include tomatoes, plus oil and vinegar. Some panzanellas get more involved with the inclusion of cucumbers, olives, and capers. I sometimes like to add some spinach leaves as well. And I have added feta cheese, although at that point it almost becomes a Greek-inspired salad. Italian or Greek, it doesn’t matter. It’s all good!

So today my panzanella is made from leftover sourdough bread, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, mozzarella pearls, purple onion, and lots of basil. No recipe is needed!

Panzanella

Leftover bread or stale bread*
Vinegar, I used red wine vinegar
Olive oil
Cherry tomatoes, sliced
Cucumber, de-seeded and sliced
Small purple onion, sliced
Mozzarella pearls, if you want to include cheese
Pitted Kalamata olives, sliced in halves
Salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
Fresh basil

First, break up the bread or slice it into cubes.
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Place the bread in a serving bowl. Sprinkle generously with vinegar to soften up the bread. This is especially important if using stale bread. See * below for more information on this.
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Add the tomatoes, and sprinkle on some salt and more vinegar.
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Then add the cucumbers, which you can season with salt as well.


Add the purple onions, and the mozzarella pearls.

Add the olives. Season well with salt and pepper, and give everything a toss. Add more vinegar and olive oil as necessary. (If you prefer, you can certainly use a pre-made vinaigrette instead of just using oil and vinegar.)

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Before serving, sprinkle with baby basil leaves, or a chiffonade of basil.

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The salad can also sit at room temperature for up to 2 hours for the flavors to combine. Just toss gently once before serving. The salad is prettier if the bread remains somewhat in intact pieces.
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* Typically, actual stale bread is used for this salad. Then it’s dipped in water to soften. I really don’t like that technique, even though it works. I love vinegar, so I just add a lot of vinegar to the bread before completing the salad. Also, my bread was only a couple of days old, and not stale. I could have dried it out in the oven, but I was fine with the bread as is. Some people grill the bread first before slicing it, but I personally don’t like this option because grilled bread can really tear up the roof of my mouth. But as you can see, there are many options

note: If you have leftover bread but don’t want panzanella, make bread crumbs. That way, there’s no waste!

Gratin Fun

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Can you have fun creating a gratin? Absolutely yes! Because there are no rules. It’s just a matter of using what you have on hand.

We all know and love rich, creamy potato gratins, but during the summer months, it’s fun and easy to create your own customized gratin using your garden vegetables or those from a farmer’s market. And because summer veggies are more watery than potatoes, no cream is required.

A gratin isn’t absolutely necessary, but sometimes you get tired of roasting and grilling and steaming. A gratin just provides a slightly fancier layered dish that is delicious. Plus you can add cheese, so it’s definitely a different kind of win-win vegetable dish.

Today I had a lot of summer squash and zucchini, so that’s what made me decide to make a gratin. This gratin is not seasoned to speak of, because I served it with some grilled chicken breasts topped with my home-made pesto (which contains no cheese). So I left things simple so the wonderful ripe vegetables could shine. Here you go…

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Squash Gratin

Squash, sliced thinly with a mandolin
2 large tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 ounces sliced pancetta
6 ounces grated cheese of choice, I used pecorino
Salt and Pepper

Choose a dish, preferably a relatively deep baking dish. It can be square or round, it doesn’t matter. Then pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Begin adding the zucchini and summer squash rounds to the dish in a layer. Season with salt and pepper.

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Then add the slices of one tomato. Season with salt and pepper again. Add some of the grated cheese. In my case, I just happened to have some buffalo mozzarella left over, so I used that. Anything that melts well and will help hold the layers together will work.

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Continue with the remaining zucchini and squash, and tomato slices. Then top everything with the pancetta. Pancetta is completely unnecessary, but I thought would add some nice flavor to the vegetables.

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Then top with the remaining cheese.

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Bake the dish covered with foil for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and continue baking for about 15 minutes. It should look like this:

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Now, there will be water in the bottom of the baking dish from the vegetables. You can either let everything cool and then carefully pour off the water, or, use a baster like you would use for your turkey, and remove the water from around the edges and discard. This is just inevitable because of the amount of water that is in vegetables. But this is also why no cream is required to make this kind of gratin!

Because of the water issue, your gratin will shrink, as well. So when you make it, try to get it to the top of the baking dish as much as you can. If you’re concerned about overflow, place the baking dish on a cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan first.

To serve this gratin, you can dish it out with a spoon like my husband did when I wasn’t looking, or slice it into pretty wedges.

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So hopefully I’ve inspired you to make your own vegetable gratin. You can layer the vegetable slices with sautéed onion rings for more flavor if you wish, and of course you can season with herbs of choice. You could even brush individual layers with pesto, and dot them with sun-dried tomatoes! It really doesn’t matter what you do – trust me, it will work!