Whipped Mortadella

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There used to be an food blogger, Chicago-based realtor-by-day Peter, whose blog, The Roaming GastroGnome, was inspiring and entertaining. “I cook, she eats, we travel!”

But Peter’s blogging began dwindling as he began a professional career making sausage. I kid you not. This guy is a charcuterie expert.

His company is called SAUSAGE KÖNIG. Unfortunately, delivery at this time is only in Chicago. but for you lucky folks who live in Chicago, Peter is now catering, and runs the League Secrete des Gourmands dining series as well.

I’ve saved some of Peter’s recipes in my “pile,” waiting for a rainy day, which finally arrived. One of his recipes was whipped mortadella. Intrigued? I certainly was!

From Peter: “Such a snap to make and overall this dish shouldn’t take you more than 10 minutes. Basically take all of your ingredients and process in a food processor. The whipped mortadella is spreadable and great on crostini. It is the richest bologna you’ll ever have. Drizzle a little balsamic vinegar, or some mostarda for a touch of sweet acidity and oh my! A plate of these will definitely impress your guests, and you don’t need to tell them how simple it really is to make.”

This is the mortadella I purchased from my local deli Amazon.com


This recipe uses regular mortadella, not the variety containing pistachios.

Whipped Mortadella
Spuma di Mortadella

8 oz mortadella, cubed
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c grated parmigiano reggiano
Small pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of black pepper

Place the cubed mortadella in a food processor and process until chopped up and fine. Slowly add the cream in and process into a smooth paste, then blend in the cheese, pepper, and nutmeg.

Once you add the cream make sure you process the mixture well so it’s smooth. You may need to add a little more cream in order to achieve the desired consistency. Spoon into a ramekin and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve at room temperature with crackers or crostini.


This stuff is fabulous, and way more fun to eat this way.


I did end up adding a little more cream. It has a bit of a crumbly texture.

The only change I’d make is adding a tablespoon of soft butter to help the spreadability factor. Or, perhaps I could have processed the mortadella mixture longer.

I tried a cracker with a bit of balsamic drizzle and it was truly wonderful.

I will definitely be making this again, and doubling the recipe!

Cabbage Braised in Red Sauce

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It still confounds me what pops up on the internet when I least expect it. I’m talking recipes of course. With all of the cooking I’ve done for almost 40 years (yikes!) I just love it when something unique shows itself.

Case in point, a Bon Appetit recipe called Fall-Apart Caramelized Cabbage. It wasn’t the name that caught my attention, but the photo of charred and braised cabbage in a red sauce. I just had to make it.

Mine isn’t as beautifully styled, but it is still a beautiful dish, and most importantly, delicious.

Cabbage Braised in Red Sauce
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup double-concentrated tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne chile pepper flakes
1 medium head of green cabbage (or savoy), about 2 pounds total
1/2 cup extra-virgin oil, divided
Kosher salt
1 cup broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix tomato paste, garlic, coriander, cumin, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.

I like to use tomato paste in a tube.

Cut cabbage in half through core. Cut each half through core into 4 wedges.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, add cabbage to pan, cut side down, and season with salt.


Cook, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer cabbage to a plate.

Pour remaining 1/4 cup of oil into skillet. Add spiced tomato paste and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until tomato paste begins to split and slightly darken, about 2-3 minutes.

Pour in enough water to come halfway up sides of pan, season with salt, and bring to a simmer. I used vegetable broth mixed with tomato sauce for extra flavor. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of water.

Nestle cabbage wedges back into skillet (they should have shrunk while browning; a bit of overlap is okay). I placed the wedges of charred cabbage in a baking dish instead of using the skillet.

Transfer cabbage to oven and bake, uncovered, turning wedges halfway through, until very tender and liquid has mostly evaporated, about 40-50 minutes. Cabbage should be caramelized around the edges.


Scatter chopped parsley over the cabbage.


Serve with creme fraiche.


Today I wanted lamb so that’s what I made for the protein! But the cabbage would be prettier with grilled chicken or sausages.

I think the red sauce would also be good with some oregano and a pinch of cinnamon, instead of the coriander and cumin. But leave in the cayenne!

Honestly, if the red sauce was more Italian-inspired, I could definitely see some grated Parmesan sprinkled over the top!

My Favorite Pasta

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It could be said that one doesn’t need a book on pasta to cook pasta. I mean, start with garlic, add fresh tomatoes and basil to pasta, and you’ve got a fabulous dish. Add some Italian sausage and Parmesan to it and it gets even better. No recipe required.

But then, one could say that about a lot of different kinds of cooking. Especially everyday cooking, because often the recipes are created based on what you just picked up at the grocery store and what’s in your pantry.

But I have many Italian cookbooks, as well as pasta cookbooks, and it’s the only way to discover traditional recipes and unique ingredients.

One of my favorite Italian cookbook authors is Giuliano Bugialli. And this pasta recipe comes from his cookbook, Bugialli on Pasta, published in 1988. He’s especially funny to me because he abhors Americans who put cheese on all forms of pasta. He gets quite indignant about it, in fact.

pasta9

Fortunately, he has never visited me in my kitchen to see what I do and don’t do with pasta, because although I love his recipe, I’ve also adapted it. And, I serve it with cheese. The original recipe in the book is called Malloreddus alla Campidanese, or Sardinian Pasta with Sausages.

This is a photograph of his actual recipe using the “correct” pasta called malloreddus. I’ve always thought that this pasta shape looks like maggots! But I finally got my hands on some so that’s what I’m using!

pasta8

This is Malloreddus.


If you can’t find malloreddus, or find them too maggotty, use any ruffly pasta shape like radiatore or trumpets.


So here is my slight adaptation of Mr. Bugialli’s recipe.

Pasta Alla Campidanese
Pasta with Sausages

12 ounces pasta of choice
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage
1 onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 – 26.46 carton (Pomi brand) chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons dried basil (during winter months)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch saffron
1/3 cup cream
Freshly grated Parmesan
Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (during summer months)

Place a large pot of water on the stove over high heat. When the water boils, add the pasta, and cook according to package directions. Then pour everything into a large colander.

Pour the olive oil in the same pot that you used to cook the pasta. Heat it over medium high heat, then add the sausage. Use fairly large pieces; you don’t want it to look like ground sausage. Cook until well browned, then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and place the sausage in a bowl.

Turn down the heat slightly, then add the onion to the pot and sauté for about 5 minutes.

Add the garlic and stir for about 10 seconds, then add the tomatoes.

Give everything a stir, and cook for about 5 minutes to reduce slightly. You don’t want to reduce too much; you want extra sauce so the noodles can absorb it. Then add salt, saffron, and dried basil, if using. Stir well.

Stir it in, then add the sausage to the sauce. Cook for a few minutes, then add the cream.


Then add the pasta. Stir well but gently to combine.


Serve hot, topped with grated Parmesan and fresh basil, if available.

In reality, pasta puttanesca is my personal favorite, but it’s not for everybody. This recipe with Italian sausage and the red sauce is more generally enjoyed by everyone.

I like to prepare the pasta about an hour before serving, so the pasta has a chance to soak up the lovely sauce.

This pasta reheats pretty well, but you might have to add some broth or more cream and heat on the stove gently and slowly.

Besides the Parmesan, it’s really good topped with cayenne chile pepper flakes.

Fettuccine al Burro

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I didn’t grow up with Italian cuisine, which is interesting, considering my French mother cooked various global cuisines over the years, like Ethiopian and Chinese, as well as French. Somehow, Italian got overlooked.

It could have been on purpose now that I think of it. Her first husband, my father, was from Sicily. That marriage didn’t end well.

Fortunately, thanks to the comprehensive Time-Life Foods of the world set of cookbooks that my mother gave me when I got married, I gradually learned about the world of Italian cuisine.

My exploration taught me quickly that the cuisine was not anything like Americanized Italian food that I’d experienced at “bad” Italian restaurants.

Creating Osso Buco and Scaloppine al Marsala, and discovering pesto, were revelations. But one recipe really stood out in “The Cooking of Italy” cookbook, and that was Fettuccine al Burro.

It was and is still for me one of those “to die for” recipes. Practically equal parts butter, cream and cheese melted into fettuccine. What’s not to love?

This recipe is probably what’s better known as Alfredo sauce, but I’ll always call it by the name I first learned, which translates to fettuccine in butter.

Fettuccine al Burro
Egg Noodles with Butter and Cheese
Slightly adapted

8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream, plus a little more
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
12 ounces fettuccine
1 canned white truffle, sliced very thin, optional
Extra freshly grated Parmesan

Cream the softened butter by beating it vigorously against the sides of a large, heavy bowl with a wooden spoon until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the cream a little at a time, and then, a few tablespoons at a time, beat in 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Set aside.


Bring the water and salt to a bubbling boil in a large soup pot. Drop in the fettuccine and stir it gently with a wooden fork for a few moments to prevent the strands from sticking to one another.


Boil over high heat, stirring occasionally until the pasta is tender. Use the package instructions for guidance.

Immediately drain the fettuccine into a colander then transfer it at once to the bowl the toss until every strand is well coated.

Taste and season generously with salt and pepper. I use white pepper.

Stir in the optional truffle, if using. I know for a fact that 30+ years ago I never used truffles because I was pretty confused as to why one would put chocolate in pasta!!! I also could never have afforded them…


Serve the fettuccine at once.

Pass the extra grated cheese in a separate bowl.


If the fettuccine dries up a little before serving, add a little more cream, cover the bowl, and let the pasta sit.

Some day it would be fun to add some lovely slices of white truffle to this pasta, but it’s certainly rich and satisfying as is.

note: I typically buy a 4-5 pound chunk of Parmesan Reggiano at Whole Foods and store it for when I need to freshly grate some. For some odd reason, this really irks them, and I have no idea why. But how people can be happy with little 3 ounces plastic-wrapped chunks of Parmesan that are obviously cut along the rind is beyond me. So I break down my large chunk when I get home, store it in cheese bags, and grate as needed.

I love this gadget that I got at Amazon, of course, and it’s easier on the hands than a traditional grater. It’s a manual rotary cheese grater with 3 different graters. Just FYI.

Savory Biscotti

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The cookbook by Martha Stewart, called Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, was published in 1999, pretty soon after I started my catering business.

It’s a beautiful book, even if you’re not a Martha Stewart fan. Her ideas for hors d’oeuvres are, not surprisingly, creative and unique. Sometimes they’re on the crazy end of the spectrum – completely impractical and unreasonable.

One thing always got my attention – savory biscotti. She served them like fun crackers, but they could be used for canapés.

When I think of biscotti, I always think sweet, like my Christmas biscotti. But these are savory varieties, and include ingredients like nuts, seeds, cheese, olives, and other goodies. I imagined them to be really good served alongside cheese, with prosecco or rosé.

I decided it was time to make a variety of savory biscotti for a fun get-together, to have something unique on hand!

The following recipe is the base recipe. What I actually used in my savory biscotti is below.

Savory Biscotti
by Martha Stewart
printable recipe below

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled, cut into 8 pieces
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
2 large eggs
1/2 cup milk

Place the flour, pepper, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Combine on low speed.

Add the butter and beat until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the eggs, and milk. Gradually pour the milk mixture into the dough and mix just until combined.

This is the base dough for savory biscotti. Before chilling the dough and proceeding with baking, add various combinations of savory items and make sure they’re well distributed.

I kneaded the dough a bit before folding in my add-ins, which are listed below, along with Martha’s suggestions.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet with the remaining olive oil and set aside.

Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. (I halved the dough to make 2 logs.)

Roll each piece into a log measuring 1 1/2″ thick and about 7″ long. (I formed a log about 12″ long, then flattened it to about 1/2″ thick. (I am pretty sure MS meant 1 1/2″ wide, not thick.)

Transfer the logs to the prepared baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, about 30 minutes.

Brush each log with an egg wash (1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water and a pinch of salt). I didn’t do this. I did make sure there was a bit of grated cheese on the top of the biscotti, however.

Bake until the logs are light brown and feel firm to the touch, about 30-40 minutes. Reduce the oven to 250 degrees F.

Using a serrated knife, slice the logs crosswise on a long diagonal into 1/4″ thick slices that are 3-4″ long. Arrange the slices cut-side down on a wire rack set over a baking sheet and bake, turning the biscotti halfway through cooking time for even browning, until crisp, about 40 minutes.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

These biscotti really are fabulous, and perfect on a cheese platter. Charcuterie would be a fabulous addition.

Today I simply paired them with Cambazola, but they’d be crazy good with a soft goat cheese or any spreadable herbed cheese.

You can really go crazy with all of the ingredient choices. Martha Stewart’s orange zest suggestion was really tempting but I didn’t have any oranges on this day.

Instead of all olive oil, you could use a flavored or infused oil, or even a little truffle oil.

I’ll definitely be making these again, and will enjoy switching up the ingredients.

Ingredients I used in addition to the above recipe:
Dried parsley
Garlic powder
White pepper
About 3 ounces coarsely chopped walnuts
About 3 ounces pitted Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
Grated Grana Padana, about 1 1/2 ounces

Martha Stewart’s savory biscotti suggestions:
Lemon zest, capers, parsley, and browned butter instead of olive oil
Orange zest, pistachios, and black olives
Parmesan, fennel seeds, and golden raisins

Spaghetti Bolognese

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This post came about in a funny way. My virtual food blogger sister-friend Linda Duffin, of the impressive blog Mrs. Portly’s Kitchen and I were commenting back and forth one day discussing the cooking of our mothers.

Linda wrote, “And don’t get me started on her spag bol.” Now, Linda is British, and I’ve spent many months-worth of time in the UK, or whatever it’s called now, and I have always tried local specialties in the various countries, whether Cullen Skink, Bedfordshire Clanger or, my favorite – Spotted Dick. But I’d never heard of Spag Bol.

Linda, probably thinking I’m an unsophisticated daftie, explained that spag bol was simply short for Spaghetti Bolognese. Of course.

Which then got me thinking that I’ve never made spaghetti bolognese in all of my years cooking. The cookbook I immediately grabbed, was Giuliani Buglialli’s Buglialli on Pasta, published in 1988.

Buglialli is so strictly Italian, and he’s so familiar with Italy’s regional cooking, that I knew he would be the proper resource. When I call him strict, I’m not kidding. He practically yells at you from the pages of his cookbooks if you dare grab a chunk of Parmesan.

“One should not indiscriminately sprinkle Parmigiano over everything if all dishes are not to melt into an unappealing sameness.”


On his research in studying and documenting authentic Italian recipes: “Arriving at an authentic version of a recipe with a long tradition requires work. The dish as prepared at one regional restaurant or by one family from an area is not necessarily an authentic version of that region’s preparation. It is important to compare many different sources, printed and oral, especially the oldest available ones. But let us not forget that even some Italian grandmothers are poor cooks.”

I find him really entertaining, and I love his passion. And there it was, in the cookbook, Tagliatelle al Ragu alla Bolognese.

“The famous Bolognese ragu is one of several meat sauces and the most popular. Its distinctive features are the sautéing of the meat together with the aromatic chopped vegetables, the omission of garlic, the combination of snipped, chopped, or ground beef and pork, the use of white rather than red wine, and the use of heavy cream.”

Furthermore: “I should like to remind once again that pasta with meat sauce is not automatically alla bolognese. Only those pastas specifically using a Bolognese meat sauce are such; the many employing such sauces from other regions would never be considered alla bolognese.”

I looked online for any recent information on Buglialli, and did find his website, called Buglialli Foods of Italy, and under his cooking courses, held at his farmhouse in Tuscany, none are listed beyond 2015. If he is still alive, it’s estimated that Buglialli is approximately 80 years old. Seems like his date of birth was always kept a secret.

Ragu Alla Bolognese
printable recipe below

1 medium-sized red onion, peeled
1 medium-sized carrot, scraped
1 large stalk celery
3 ounces pancetta, cut into cubes
6 ounces lean boneless beef, in cubes
6 ounces boneless pork, in cubes
4 tablespoons sweet butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ripe, fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup lukewarm beef broth
3/4 cup heavy cream

Finely chop the onion, carrot and celery.

Coarsely grind the pancetta, beef, and pork all together in a meat grinder. (I used my food processor.)

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy, flameproof casserole over medium heat. When the oil mixture is warm, add the chopped vegetables and ground meats, and sauté for 10 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Pass the tomatoes through a food mill, using the disc wth smallest holes, into a glass bowl.

Add the wine to the casserole and let it evaporate for 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and simmer for 20 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.


Then add the broth. Cover the casserole and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon.

Add the cream, mix very well, lower the heat, and reduce for 20 minutes; for the last 5 minutes, remove the lid.


Remove the sauce from the heat and let rest until cool, about 1 hour.

Tagliatelle Al Ragu Alla Bolognese, from Bologna

Cook the pasta according to package directions, although Buglialli suggests fresh tagliatelle. (I used pappardelle.)

Place 4 tablespoons of sweet butter in serving bowl; add a little boiling water to melt the butter.

When ready, drain the pasta, transfer to the serving bowl, and mix well with the melted butter.

Pour the sauce all over, mix and serve immediately.

Pass freshly grated Parmigiano cheese at the table.

This ragu is fabulous. If you close your eyes, it’s like you’re eating blended lasagna!

My only regret is not making a quadruple batch of this lucious sauce.

 

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

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Risotto is one of those dishes that I love to make because I never make it the same way. It’s what I love to do as a cook – improvise!

Typically I use butter, aromatics, wine, broth, and finish with cream and/or cheese.

But the add-in options are practically endless. I’ve used chopped tomatoes, grated zucchini, pesto, canned pumpkin, and carrot juice. It all works. I’ve even made risotto with Thai flavors. Who says risotto must only have Italian flavors? Well, some people might, but I’m 63% Italian, so I stand my ground.

There are two reasons that this risotto is unique. One reason is that I’m using tomato powder.

I posted a while back on a book called The Spice Companion, and in it I learned how to make a powder simply from oven-dried tomatoes.


The other special ingredient is mushroom powder, which is a seasoned mixture of ground dried mushrooms. I found the recipe on Tandy Sinclair’s blog called Lavender and Lime.

I didn’t follow her recipe exactly, shown below, only because Tandy included rosemary and thyme and I wanted the mushroom powder more generic in flavor.

My version had garlic pepper, black pepper, white pepper, and cayenne pepper plus salt in a variety of wild dried mushrooms that I ground using a dry blender jar.

So here’s how I made this risotto.

Tomato Mushroom Risotto

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, finely diced
1 1/4 cup Arborio rice
Big splash of Riesling or Pinot Gris or Graves
Chicken broth, mildly flavored, approx. 2 1/2 cups
1 heaping tablespoon tomato powder
1 tablespoon mushroom powder
Salt, to taste
Grated Parmesan, optional

Heat butter in medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add shallots and sauté slowly; don’t allow much browning.

Add the rice and stir well for a minute. All of the grains should be coated with butter.

Add some wine and stir in well.

Then begin adding the broth, a little at a time and stir well after each addition. Stirring is an important part to the resulting creaminess of the risotto.

As you’re continuing to add broth and stir the rice, find that special position on the stove where the liquid isn’t cooking off too fast, but the fire isn’t so low that cooking stops.

When the rice has absorbed just about all of the liquid it can, add the tomato and mushroom powders and stir well.



Continue adding broth, water, or even some cream, until the rice is fully cooked. Taste for salt.

I personally love white pepper in risottos, but I didn’t want it to overpower the tomato and mushroom flavors.

To serve, I added a bit of grated Parmesan. Feta cheese would be good as well.

Plus I sprinkled on a few parsley leaves just for color.

The tomato and mushroom flavors in this risotto really sing. Grilled steak or chicken could be added, or maybe some braised short ribs. But I will always have tomato powder and mushroom powder in my seasoning arsenal.

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!

Easy Peasy Pasta

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There are some specific criteria to being a successful home cook. The most important thing, in my opinion, is to have food in the house! That may not sound very profound, but no one, not even Gordon Ramsay, can prepare food without basics in the pantry and refrigerator. It’s just impossible.

It’s not only necessary to have ingredients available, it’s so much less expensive to cook with those ingredients, instead of going out for restaurant food or contacting a delivery service.

Some staples I must have in my pantry include pasta, grains, and legumes.

Canned products are essential, especially canned tomatoes. I also love canned beans because I feel they’re a quality ingredient, and I always have canned tuna on hand.

I like to keep milk products like canned coconut milk, evaporated milk, and goat milk on hand as well.

Besides canned products, it’s necessary to have staples such as oils and vinegars, or at least one of each! Plus sweeteners and unique pastes.

Refrigerated items that are important to me are sauces and condiments. If I want to make any kind of dish with Asian ingredients, like a quick noodle soup, I can simply reach for hoisin sauce, smoked sesame oil, fish sauce, soy sauce, and Gochujang. But if you only want mayo and mustard, that’s fine too!

The refrigerator is also where I keep my nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. Butter, eggs, and cheese are definite refrigerator staples for me, as are demi glaces. But cream, yogurt, and even ricotta can help in a pinch, whether you’re cooking an Italian dish such as a pasta, or an Indian curry.

The freezer comes in handy, also, for storing frozen vegetables and stock.

Which brings me to this pasta dish. It’s a perfect example of preparing a quick and easy meal with just a few basic ingredients. It’s a dish that can be made on a weeknight after work, or after a vacation when you’re too tired to put much effort in to whipping up a meal, and have no fresh produce.

Easy Peasy Pasta
printable recipe below

12-16 ounces pasta, a pretty shape or color
1 – 15 ounce carton whole-milk ricotta, at room temperature
12 ounce package of frozen peas
Parmesan, optional

Boil a large pot of salted water, and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Meanwhile, scoop the ricotta cheese into a large, heatproof bowl; set aside.

Gently heat the frozen peas in the microwave. I place a little folded paper towel in the bottom of the bowl for excess liquid, but drain them if there’s a significant amount of water.

Drain the pasta when it’s cooked, then add it hot to the bowl with the ricotta. Stir gently.

If necessary, thin with a little milk or cream, or even a little butter. (All staples!) Or, use a little pasta water.

Add the peas and incorporate. Taste for salt and pepper.

Place the pasta in individual bowls or a serving bowl. Sprinkle with Parmesan, if desired.

I used a few toasted pine nuts on top of the pasta for some texture. And that’s it! (Also another staple of mine.)

This recipes shows how good a very simple and basic cooking can be, using what you have in your kitchen.

Now, for a heartier meal, you can add some garbanzo beans from a can… from your pantry! I love the heartiness of pasta and beans in the same dish.

Also, rotisserie chicken or even smoked salmon would be wonderful added to the pasta. Or, canned tuna.

Cooking truly isn’t difficult, and it definitely doesn’t have to be time consuming.

Keep your pantry and refrigerator stocked with basics. That way, you’re naturally creative in the kitchen, not wasteful, and can cook in a pinch!

 

Mushroom Toasts

90 Comments

My readers know that, maybe because of my advanced age, or perhaps because I’ve always been on the stubborn side, food trends turn me off. But I do know that stubbornness can get in the way of experiencing good food.

Case in point – avocado toast. Perhaps avocado toast didn’t excite me much because avocados are my biggest source of protein, not being a huge meat eater. I didn’t need to serve them on grilled bread to appreciate the wonderful food that they are.

Until I did have avocado toast, that is, and I have to say that they were thoroughly enjoyable!

Recently online I saw a headline for the “new” avocado toast – mushrooms on toast. I immediately envisioned sautéed mushrooms that I top my husband’s steaks with occasionally.

So that’s what I did to make my version of jump-on-the-bandwagon mushroom toast.

Mushroom Toast

Bread slices, like sourdough or French
Olive oil
Mushrooms, sliced, about 1 pound
Butter, about 1/4 cup
Olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
2 cloves garlic, minced
Cognac or brandy, optional
Garlic pepper
Dried thyme
Salt
Pepper
8 ounces Crème fraiche

Brush some olive oil on the bread slices and toast them, either over fire, in a skillet, or in the oven. They should be crispy. Set them aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over fairly high heat until bubbling, then add the mushrooms.

Keep the heat high, and stir only occasionally while getting some color on the mushrooms. If they stick at all, add a bit more butter, but keep the heat high. This keeps the mushrooms from requiring an inordinate amount of fat.


Once there is good caramelization on the mushrooms, turn the heat to medium, and add the garlic. Stir well for a few seconds.

Immediately add a splash or two of cognac and let it ignite. Shake the pan until the flames extinguish.

Turn the heat to the lowest setting and cook until most of the liquid has cooked off, if there is any.

At that point, season the mushrooms to taste.

Remove the skillet from the heat, let it cool a bit, then stir in the crème fraiche. Heat through.

Place some mushrooms on the toasts using a small, slotted spoon, then pour a spoonful of cream over the top. Serve immediately.


If you want decadence, sprinkle a little finely grated Gruyere, Fontina, or Parmesan on top of the toasts.


Top the toasts with some fresh thyme, parsley, or chives, if available.

If you’re serving these for company, don’t put too many out; they must be warm. There’s nothing much worse than cold mushrooms.

Not only would these be good for hors d’oeuvres, they would be wonderful served with soup. So much better than plain bread!

Verdict: These toasts are fabulous, and any mushroom lover will love these. The toasts would work with finer chopped mushrooms, or even a duxelles.