Tag: italian cooking

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

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I’ve been perfecting this recipe for years.

It’s based on a simple spinach lasagna recipe I got from a restaurant in Boston’s North End neighborhood. I added some techniques I learned from America’s Test Kitchen and added some tricks of my own –the addition of tomato sauce to the béchamel sauce and the addition of pine nuts to the spinach mixture — to make the perfect lasagna masterpiece.

 

Tricia with lasagna
Tricia was very happy to come home and see this vegetable lasagna waiting for her in the Rootsliving kitchen.

 

The techniques from the test kitchen involve using “no-boil,” or “oven-ready” lasagna noodles. Instead of using them right out of the box, the technique calls for pouring hot water over them and letting them sit for about 5 minutes.

This makes the consistency of the noodles velvety, more like homemade noodles. It also prevents the lasagna from being soggy or too dry.

Another tip from the test kitchen that I use when assembling the lasagna is to make sure the sauces are not hot. Room temperature is best but warm works too.

 

Bowl of chopped carrots and onions
You can get porcini bullion cubes at Italian speciality stores and some supermarkets.

 

I created the tomato sauce for this recipe based on a family recipe from my cousins in Italy. The carrots make the sauce sweet and the porcini bullion cube gives it some savory depth.

 

A pot of tomato sauce
Adding the tomato sauce to the béchamel sauce turns it orange.

 

This recipe takes a little time and some cooking knowledge but don’t let that scare you. Watch the video above and read the recipe below and you’ll be fine.

 

A slice of lasagna
Textures and flavors mingle to create a masterpiece lasagna.

 

Using these techniques and tips, here’s how you can create your own masterpiece.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy and Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.)

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

February 22, 2010
: 6-8
: Medium

This recipe takes some time and some skill but don't be scared. Watch the video and then follow this recipe and you'll create your own masterpiece.

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Ingredients
  • For the white (bechamel) sauce:
  • Butter (3 tbsp.)
  • All-purpose flour (3 tbsp.)
  • Milk, heated (2 1/2 cups)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • For Red Sauce and Spinach Mixture:
  • Onions (2 cups diced, about two large onions)
  • Carrots (2 cups diced)
  • Tomato paste (1/2 can)
  • Sun-dried tomato paste (Several squirts from a tube)
  • Porcini bullion cube (1)
  • Kitchen Ready Tomatoes, chunky-style (1 can)
  • Olive oil (2 tbsp.)
  • Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out (2, 10 oz. packages)
  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (1 pound)
  • Parmesan cheese (8 tbsp.)
  • Dried basil (1 tsp.)
  • Dried Oregano (1 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Pine (pignoli) nuts (2 oz.)
  • No-boil lasagna noodles, Barilla works well (12)
  • Part-skim, mozarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
Directions
  • Step 1 To make the red sauce: Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pot and add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots.
  • Step 2 When onions and carrots are tender, add 1/2 can of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water. Add several squirts of the sun-dried tomato paste and the can of kitchen ready tomatoes.
  • Step 3 Crumble the porcini bullion cube into the sauce and stir. Add 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper and stir.
  • Step 4 Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and then take off the heat.
  • Step 5 To make the white sauce: Melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sauce pan.
  • Step 6 Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk for about 1 minute. Gradually stir in the hot milk.
  • Step 7 Increase the heat to medium-high, cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Lower the heat immediately and cook, whisking occasionally, for five minutes. Whisk in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
  • Step 8 To make the spinach mixture: Heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Step 9 Add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots and cook until tender (about four or five minutes).
  • Step 10 In a large bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, onion/carrot mixture, 1/3 cup of the white sauce, four tbsp. of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper.
  • Step 11 To Assemble and Bake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Step 12 Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick). Place the noodles on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
  • Step 13 Empty water out of the 13 x 9-inch lasagna pan and dry the pan. Drizzle olive oil in the pan and grease the pan using a paper towel. Make sure to coat the sides and top of the pan so nothing will stick.
  • Step 14 Spread about 1/2 cup of the white sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan.
  • Step 15 Add enough red sauce to the remaining white sauce to make the white sauce turn orange (I used all of the red sauce except for 1 1/3 cups. Put the 1 1/3 cups of red sauce in the refrigerator and save for another day.)
  • Step 16 Place three strips of lasagna noodles over the thin layer of white sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan. Cover with about 1/2 of the spinach mixture and three more of the lasagna noodles.
  • Step 17 Then cover the lasagna noodles with half of the remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover completely. (Note: The white/red sauce will dribble over the sides.)
  • Step 18 Cover with three more lasagna noodles. Add remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover.
  • Step 19 Top with remaining three lasagna noodles and remaining white/red sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and remaining four tbsp. of parmesan cheese.
  • Step 20 Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.
  • Step 21 Remove foil and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top starts to brown and the lasagna is bubbling hot.
  • Step 22 Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

 

The Best Ribollita Soup Recipe

The Best Ribollita Soup Recipe

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This is one of my most requested recipes. Also known as “Tuscan Bean Soup,” it is a real crowd pleaser. I’ve tripled this recipe and fed nearly 50 people with it at our annual Christmas open house party.

 

Bowls filled with vegetables
There’s a lot of chopping required to make this soup. Using a food processor makes it easier and quicker.

 

It’s an Italian vegetable soup, with a jolt of meat. I got this recipe from the Barefoot Contessa, but incorporated a few short cuts so you can make this in about 1 1/2 hours. There are other ribollita soup recipes out there, but trust me, this is the best. I’ve been told this by other Italians.

 

Pancetta in a bowl.
Don’t try to make this soup without pancetta. It’s what gives this soup a deep, smoky, flavor.

 

If you’re not familiar with pancetta, think of it as Italian bacon. You can find it in the deli section at most supermarkets and it comes either as a whole piece, sliced, or cubed. I bought mine as a whole piece and then chopped it up into small cubes. It is made from pork and then cured, but it needs to be cooked before you can eat it.

 

A bowl of Ribollita soup.
Colorful, hearty, delicious and nutritious describes Ribollita soup. Make sure you use sourdough bread too. It’s an essential ingredient.

 

The taste is sweet and a little sour with a punch of heat from the crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a great, hearty soup on a cold winter night.

(Thanks for reading this far. To show our appreciation we’re offering this free eCookbook with “5 Recipes to Help you Stay Healthy and Lose Weight,”  along with free subscription to the Rootsliving newsletter.)

 

Ribollita Soup

December 6, 2009
: About 12
: 1 hr
: 1 hr 30 min
: Easy-Medium

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Ingredients
  • 1 large can of cannellini beans (about 19 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus extra for serving
  • 1/4 pound diced pancetta
  • 2 cups chopped onions (about 2 onions)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots (about 3 carrots)
  • 1 cup chopped celery (about 3 stalks)
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic (about 6 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon salt (I always use Kosher as it’s the most flavorful.)
  • 1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can Italian plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped kale
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 4 cups sourdough bread cubes, crusts removed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably the imported Parmesan Reggiano), for serving
Directions
  • Step 1 Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot.
  • Step 2 Add the pancetta and onions. Cook over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 3 Add the carrots, celery, garlic, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 4 Add the tomatoes with the puree, the kale, and basil. Continue cooking over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes. (Stir occasionally)
  • Step 5 Rinse the cannellini beans under cold water. Puree half of them in a food processor with about 1/2 cup of water.
  • Step 6 Add pureed beans to the soup. And then add the remaining half of the whole beans. And stir.
  • Step 7 Add the eight cups of chicken stock.
  • Step 8 Bring soup to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer over low heat for 20 minutes.
  • Step 9 Add the bread cubes to the soup and simmer another 10 minutes.
  • Step 10 Serve hot in large bowls. Sprinkle a little freshly grated parmesan cheese on top. And then drizzle a little olive oil over it.
Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

Prized Recipe: Chicken with Polenta

(Special thanks to professional food photographer Russell French for photographing this meal. His photos appear courtesy of Russell French Studio.)

This is one of my prized recipes. My grandmother, Bruna, used to make this and it was my favorite dish when I was a little boy.

I remember sitting at her kitchen table, with a glass of red wine mixed 50/50 with ginger ale (that’s what the kids got to drink). I’d pluck out the little black olives that were covered in a red sauce and stick them on all ten fingers, and then eat them one by one. My fingertips would be hot and then instantly cool as I ate each one.

Here’s the recipe from that memory:

Chicken with Polenta: The Chicken Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 30 min
: 45 min
: Medium

This is what you call peasant food, created in northern Italy where my grandmother learned to cook it.

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Ingredients
  • Chicken: I like to use a mixture of bone-in breasts and bone-in thighs. For this recipe, you could use four bone-in breasts
  • and four bone-in thighs to serve between 6 and eight people. You could also use a whole chicken, cut up, or even rabbit.
  • Two or three sweet Italian sausages
  • About 16 oz. of mushrooms
  • One can of pitted black olives
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cans of tomato paste (and about the same amount of water)
  • Two or three garlic cloves
  • A sprig of fresh sage or about a tablespoon of dried sage
  • A sprig of nepitella or about a tablespoon of dried nepitella. Can also substitute a combination of basil and mint. (Optional)
  • About four or five tablespoons of olive oil
  • About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of red table wine
  • A pinch of salt
  • A pinch of nutmeg
Directions
  • Step 1 Clean fat from chicken and soak in salted water.
  • Step 2 Boil sausage for about three minutes.
  • Step 3 Fry sausage with chicken, one clove of garlic (crushed), sage, salt and nutmeg in about one tablespoon of olive oil.
  • Step 4 Fry mushrooms in about one or two tablespoons of olive oil, with garlic clove (crushed), and nepitella. And then add to chicken.
  • Step 5 Add red wine, pitted black olives, tomato paste and dissolve with water to make a sauce.
  • Step 6 Heat in oven. If heating in oven immediately after cooking, set at 350 and heat for only about 15 minutes or so. If you’re not going to serve it for a while, turn heat down to 250 or even 200 just to keep warm. (Don’t overcook chicken as it gets tough.)

Chicken and Polenta: The Polenta Recipe

July 27, 2009
: 6-8
: 15 min
: 15 min
: 30 min
: Medium

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Ingredients
  • Three cups of corn meal
  • Seven cups of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Directions
  • Step 1 Bring seven cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Step 2 Gradually stir in three cups of corn meal in a slow and steady stream. Stir vigorously as you add the corn meal to avoid lumps. Continue to stir vigorously until polenta is a creamy, yet stiff, consistency. (Tip: Have boiling water on hand in case polenta gets too thick.)
  • Step 3 You can either spoon polenta onto plates in a small pile or you can dump the whole pot of polenta on a large wooden board and let it spread out and cool a bit before slicing into rectangles or squares.
  • Step 4 Spoon tomato sauce from chicken dish on top of polenta when serving.