Skillet Lasagna

I am craving comfort foods from my youth, right about now.

I wanted lasagna the way Garfield scratches his belly for it……. I just didn’t feel like cooking it and putting together all the wonderful layers. Between Zoom Calls and family responsibilities and such I have hit a COVID19 wall lately when it comes to cooking…..but I still want lasagna.

One answer to my 99 problems, and my craving for lasagna is easily solved.

Skillet Lasagna!

With this simple recipe, you can enjoy this comfort food any night of the week. Everything cooks in just 30 minutes This easy skillet lasagna recipe uses traditional ingredients like ricotta, mozzarella and Italian sausage for that authentic lasagna flavor. If you don’t have a large skillet, no problem, just use a deep Dutch oven.

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
1/2 pound uncooked lasagna noodles (1/2 of a 16-ounce box)
1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, divided
8 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
salt, to taste
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, divided
2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning, divided
One 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with onions, undrained
One 12-ounce jar roasted red bell peppers, drained and chopped
2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
3/4 cup Mozzarella-Parmesan cheese blend

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Break the noodles in half and cook the lasagna noodles according to package directions, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the noodles and set aside.

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook the meat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon, for about 8 to 10 minutes or until cooked through. Drain the excess fat from the meat and return to skillet. Stir in crushed red pepper flakes, salt to taste and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 30 seconds — do not burn the garlic.

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, egg, 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese, salt to taste, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of the basil; set aside.

Remove the skillet from the stove. Add dollops of the ricotta cheese mixture by rounded tablespoons over the sausage. Top with the noodles, making 1 flat layer. Note that the noodles will overlap just a little bit.

Pour tomatoes and bell peppers over noodles, making sure that noodles are completely covered. Add water, and sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon Italian season. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta water to the perimeter of the skillet.

Cover the skillet with a lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the oven and uncover and sprinkle with cheese blend. Cover again and let is stand for 3 t0 5 minutes until the cheese is melted. You can let it stand for and additional 5 minutes if you like it less saucy. Sprinkle with the remaining chopped fresh basil just before serving, if desired. Cut into wedges, and serve with a slotted spatula.

Cook’s Notes:
You can substitute the canned tomatoes and diced bell peppers with one 28-ounce jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce.

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Italian Cooking Essentials

 

Ingredients for a well-stocked Italian pantry will make an awesome Italian meal in minutes. And its no secret that most Americans love Italian food, whether its a pizza slice from the food court, a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs at a red-checkered tablecloth joint, or a high end meal featuring pastas lovingly made by hand paired with just the right glass of wine. But Italian food is at its heart a rustic cuisine, honed lovingly at home by generations of men and women who make the most of simple, seasonal ingredients. If you’re looking to follow in that tradition, starting with some high-quality basic ingredients will instantly improve your favorite Italian recipes at home. Read on for the must-have pantry essentials, and what to look for when purchasing them. Buon Appetito!

 

San Marzano Tomatoes

San Marzano Tomatoes are prized by Italian cooks for their sweet profile and exceptionally low concentration of water, which means they make for some ultra flavorful sauce. This is thanks in large part to the volcanic ash soil they’re grown in high up in the San Marzano region as well as the breed itself, also called San Marzano (confusing, we know). Due to their popularity in Italy, most canned San Marzano tomatoes you find on the market in the U.S. are grown domestically. That’s not to say they can’t be just as great (in fact, some taste testers can’t tell the difference between domestic and imported) but just know that if you’re looking for the real deal, you’ll pay a premium and will definitely want to check the can for a D.O.P. certification before tossing it in your cart.

 

 

Herbs & Spices

Herbs and spice play an important role in Italian cooking. Simple dishes are pointed with an herb to make a dish come alive. Raviolo with Butter Sage Sauce, Tomato and Mozzarella with Basil. Pasta and Pecorino Cheese with Black Peppercorns – dishes so simple, yet become so fantastic with a simple herb or spice.

  • Dried Oregano:  You can use oregano in a ton of sauces, choosing a good one makes such a difference. Buy a bunch of dried oregano that you can often find in Italian specialty stores rather than in jars but if you can’t find that go for organic.

  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: Using crush red pepper flakes to taste in some of your dishes, can spice up sauces and add some heat.

  • Fennel Seeds:  Fennel is often found in a lot of seasonings for sausages and pork roasts. It can be used pasta sauces too, as it adds a really special flavor.

Other Pantry Basics:: Basil, oregano, sage, parsley, saffron, rosemary, chili peppers, black peppercorns

 

Flour, Polenta & Rice

  • Flour: When it comes to flour always have type 00 on hand. Why? Because it makes the most amazing pizza bases! You can also use the same flour for making focaccia.

  • Polenta: When it comes to polenta you can get two types fast cook polenta that’s ready in 5 minutes or traditional polenta that takes around 30 minutes to cook. You can serve polenta with stews and sauces dishes such as meatballs. You can also let it set and use it to build lasagna type dishes, gnocchi or top bakes with it.

  • Rice: Without a doubt, there is always rice in my cupboards because risotto is such an easy weekday dinner to whip up when you’re hungry. It takes around 20 minutes to make and can be made with anything you like BUT the most important thing to remember is to use arborio rice. It’s extra creamy and gives the perfect texture to risottos. Favoured in Venetian cooking, Vialone Nano is a semi-fino rice with an unpolished oval-shaped grain. Its starchy exterior helps to create risotto’s creamy texture.

  • Semolina: This is something you can use to dust baking sheets or baking stones when cooking homemade pizzas. It keeps the base nice and crispy and stops the base sticking so always have it on hand.

     

Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese

Literally translating to ‘The King of Cheeses’ in Italian, Parmigiano-Reggiano is the one cheese we think every home cook should have on hand. Like San Marzano tomatoes, real-deal Parmesan cheese enjoys protected designation of origin status, and you’ll know you’re holding a wedge of the stuff thanks to its pedigree being stamped right on the rind. It costs considerably more ounce per ounce than the stuff you get in the green shaky jar (c’mon, you know the one) but the difference in flavor it brings to your cooking is thanks in large part to the abundance of glutamates in its chemical structure. In other words? Umami-central. Pro tip: Don’t discard your rinds! Instead, freeze them and add them to your next pot of Minestrone for a depth of flavor that will have everyone asking you what that special something extra is.

 

 

 

Cold-Pressed Olive Oil

These days olive oil comes in all price points and from a dizzying array of destinations – not to mention blends, filtered and unfiltered, and light versions (just say no to that last one). While it isn’t necessarily true that the best olive oil comes from Italy (sorry, Nonna!) exceptional olive oil is a must for the Italian pantry. Like wine grapes, olives grown in a specific area will carry the flavor of the land to the finished bottle, a flavor profile also known as terroir. Look for single-origin varieties when your budget allows, and don’t buy more than you think you can use in six months’ time, as unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age. If nothing else, follow olive oil expert Nancy Harmon Jenkins’ advice and always go with extra virgin cold-pressed oil: It’s not a guarantee that the oil will be the best, but at least it will probably not be among the worst.

 

 

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

As with Parmegiano-Reggiano Cheese and San Marzano Tomatoes, there’s a lot of imitators on the market vying for your dollar (sensing a theme here?). According to Michael Harlan Turkell, author of Acid Trip: Travels in the World of Vinegar, if one of the following three words appears on a bottle of Balsamic Vinegar, you’re making a decent choice: D.O.P., Condimento, and IGP. These terms are akin to quality tiers, with D.O.P. indicating the finest and longest aged Balsamic vinegar coming from Modena, Italy and Condimento ensuring at least a few years of aging, albeit less supervision. But like San Marzano tomatoes, there realistically just isn’t enough top-tier stuff to fill the world’s appetite for this sweet, syrupy vinegar. Because of that, he recommends that you be on the lookout for IGP, which indicates that some quality standards like ideal grape varieties and a marginal amount of aging have been met before the bottle hit the shelves. Drizzle it on roasted vegetables, whisk it into the perfect salad dressing, and whatever you do, just promise us you’ll try it with strawberries and vanilla ice cream.

 

 

Beans

Beans are an important, but often less celebrated, staple of the Italian diet. Whether it’s a hearty bean dish like the well known Pasta Fagole from the Veneto region, or chickpeas and fava beans used in antipasto in the South – don’t overlook bean dishes from Italy. These two varieties are the bare minimum for an Italian pantry.

Pantry Basics: Lentils, Garbanzo beans, Cannellini beans , Red Kidney beans

 

Canned Anchovies, Sardines and Tuna

You can put together some terrific, quick weeknight pasta dishes with canned tuna, sardines or anchovies. If you can find it, imported tuna packed in olive oil has the best flavor. The best-quality anchovies are those that are packed in salt; they must be rinsed very well before using, and may need to be deboned. If salt-packed are not available, look for oil-packed anchovies packaged in glass jars.

 

 

Olives

three kinds of olives in bowls, fresh rosemary and olive oil on a white background, horizontal

There are many varieties of good-quality olives to choose from. Look for imported olives in jars or in the deli section of the supermarket, but for best flavor, skip the domestic canned variety. Olives are easily pitted by quickly smashing with a large knife and pulling the pit away from the flesh.

For a taste of authentic Italy, nothing quite smacks of Sicily like the salty and sweet flavors of cured or marinated olives. Here’s how you can tell the types of olives apart.

  • Curing vs. Marinating: Brine-cured olives have smooth, plump skin while salt-cured olives (sometimes called oil-cured) are lightly coated in oil and have wrinkled skin.

  • Baresane: These brine-cured olives from Puglia range in color from yellow to green to light purple. Delicate, fresh flavor.

  • Bella di Cerignola: Also known as Cerignola olives, this brine-cured Puglian variety can be green, red or black. Large, mild and buttery.

  • Castelvetrano: A vibrant green Sicilian olive also called Nocellara del Belice. Instead of brining or salt-curing, these are treated with lye before rinsing and storing. The result: very mild olives with a salty-sweet flavor and buttery texture.

  • Gaeta: These popular black or dark purple table olives from the Lazio region are typically brined before storing in oil. Tart, citrusy flavor.

  • Saracena: An ancient olive cultivar from Sicily, also called Minuta. These small black olives are brined or salt cured.

  • Taggiasca: Grown on the rocky slopes along the sea in Liguria, these small, deep reddish-black olives have a sweet, fruity flavor.

 

 

Capers

 The best-quality capers are packed in salt, but you’re more likely to find them brined and bottled. Before using, rinse under cold water to remove some of the salt (salt-packed must be rinsed very well). Refrigerate both; brined have a much longer shelf life.

 

 

Nuts and Dried Goods

There are so many things could be include here, but consider these the must-haves. Pine nuts will make sure you can always make a traditional pesto, and porcini mushrooms will make sure you’ve always got a beautiful risotto within reach.  Dried porcini mushrooms add an earthy, woodsy flavor to soups, pastas, risotti and sauces; they’ll last practically forever in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator. To use, soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes to soften. Drain; strain and reserve the soaking liquid. Add liquid to foods along with mushrooms — much of the intense flavor of the mushroom is in that liquid.

Basic Pantry Items: Pine nuts, hazelnuts, dried figs, dried porcini mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes

 

 

Poultry & Meat

Pork is an important staple of the Italian diet. Make sure to always have cured pork on hand. It’s a flavouring and also perfect for any charcuterie board. Beef and different cuts (whether making a Bolognese sauce or an ossobuco) is important. If possible, keep a cut of beef in the refrigerator that you can then grind or cut depending on the dish.

Basic Pantry Items: Cured Italian pork, Genoa or Tuscan salami, Beef

 

 

Seafood

Visit the coasts or the South of Italy, and you’ll taste some of the freshest seafood of your life. Fruitti di mare – or fruits of the sea, are plentiful in Italy, as well as in the United States. Lean how to make a traditional Fruitti di Mare also known as Seafood Pasta by following this link. from Olio & Formaggio.

Basic Pantry Items: Shrimp, squid – mussels when in season, fresh anchovies if you can find them.

 

 

Dried Pasta

And then there is pasta, glorious pasta! You could probably make a wonderful sauce out of some of the previous ingredients and toss it with just about any pasta out there and be pretty happy – but why not go for the gold? It’s a misunderstood notion that any self respecting Italian cook would never use dried pasta. In fact, only certain types of pasta are made and eaten fresh on a regular basis, namely those with egg traditionally in the dough. So rest assured that by starting with dry, you’re not at a disadvantage. There’s a huge quantity of varying quality pastas on the market, not to mention shapes – but what you want to look for is pasta that’s been extruded from a bronze-cut die. This artisanal method produces pasta with a rough surface you can easily see through the packaging, and what it means for you is that once it’s boiled up (al dente, of course), the sauce you so lovingly simmered will actually cling to each noodle. As far as shapes go, it’s up to you! There’s tons of advice on how to pair pasta shapes and sauces out there, but when it comes to short shapes, we recommend looking for rigate (ridged) on the label. This will ensure better sauce cling than lisce (smooth) varieties.

 

 

Wine

And last, but certainly not least – wine. Aside from wine being critical to several Italian dishes, it’s just as important on the dinner table. Make sure to keep a variety of beautiful Italian wines in your cellar. They don’t have to be expensive. Very good Italian wines are plentiful. Some varieties to keep in mind include Chianti Classico, Pinot Grigio, Lambrusco, Gavi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Brunello for a special treat.

 


White Asparagus Soup with Butter Poached Lobster Tails

Did you know that asparagus has been used as a vegetable and as an ancient medicine, due to to its distinct flavor, and in medicine due to its diuretic properties and its purported function as an aphrodisiac. It is pictured as an offering on an Egyptian frieze dating to 3000 BC. In ancient times, it was also known in Syria and in Spain. Greeks and Romans ate it fresh when in season, and dried the vegetable for use in winter. Roman Epicureans froze its sprouts high in the Alps for the Feast of Epicurus. Emperor Augustus created the “Asparagus Fleet” for hauling the vegetable, and coined the expression “faster than cooking asparagus” for quick action.

By 1469, asparagus was cultivated in French monasteries. Asparagus appears to have been little noticed in England until 1538, and in Germany until 1542. 

Asparagus was brought to North America by European settlers at least as early as 1655. Adriaen van der Donck, a Dutch immigrant to New Netherland, mentions asparagus in his description of Dutch farming practices in the New World. Asparagus was grown by British immigrants as well; in 1685, one of William Penn’s advertisements for Pennsylvania included asparagus in a long list of crops that grew well in the American climate. sparagus became widely available in America during Colonial times, and was a particular favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson enjoyed  asparagus while he was Minister to France. Given how much asparagus grew in his gardens at Monticello, he often served it for dinner to his guests at his Virginia plantation.

White asparagus is so loved in Europe that its fleeting appearance in the spring from, April to early June, is a cause for celebration and rushing to the farmers market or grocery store to make sure you get a few bunches before they are gone.

I discovered a bunch of white asparagus in my freezer. I had purchased them early in the spring at a farmers market. Not wanting them to go to waste, I blanched them and froze them, thinking I would use them soon…..

When white asparagus is out of season or not readily available, you can also used canned white asparagus or white asparagus that have been commercially prepared and packed in a jar. For the most part  asparagus prepared this way has been  pickled and can be stored for several years. Some brands label shoots prepared in this way as “marinated”. You can also purchase marinated  white asparagus on line from gourmet specialty food shops like EuropeanDeli.com, which sells LANDSBERG WHITE ASPARAGUS . Personally, I like to use the Roland Brand of White Asparagus Spears. The asparagus is packed in an 11.6 oz tall glass jar. They are carefully chosen to ensure a smooth texture, but remaining firm to the bite and touch. Their color is slightly off-white, almost ivory in color. They make a delicious salad appetizer with a light vinaigrette. Use in quiche or alone as a side dish. Traditionally prized in French or German cuisine, white asparagus is now used in many vegetable, salad and seafood dishes.

But what is the difference between white and the more common green asparagus?

Compared to green asparagus, the locally cultivated so-called “white gold” or “edible ivory” asparagus, also referred to as “the royal vegetable” .White asparagus has a milder flavor, is more tender and is grown underground. As a result of applying a blanching technique while the asparagus shoots are growing  underground, the shoots are cultivated by  being covered with soil as they grow, i.e. “earthed up”.

Since white asparagus does not get any light,  photosynthesis cannot take place and the shoots do not produce chlorophyll, hence the unusual color .The apical meristem does not fully develop, leaving the appearance to be short and sometimes stumpy.

Only seasonally on the menu, asparagus dishes are advertised outside many restaurants, usually from late April to June.  Freshness is very important, and the lower ends of white asparagus must be peeled before cooking or raw consumption. For the French style, asparagus is often boiled or steamed and served with Hollandaise sauce, White sauce, melted butter or most recently with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. Tall, narrow asparagus cooking pots allow the shoots to be steamed gently, their tips staying out of the water.

In Southern Germany, entire menus are dedicated to this springtime spear. During the German Spargelsaison or Spargelzeit (“asparagus season” or “asparagus time”). Schwetzingen , Germany claims to be the “Asparagus Capital of the World”, and during its festival, an Asparagus Queen is crowned. The Bavarian city of Nuremberg feasts a week long in April, with a competition to find the fastest asparagus peeler in the region; this usually involves generous amounts of the local wines and beers being consumed to aid the spectators’ appreciative support.

In Germany, roadside stands and open-air markets sell about half of the country’s white asparagus consumption. The asparagus season in Germany traditionally ends on the 24th of June.

An interesting way to use this treasured vegetable is in white asparagus soup or spargelsuppe in German. This soup highlights the delicate nature of the white flesh and is a great way to start any meal. In this version of spargelsuppe, the soup is made from puréed white asparagus and broth with some cream added.

To make the soup more interesting and suitable for serving as a special occasion meal, butter poached lobster tails was added to the dish.

Serves 2

Ingredients:
For the Parsley Oil:
1 bunch of fresh Italian Flat Leaf Italian Parsley
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the Asparagus Soup:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup vegetable broth
4 to 6 white asparagus
Salt, to taste
Ground white pepper, to taste
A splash of white wine

For the Lobster Tails:
2 uncooked lobster tails
2 tablespoons water
1 stick salted butter, cut into 1 tablespoon pieces

For Garnish:
Blanched green asparagus spears
Watercress
Zest of 1 lemon

Directions:
For the Parsley Oil:
Blanch the parsley, stems intact, for 10 seconds. Drain and cool under cold water and dry on paper towels. Place in a blender along with 1 cup of the olive oil and blend completely.

Place a chinois over a 4 cup Pyrex measuring cup. Pour the paste into the chinois. Using a spatula, press firmly on the paste to release the oil. Alternatively, you can arrange a coffee filter over another glass jar Secure the filter over the jar with a rubber band and use a ladle to carefully pour the parsley oil into the filter. Just know that the draining will take 24 to 48 hours. Pour the oil into a clean sterilized jar and cover tightly and set aside until ready for use.

Note: The parsley oil can then be used in a vinaigrette, in cold soup or to garnish chicken or fish. It will keep in the refrigerator for 1 week.

 

For the Asparagus Soup:
Trim about 1⁄2” from the woody ends of the asparagus. Lay spears on a work surface, then peel thin skin from each with a sharp swivel-blade vegetable peeler, starting 1 1⁄2” from the top and running the length of the spear. Spears are brittle and can snap when peeled in midair. Cut the asparagus into slices.

Heat a a medium saucepan over medium low heat; add the butter. Add the asparagus and gently sauté them in butter. Stir in the broth and the cream, increase the heat to a gentle boil and cook for 5 minutes or until the asparagus is completely fork tender. Season with salt and white pepper.

Puree the soup in batches in the blender. Place a clean kitchen towel over the lid and hold down the lid, so the hot soup does not splatter, and return the soup to the pan. Alternatively, you can use an immersion hand blender and puree the soup directly in the pan.

Add a few dashes of white wine if you think the soup needs acidity. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and white ground pepper, if needed. Cover and keep the soup warm.

For the Lobster:
Use sharp kitchen shears to cut shell of lobster all the way down its back. Turn over and cut bottom shell all the way down. Peel off shell and remove the tail meat.

In a sauce pan, bring 1 tablespoon of water to simmer over medium-low heat. Whisk in 1 piece of butter. When butter has melted, add another piece. Continue with remaining butter pieces, one at a time. Make sure the mixture does NOT come to a boil, otherwise the butter will separate.

Keeping the heat on medium-low, add the lobster pieces and cook for 5 minutes, turning the lobster pieces every minute or so. Make sure mixture does not boil. Remove lobster from the poaching butter and set aside.

To serve, ladle soup into warmed bowls. Arrange three asparagus spears in the soup. Lay the lobster tail on top of the asparagus spears. Add a few drops of parsley oil. Garnish with spicy cress and lemon zest, if desired.

 

Cook’s Notes:
You can use fresh chives as a substitution for the parsley in making the oil, if desired.

 

Hello Friends!
All photographs and content, excepted where noted, are copyright protected. Please do not use these photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this photograph and all other contents, then we kindly ask that you link back to this site. We are eternally grateful and we appreciate your support of this blog.

Thank you!