Butternut Squash Lasagna

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Fall.  Autumn.  Whatever you want to call it, it’s quickly becoming my favorite season.  Summer fruits are great, and spring has the wonderful warming feeling.  (I’ll admit I don’t like winter except for the holidays.)  But autumn has the perfect weather, and starts reintroducing us to our favorite comfort foods.  I got the first basket of my fall CSA last week, and we’re starting to drown in squashes.

I picked up this recipe from a cooking class, featuring the owners from one of my favorite local restaurants.  So, I’m just going to include an outline for the recipe, rather than the details, but it’s pretty flexible.

Ingredients

  • diced butternut squash (my lasagna was made in a 9×9 inch square pan and used about two pounds)
  • lasagna noodles (whichever kind you prefer)
  • shredded mozzarella cheese
  • grated parmesan cheese
  • herbs or spices (such as sage, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • bechamel sauce (basic recipe below)

Method

  1. Saute the  butternut squash with some olive oil and spices.  When softened, transfer to a food processor, and process until smooth.
  2. Make your bechamel sauce and cook any other fillings you might want.  I added Italian sausage, and I’ve had a version with pecans that was really good.  I think the next version I try will have cremini mushrooms.
  3. Build your lasagna:  a layer of bechamel sauce, then noodles, then butternut (and your other chosen filling) then mozzarella, and repeat.  Top with a final layer of mozzarella and the grated parmesan.
  4. Cover and bake about 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven.  Uncover for another 15 minutes until the top is bubbly and brown.  Let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Bechamel Sauce

Bechamel sauce is a basic white sauce and one of the French “mother” sauces, and it’s not that hard to make.  I was making it before I knew what it was.  Three ingredients is all you need.

  • Butter
  • Flour (equal amount to the Butter)
  • Whole Milk or Heavy Cream
  1. Melt the butter in a sauce pan until it bubbles, but isn’t brown.  Add the flour and whisk until it forms a paste, about 1 minute.
  2. Add the milk slowly, whisking constantly.  Reduce the heat to prevent scorching (especially if using cream), and whisk until thickened to a consistency you like.

Recipe du Jour: Springtime Pasta Primavera

6982594724_91e5f0cfaa_o I try to eat in season.  It’s cheaper to do so, and once the farmer’s market starts, it’s hard not to be drawn in by the delicious looking vegetables.  Something that I don’t get to eat often is asparagus.  It definitely strikes me as a spring vegetable, and the spring is so short where I live that the season never seems to last long enough to work.  But I guess thanks to the mild winter, plants are cropping up earlier, and lasting longer.

Anyway, this means that a couple weeks ago, I acquired some local asparagus, and then later at the farmer’s market, a pound of local broccoli.  I used some of the asparagus as a side for our Easter ham, but I still had some, and a lot of celebrations had caused us to eat out a lot.  So I needed something that would use up these vegetables before they went off, and what better way than pairing with pasta.

This is really more of an idea than a recipe.  My friend Erin and I did a similar dish for one of our weekly dinner nights some time ago, but I’ve kept the idea around since then.  I normally don’t improvise when I cook, preparing to follow a recipe, even if it’s a mental one or adding certain things until it tastes right.  I’m not confident enough to wing it.  But this is little more than a saute, and has lots of room for using things up.  I also enjoy the chance to exercise my presentation skills, playing with colors in my food.  (Apologies for the fuzzy photo.)

Ingredients:

  • Pasta of your choice (I used whole wheat penne)
  • Asparagus cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
  • Broccoli cut the same
  • Diced onion
  • Carrot matchsticks
  • Red bell pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Broth of some kind
  • Herbs/spices
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Cook pasta to your taste.  Saute the asparagus, broccoli, and onion in the olive oil until they start softening a little.  Add some broth and cover.  Cook until crisp-tender.  Add garlic, bell pepper, and carrots.  Season with salt, pepper, and herbs, and cook until fragrant.  Serve over pasta, sprinkled with parmesan.

Notes:

If you use a veggie broth, this dish is a good vegetarian dish, and even with chicken broth, it’s a nice veggie heavy dish, something that I don’t eat as often as I should.  Since it’s more idea than recipe, it’s also great for using up things that you may have left in the fridge.  I could have added leftover meat, for example, or changed out the veggies.  I actually forgot to add any herbs or spices when I made it this last time, so it was a bit plain, but still very filling.

Recipe Du Jour: Johnny Carino’s Penne Alfredo

Penne Alfredo
Penne Alfredo

So, a long, long time ago, in the land of Italian chain restaurants, there was Johnny Carino’s, and their Penne Alfredo.  It was a scrumptious dish, with peas, tomatoes, bacon, mushrooms, and chicken or shrimp, depending on how you ordered it.  It was downright addictive.  But for whatever reason, they did away with it.  Occasionally, you might find a waiter or a chef who remembers how to make it, and then you’re in for a treat.

This dish has a beautiful brown tinge to the normally white alfredo sauce.  It’s how you knew it was the right one.  I used to think that this was a result of something special they did to the alfredo sauce.  But no!  It’s just a result of the cooking methods of everything else!  Come, join me in a plate of this super easy pasta dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz butter
  • 4 slices of bacon, already cooked
  • 1-2 roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup peas (I used frozen)
  • 4 oz alfredo sauce (I used a bottled sauce, but you could use homemade if you make it.  It just needs to be made ahead of time.)
  • cooked pasta (enough for a huge portion for one person)

Directions:

Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, bacon, tomatoes, peas, and spices.  Saute until mushrooms are a golden brown and the tomatoes are soft and starting to fall apart.  Add alfredo sauce, and stir until you get that brownish tinge to the sauce.  Remove from heat; add pasta directly to saucepan, toss to coat.  Dump out on the plate, grab a fork and enjoy.  Serves 1 huge portion (probably should be 2)

Tastiness Factor:

It’s another One Pan Wonder, folks.  And it tastes just like the Johnny Carinos dish I miss and love.  I made this with bowties, and made a few too many, but it was fantastic.  A little salt and pepper to round out the flavors.

Reheat Factor:

Sadly, didn’t get to test this.  I ate the whole plate in one sitting.  I would imagine that it would reheat ok, if the Johnny Carinos one was anything to go by.  Maybe use a little water to thin out the sauce in the microwave.

Overall Impression:

I have been searching for this for years.  Years, I tell you.  Now, sure, I could have used real garlic instead of garlic powder, but the powder provides a more even flavor I think.  And it was super quick once I had everything chopped, cooked and ready to go.  Next time, I’ll try adding shrimp or chicken.  Probably need to cook those separately as well.

Nutrition Facts: Trust me, you don’t want to know.  This is a copy of a restaurant dish, of course it’s high in calories, fat, and carbs.

Recipe Du Jour: Mac ‘n’ Cheese Soup

Ham and Mac and Cheese
Ham and Mac and Cheese

In every culture, there is the idea of comfort food.  The foods that remind you of home, or childhood, or just plain make you feel good.  Now, in most cases, comfort food is not good for you.  It’s meant to be good for the soul, not necessarily good for the body.  But I think in this recipe, it’s a step closer to being both.  I have many comfort foods, but one of my favorites is mac ‘n’ cheese.  It’s cheese and pasta.  What’s more comforting than that?  The source of this recipe is Little Yuzu, a blog that I used to follow for bento, but stopped reading when it turned to non-food topics more often than food ones.

Ingredients

  • Chicken Broth
  • Pasta (I used tiny shells)
  • Carrots, Broccoli and Cauliflower (This is what I used because I always have frozen on hand.  Any combination of these would probably be all right.)
  • Flour (for thickening)
  • Milk
  • Cheddar (I used sharp)
  • Ham (not in the original recipe)

Tastiness Factor:

I think everyone agrees that mac ‘n’ cheese and broccoli/carrot are a classic combo.  So is ham and mac ‘n’ cheese.  This is much thinner than what most people think of for mac ‘n’ cheese, but a smidge of salt and pepper made it great.  It was creamy, starchy, and had veggies.  I will note that because of the chicken broth and milk, the cheese flavor is not too strong.  I used a sharp cheddar, and the pasta didn’t taste that sharp.

Reheat Factor:

My bento basically looked like the bowl above, so I didn’t bother taking a picture of it.  While the soup thickened considerably after it had been taken off the heat, it still retained the same comforting texture.  Taste was about the same as the original.

Overall Impression:

This is absolutely great.  It makes me feel better about eating comfort food, and pairing it with a protein makes it a relatively balanced meal.  It reheated well, which makes for good bento food.  I will definitely be putting this into my regular rotation, as I always have the ingredients on hand.  I just wish I was good with coming up with recipes on the fly like Little Yuzu is.

Slow-Cooker Wednesday: Spicy Chicken with Peppers and Olives

4562042694_70e95c7d9b_oThis is another recipe from Slow Cooker Favorites Made Healthy. You have to understand, I love olives.  Green or black, I don’t care.  I love ’em.  And lucky for me, olives have lots of healthy fats.  The two bright green leaves on top are basil leaves fresh from my herb garden.  They were there mostly to brighten up the plate.  Again, I don’t know if I can reproduce the full recipe, so leave a comment if you’d like the full thing.

Ingredients:

  • Chicken
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Red pepper (original recipe called for yellow)
  • Black and Green olives
  • Pasta sauce (original called for spicy, I added red pepper flakes at the end)
  • Pasta

Tastiness Factor:

This was very tasty.  The heat wasn’t too much, just a little tingling feeling around the edges.  There wasn’t a strong olive taste, either.  I’m a sucker for most kinds of pasta and pasta sauce.  I don’t know if I’d do the chicken again, it didn’t seem essential to the flavor profile.  It could easily have no meat at all.

Reheat Factor:

This will be edited when I reheat the leftovers and see how they taste.

Overall Impression:

I love the simplicity of the ingredients list.  It’s all things I tend to have on hand.  Again, I don’t know if I’d do the chicken.  There was nothing in the dish that screamed ‘chicken’ to me.  I think next time I’ll try it vegetarian or with something light, like fish.  The sauce itself is very heavy, so maybe something lighter would counteract that.  EDIT: It appears that the sauce was really salty and gave me a huge headache the next day.  Maybe if I cut out the green olives it would be less salty, but I like salty things, and normally am fine.  So this monstrous headache means I probably won’t try this recipe again soon.

Dinner and a Recipe!

I thought I would share with you one of my standbys for when I have guests.  This meal is great for vegetarians and vegans, and I’ve had non-vegetarian people love it also.  Even Andrew, who normally abhors pasta dishes, likes this one.

Ok, so here I’ve served it with cheesy garlic bread, which I know creates a carb overload, but it was for guests, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Also, I actually garnished it.  I normally don’t garnish my dinner, but I love how instantly it makes everything looks so put together.  Anyway, onto the recipe!  To be quite honest, I don’t follow the recipe exactly anymore, I just eyeball everything except the tomatoes and artichokes.
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Tomato and Artichoke Sauce
1 (12oz) jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 (28oz) can of diced tomatoes
~1/2 cup white onion, chopped
~3 cloves garlic, minced
parsley
oregano
olive oil
Parmesan (optional)

1)  Heat the olive oil in a pan (I recommend a deep dish one with a lid.)  Add the onion and the garlic and cook until soft.  If the garlic starts to brown before the onion is soft, just move onto the next step.  It’s more important not to burn anything than it is to get the softness.
2) Add the artichoke hearts.  I normally pick out the hardest pieces when I chop them, but regardless, you want to cook these until soft.  Again, if browning starts to occur in any way, just move on to the next step.
3) Add the tomatoes.  DO NOT DRAIN before adding.  Just dump the whole thing in.  At this point, I put on the lid and let it stew for a little bit.  This will definitely make sure everything softens up.
4) Add the parsley and oregano.  Fresh is best, but if you have dried, it still tastes good.  You can add a little salt and pepper at this stage, but I normally just let people add their own.
5) Let it stew a little longer.
6) To serve, put over penne pasta and top with Parmesan, if you like.  I think it really brings the dish together.  I always use penne with this sauce because the result is more of a chunky sauce and so other pasta shapes don’t tend to do well.