Poor Man’s Lasagna

In my family, pasta is often a focal point at gatherings and this dish definitely made an appearance more than a few times. We called it Poor Man’s Lasagna, though I’m not really sure where that name came from. I’m guessing it’s because it’s an easy and inexpensive way to mimic the taste of lasagna without all of the work that goes into assembling it. I had a couple of late season eggplants in my fridge that were starting to wilt so I wanted to make eggplant meatballs. Pasta seemed like a natural accompaniment but I wanted to add a little more protein to the meal. I had ground turkey, homemade sauce and fresh pasta. That’s when Poor Man’s Lasagna came to mind!  After a quick trip to Russo’s for some fresh mozzarella and Locatelli, my dinner was starting to take shape. (My mom also put ricotta in her version, but I decided to leave that out for a healthier option).

I used homemade sauce and fresh pasta, but you can use jarred sauce (try and make it organic). Throw in whole wheat pasta for more fiber, go light on the cheese, and this meal is actually relatively healthy!

Poor Man’s Lasagna

Serves 2-3

1/2 pound ziti or rigatoni

1 cup fresh mozzarella, cubed

1/2 pound ground turkey

1 cup marinara or meat sauce, plus more for topping

Romano or Parmigiano cheese for topping

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add salt and then pasta, cooking until al dente. Meanwhile in a skillet or saute pan, brown ground turkey until cooked through. After draining the pasta, pour it back into the pot and add the turkey, mozzarella and sauce. Mix together and transfer to an oven proof dish. Top with grated Romano or Parmigiano and bake until the cheese is lightly brown, about 20 minutes. Top with additional sauce. Serve hot.

Rigatoni with Cauliflower and Prosciutto

I attempted to bake my own bread yesterday. It was a bust. Turns out I bought the wrong yeast (active dry when I needed instant) so though I followed the recipe exactly, my bread not only didn’t rise, but emerged from the oven a dense brick. Into the garbage it went. However, I am undeterred, and after getting my hands on some instant yeast this morning, I am giving it another shot. I’ll fill you in on the full story later this week when I can hopefully post that my second attempt was a success.

Fortunately the dinner I made last night more than made up for my dismal performance as an artisanal bread maker. I came across this recipe combining cauliflower and rigatoni in my Food & Wine cookbook a few weeks ago and marked the page for a later visit. Rigatoni is my favorite pasta and the Greenmarket had big, beautiful heads of cauliflower among their wares last week, which I happily picked up. The time had come to try out this dish.

The recipe calls for heavy cream, but I wanted something a bit lighter. Plus, I had whole milk left over from another recipe and since we don’t drink whole milk, I didn’t want it to go to waste. I wondered if I could somehow substitute this and in my search I came upon this handy list of cooking and baking substitutions from AllRecipes. Turns out I could add 3 tablespoons of butter to 3/4 cup whole milk to make light cream. Sold. (If you want heavy cream add 1/3 cup butter). I also substituted Pecorino Romano for Parmiggiano, because I like Romano better.

This was a delightful dish! The sauce is on the thin side so it doesn’t coat the pasta super well but you don’t really need it to. It has enough flavor on its own. (Heavy cream might thicken a bit better). I also really like that you cook the cauliflower in the same pot as the pasta. Not only does it save you from washing two pots, but the starch from the pasta gives the cauliflower a wonderful texture and flavor. Next time I’d probably use pancetta instead of prosciutto for an added crispiness. But otherwise this is definitely being added to our dinner repertoire!

Rigatoni With Cauliflower and Prosciutto

3 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large garlic clove, thinly sliced

1 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 pound rigatoni

One 1 3/4-pound head of cauliflower, cut into 1-inch florets

1 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 ounces sliced prosciutto, cut into 1/4-inch-thick ribbons

Preheat the broiler. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add the cream and simmer until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Cook the rigatoni until al dente; about 6 minutes before the rigatoni is done, add the cauliflower florets to the pot. Drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, toss the panko with the Parmigiano cheese and the remaining 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil; season with salt and pepper.

Return the rigatoni and cauliflower to the pot. Add the garlic cream, the prosciutto and the reserved pasta water and toss until the pasta is coated. Scrape the pasta into a large shallow baking dish and sprinkle the panko mixture evenly over the top. Broil for about 2 minutes, rotating constantly, until the topping is evenly browned. Serve hot.

Pappardelle with Shrimp and Vegetables

I love many things about being a freelance writer, but on cold, rainy days I am especially thankful that going to work doesn’t involve leaving my apartment. Such was the case yesterday. Walking to Whole Foods was not something I wanted to do either, so I decided to make a meal out of what I had in the house—or what could be procured from a nearby shop. I had plenty of vegetables—broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, carrots, peas—some homemade marinara sauce in my freezer and shrimp. Fresh pasta could be bought from Russo’s, a mere 3 blocks away and my corner Korean market always has fresh lettuce for salad. Dinner accomplished.

As I pondered how I would prepare this meal, I remembered that pasta with veggies was the first meal I made for Johnny when we started dating. I used fettuccine that night, or maybe even linguine, and only learned much later that he isn’t a huge fan of stringy pasta. (Like a good dinner guest, he ate every bite). And when I made it again last night—this time with pappardelle, a wide, ribbon-like pasta that’s thick enough not to be construed as stringy—I remembered why I chose it for my debut dish. Not only is it relatively easy to make, but it’s filling and satisfying, all of the things a meal, and a relationship, should be.

Another great thing about this dish is that you can virtually use any combination of vegetables that you have in the fridge. I steamed my leftover broccoli and cauliflower and then I put a swirl of olive oil and some chopped garlic in a saute pan and cooked the carrots and zucchini until they were soft. The peas were frozen, so I added those in at the end.

I boiled some shrimp, cooked the pasta and then mixed everything together in a big bowl before topping it with my sauce and freshly grated Pecorino Romano. A salad, eggplant meatballs and a bottle of red wine rounded out the meal.

Pesto Pasta Salad

I love, love, love a good pesto. I can almost drink it. I had some leftover from last night’s pizza (I bought the pesto at Russo’s, though my friend Emily has a fantastic pesto recipe, which I will post when basil is in season) so I decided to boil up some shells and make a pasta salad while I’m doing some work. I’m also trying to be a good Catholic and not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, which limits my lunch options. I used DeLallo organic pasta, which is fast becoming my new favorite noodle. It has six grams of fiber per serving—which means you’ll feel full faster—and unlike some whole wheat pastas, it’s really tasty. (If you’re not a fan of whole wheat, they also have semolina varieties.) Anyway, after I boiled the pasta, I stirred in the pesto and topped the dish with grated Romano. While I couldn’t resist having a scoopful (or four) right away, I actually like this pasta salad better cold. It’s a great side to sandwiches or even grilled chicken (though not on a Lenten Friday).

It’s another gorgeous day today in the city, so I’m going to try and head out a little later this afternoon in the name of old-fashioned reporting. I have an assignment to write about the best places to get good deals on clothing and supplies for kids and the reporting is not coming together the way I had hoped. But I got a few leads this morning in my Pilates class (thanks ladies!) so I’m going to check those out on foot—and enjoy this glorious weather.

Happy Weekend!

Lessons In Lasagna

Though it may be St. Patrick’s Day (and I’ll be tipping my hat to my husband’s Irish heritage by serving garlic mashed potatoes and artichokes for dinner) I’ve got my mind on another upcoming holiday: Easter. This year I’m having my father, brother, and in-laws for dinner (the first time I’ve hosted a holiday in our apartment) and I’ve been thinking about my menu. Most likely I’ll serve lasagna as the main course, but I was worried about the temperature of the lasagna I made a few weeks ago. So I turned to my arsenal of experts for the answer. In this case, it was Christie’s mom, Betty, who is an amazing cook. (Her meatballs may be the best I’ve ever eaten in my life.) I emailed Betty this afternoon to ask her what the secret is to serving a lasagna that, when sliced into squares, emerges perfectly intact AND piping hot. The key, says Mama Ciaburri, is to limit the amount of sauce you put between the layers of meat and cheese, but to keep the sauce you serve atop the lasagna extra hot. Which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Since you’re ladling “gravy” over the pasta before you serve it, there’s really no need to lay it on thick between each layer. Betty also told me that I let my lasagna sit for too long (45 minutes) and that it really only needed to set for 15-20. Eureka! Thanks for the tips Betty! Got any for perfect pie crusts? I’m also planning on making a ricotta pie for dessert, using my mother’s recipe. The crust is always difficult for me (clearly this apple doesn’t fall far from its tree. My mother threw away many a pie crust in disgust after not being able to roll them out in one piece) but I will be sure to post pictures of the process when I break out the rolling pin in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

Lasagna Love

As you may have gathered by now, I love Italian food. I love to cook it, I love the smell of it in my kitchen, and of course, I love to eat it. As my mother used to say, everything tastes better with a little sauce and cheese on it. While that may be true, Italian food is also a complete carb fest, so I’m always trying to come up with ways to make the staples a bit healthier. One trick I rely on frequently is substituting beef or pork with turkey meat. Tonight I made lasagna with turkey sausage and ground turkey. While I used full fat ricotta and fresh mozzarella, we definitely saved some calories on the turkey switch, which was also super tasty. (I used Shady Brook Farms Hot Turkey Sausage and ground turkey meat from Trader Joe’s). I defrosted some of the marinara sauce that I made last week and went to work. Once the lasagna came out of the oven, I let it sit for about 40 minutes so that it wouldn’t turn into a big soupy mess when I cut into it. It stayed together, but it wasn’t as warm as I wanted it to be. So I need to work on that. This lasagna was actually a trial run. I am thinking of serving it when I host Easter dinner next month, and I want to work out the kinks now. Luckily, it tasted great, which is always a plus when you’re serving a meal to others. Johnny and I enjoyed the lasagna with garlic bread, and a salad of romaine, red onions and homemade croutons lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Some friends over at R Stuart & Co. Winery sent me a few bottles of their wines for a project I am helping them with, so a glass (or two) of their Autograph Pinot Noir completed the meal. Now, with a full stomach, it’s time for the Oscars!