I was guilted into posting again. Life got crazy when I started teaching seminary, but things are getting back to normal now. I don’t have any witty banter or even pictures, but this lasagna is one of the most asked for recipes that I have. I hope you like it!
Lasagna alla Dave
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a large stock pot, saute onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for 2-3 minutes. Add sausage and saute until brown. Drain fat and add garlic. Saute for another minute or so. Add tomatoes, tomato paste and spices. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Boil lasagna noodles in salted water for a few minutes LESS that what the box says. The noodles should be just shy of fully cooked. Drain the pasta and set aside until they cool off a bit.
Mix all ingredients for the filling in a medium sized bowl.
Once the noodles are cool enough to handle, spread sauce on the bottom of a 9×13 (or larger) pan. Place a single layer of noodles in the pan, then spoon about ¼ of the cheese filling on top of that. Cover this layer with more sauce and then repeat the layers until you have used all the pasta. Sprinkle the reserved mozzarella on top.
Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has started to brown a bit. If you have the patience, let it rest for 10 minutes or so after taking it out before serving.
Seriously, is life even worth living at that point? I have my doubts. A friend of mine recently presented me with this challenge, and I was intrigued by it. How does one make a meal without butter, cheese, cream, or any of the other things that make life worth living?
I went to the Italian place of my culinary soul (because I’m a masochist) and couldn’t get lasagna out of my head. So here follows my version of a sausage and vegetable lasagna with fresh pasta and almond milk béchamel sauce. I used Blue Diamond unsweetened almond milk and I think it turned out really well.
Ladle in some sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. Layer on noodles, spread a layer of béchamel sauce over the noodles, then top with sauce. Repeat, alternating layers, until the noodles run out or the pan is too full. Make sure your last layer of noodles is completely covered with sauce or it will dry out and get crunchy.
Heat a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add a tablespoon or so oil and heat until shimmering. Add sausage and brown well. Remove meat from pan and drain off all but a couple of tablespoons of fat. Add the onions and mushrooms, sprinkle with a little kosher salt and sauté until well browned.
While the onions and mushrooms are cooking, lay out the eggplant in a single layer on a plate lined with paper towel. Sprinkle with salt and then microwave for 2 minutes. Once the onion and mushrooms are browned, add the eggplant and continue to sauté over medium heat until it breaks down a bit. Add zucchini and sauté until it starts to soften. Add red peppers and hit it with another sprinkle of kosher salt. Sauté all of the vegetables until they are soft, and then push the veg to the sides so there is a small empty space in the middle. Throw in the garlic and cook it until it starts to smell good.
Add all of the remaining ingredients and simmer for 30 to 45 minutes. (This sauce is actually best the next day, so if you can plan that far ahead, go for it.)
Heat oil in sauce pan, Add garlic and sauté for a minute or so. Add flour and mix until it turns into a paste. Cook until the paste turns a light brown color. Whisk in the almond milk over medium heat and it will thicken nicely after a minute or so. Add salt and pepper and then taste it. Remove the pan from the heat and then add the freshly grated nutmeg.
Mix it all in the food processor until it looks like yellow pebbles. Dump it all out onto a floured surface and knead it for a couple of minutes. Put it in a ziploc bag and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. After the dough is rested, roll it out as thin as possible and cut into lasagna sized strips.
It’s freaking freezing outside. Literally. It’s like fifteen degrees outside. That’s not at all normal for my usually temperate state. The schools were closed before the first snowflake even hit the ground, which is funny to me.
Anyway, I’m ready for spring. I know winter barely started, but I have been thinking about all the great things to eat in the spring and summer time. When I saw this quick and simple salad full of summer-y things, I had to try it out. Like those Vikings (or whoever they were) lighting candles and sticking them on trees to bring back the sun, this was my hurry up summer offering.
Pasta Caprese Salad
Put on your water to boil for the pasta. (Remember to salt the water after it comes to a boil) Chop your mozzarella into bite sized pieces and then put them in a single layer on a plate and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, shallots, garlic, about 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper and about a tablespoon of lemon juice. Then, chop the tomatoes into bite sized pieces, and add to dressing. Let the tomatoes marinate while the pasta finishes cooking.
When the pasta is cooked, drain and add to the tomato/dressing mixture. Add the basil and chilled mozzarella pieces and toss until combined. Taste it and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve warm.
Years ago, my wife went to a bridal shower or a baby shower or something like that. She knows me really well, so she always gives me the rundown of the menu at any of these things. (She even knows all the questions I’m going to ask before hand, so she pays extra attention to those things even though she thinks I’m a geek. I’m not worthy!)
Anyway, at this event she had a salad that she REALLY liked, but didn’t get the name of for some reason. She describes it to me – it has grapes and apples, grilled chicken and bowtie pasta. She says, “I know you won’t like it…it’s a girl salad”. How am I supposed to take a statement like that? What does the fact that I actually really like this “girl” salad say about me? I like shoes too!! YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THAT?!
Ahem. Try this exceptionally tasty, perfect for summer meal and I think you’ll like it too. Regardless of any other…preferences.
For the Salad:
For the dressing:
Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients in a small bowl until completely smooth. Chill in the refrigerator while you assemble the rest.
Stem and core the apple. Cut into bite sized pieces. Wash the grapes and remove from the stem. Put fruit into large bowl with cooked pasta.
Generously coat the whole chicken breast with lemon pepper and garlic salt on both sides. Heat grill or grill pan to high heat. Grill the chicken for 4 or 5 minutes on each side, depending on thickness. Remove from heat when done (internal temperature of about 160 degrees F), and allow to rest and cool for a full five minutes. Cut the chicken across the grain into bite sized pieces, then add to pasta and fruit. Pour the dressing over the top and toss vigorously to coat. You can eat it right away, but it’s really good if it can chill for an hour or two first.
When I saw this menu on my last day at Tech Ed, my heart sank.
My mind instantly filled with all of the possible atrocities that could be perpetrated against Italian cuisine in the setting of a massive buffet. I tried my hardest to keep an open mind, but it’s not easy in the face of:
Wow. That looks….like….it sort of reminds me of….I can’t actually say what I think it looks like because my mom reads this. The spaghetti and meatballs looked quite a bit better.
People who know me know that I am extremely particular about lasagna, so I really won’t even go into how horrible it was. The meatballs had a decent texture, but I swear it had cumin in it. You know what cumin is right? It’s the spice that makes me think of taco seasoning. In the perverse parts of my brain, I think it smells a little like mild BO. Unfortunately, that was the overtone that was most present in these meatballs. The cannolis were limp and the tiramisu cake was soggy.
You may think I’m just a negative person, but I’m really not. I guess I will have to post some positive review type items here so you can see. It was that bad.
Just to prove that this whole pasta thing can be startlingly simple, here is a recipe that is lightning fast, easy and tasty.
Pasta with Parmiggiano and Cayenne
Prepare the pasta according to the directions on the box. Make sure not to overcook it though, maybe like a minute under what the directions say. Drain the pasta into a colander.
In the now empty pan, add the butter and put it over medium heat. Keep the butter on the heat until about a minute after the foaming stops. Add the olive oil if you’re using it, then the pepper and salt. Add the pasta back into the butter mixture and then toss to coat. Divide the pasta into 2 large dishes and grate a generous amount of cheese over the top.
That’s it. On the table in less than 15 minutes.
So I missed breakfast this morning, and given what I experienced at lunch, I did myself a favor. The menu looked like:
Sounds ok right? By the way, anyone who has never been to an event where 5 or 6 thousand people try to eat all at the same time, it looks like this:
In light of that, I am totally willing to make some allowances. It’s a huge task. But come on. These potatoes were hard and were completely unseasoned and the vegetables were cooked into oblivion. They never had a chance.
How can you mess up tomato cucumber salad? By adding more red onion than tomatoes or cucumbers, of course! Salmon on a buffet? Don’t get me started. If you’re going to do ravioli, I’m all for it. That actually makes sense in a mass quantity situation. BUT, you really HAVE to do something to the sauce other than just dumping tomato paste on it. Basil, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano; I would’ve taken any one of them.
The one thing that wasn’t a total failure was the beef. The “alfredo” part was unspeakable, but the beef was tender and it actually had some flavor, thanks to the gorgonzola. Tomorrow will be a better day. Say it with me: Tomorrow will be another day. It would have to be.
My contribution to make your tomorrow a little better is this:
Fettuccine with Foolproof Alfredo Sauce
Boil 6-8 quarts of water for noodles. Drop the noodles in as soon as the water boils and cook according to directions.
In a heavy skillet, melt butter over medium heat until it stops foaming. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant. Add cream and bring to a low boil, while stirring constantly. Cook the sauce until it reduces by about half and thickens a good bit. When it gets to a consistency that makes you happy, remove from heat and season with salt and pepper-make sure you taste it! Lastly, add the nutmeg and serve with the noodles. Be prepared to accept effusive praise from all who partake!
I LOVE authentic Mexican food. “Street Style” Enchiladas Rojas, fresh guacamole, spicy citrusy ceviche, bring them all and we’ll party. Knowing this, you’d think I would’ve made something special last night. Alas. My kids would have none of that. So what did I make? Pasta. Don’t get me wrong, pasta is fantastic. It just would’ve been nice to do something a little more timely.
At any rate, I think this dish turned out very well. You be the judge.
Chicken in Cream Sauce with Mushrooms and Red Peppers (these names get worse and worse)
In a large sauce pan, heat 6-8 cups of water for the noodles. As soon as you have a good boil going, cook the noodles according to the directions. It should take just about as long as the rest of the dish.
In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Add onions and mushrooms. After about 5 minutes, add chicken and about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt and cook 4-5 minutes, until the pink is gone. Remove onions, mushrooms and chicken to medium bowl and set aside.
Add remaining tablespooon of butter to skillet, and heat until the foaming stops. Add garlic, and stir for about a minute. Then add cream, crushed red pepper and basil. Bring to a slow boil, stirring frequently and reduce the cream by half, which takes a good 7 or 8 minutes. It will thicken considerably over this time. Add the chicken mixture back along with the red bell pepper and allow to cook for 4 or 5 more minutes to finish cooking the chicken. If the sauce thickens too much, you can thin it will a little chicken stock. Serve with noodles and freshly grated romano or parmesan cheese. Viva el cinco de mayo!
This is a quick and easy dish that you can do with almost any ingredients you have on hand with only slight variations. No chicken? Use pork! No zucchini? Use eggplant. The list could go on and on.
My dear wife (who is sweetness and light, who I couldn’t possibly be worthy of) gets on food and drink “kicks”. Maybe you know someone like this. She will try something and then that’s all she wants to eat, drink or think about for a good while, and then she never wants to see it again. This is just another way that she is a perfect match for me because it lets me make a dish that she likes over and over again which helps me to refine it until it’s exactly right.
I say all of that because a few years ago she got on a kick for Voila, which is a frozen, pre-cooked bag of food that had noodles and chicken and vegetables. All you have to do is add a little water and defrost it. I’m not bashing it at all, you could do worse. But we had it quite a few times before I thought, I can do this better. Thus Chicken and Pasta Primavera was born at our house. It’s not quite as fast as the Voila was, but it’s very fast.
Chicken and Pasta Primavera
In a large sauce pan heat 4 quarts water for pasta. While that is coming to a boil, in a large heavy skillet put melt butter with olive oil over medium high heat. Add sliced carrots and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and chicken pieces. When chicken pieces start to turn white, add salt and crushed red pepper.
By now, the water should be boiling. Add salt, then the noodles and cook according to directions.
Add the zucchini and squash to the chicken and cook stirring occasionally until the noodles are ready. Drain the noodles well and then mix them into the chicken and vegetables. Toss together to coat the noodles, then top with parmesan. Serve immediately.
I absolutely LOVE pasta. When I eat out I naturally gravitate towards the pasta dishes, and when I am cooking for myself they are some of the first that go through my mind.
I think you can’t beat a classic simple spaghetti and meatballs dish. I usually have some kind of french bread fixed up with this and I have the meatballs on the bread the next day – mmmmm meatball sandwich….
The meatball recipe is adapted from The Best Recipe (which is one of my most used cookbooks), but the sauce is something I’ve been refining for many years.
Tear up the bread into small pieces in a small bowl. Cover with buttermilk, then smash with a fork until you have a fairly uniform paste.
In a medium bowl, mix paste with all of the rest of the ingredients until combined.
Put vegetable oil in a heavy skillet or dutch oven, about 1 inch deep. Heat over medium high heat for a few minutes, until the oil is much less viscous and shimmers a little (350 degrees or so).
Make 2 inch balls out of meat mixture (I use a #40 ice cream scoop and it goes very fast) and drop into the oil. Let them fry for 4 or 5 minutes, then turn and cook for another 4 or 5 minutes on the other side. Remove and drain on paper towels.
If for some crazy unthinkable reason you don’t want to fry these, you can put them in a 9×13 pan and bake for 25 minutes or so at 400 degrees. That’s on your head though…don’t come crying to me about lesser meatballs….
Heat oil in sauce pan over medium high. Add chopped onion and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook another minute or so.
Add remaining ingredients, stir until combined. Taste it and make any salt/spice adjustments you would like. When sauce begins to bubble, reduce heat to medium low and simmer until pasta is ready.
Some people like the meatballs mixed into the sauce (I am amongst that right-minded group) and other like them on the side (no accounting for tastes). Either way, happy eating – and don’t worry about the sauce on your shirt!!