Sage & Butternut Squash Lasagna

This recipe was born for two reasons, the first one being that I love butternut squash (any squash, really!). The other is that one person in my family isn’t supposed to eat a lot of tomatoes, so I was trying to make a delicious lasagna dish that was tomato-less. This dish is great for the holidays, and although it’s got some rich ingredients, it’s also got a healthy balance with whole wheat pasta and some veggies (which you can always add more of).

Make sure you use fresh sage in this one – it’s such an important ingredient that it really needs to shine.

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Ingredients

1 box of whole wheat lasagna noodles, prepared according to package directions
1/2 large butternut squash, peeled and sliced into circles (use the top part only and save the bottom part where the seeds are for another recipe)
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2-3 cups of fresh spinach
1 .75oz package of sage, divided (if you’ve grown your own, grab a big handful)
1 32oz tub of ricotta (I used part skim)
up to 3/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, depending on your taste

For the white sauce:
1 1/2 cups of milk
2 tablespoons flour (I used whole wheat)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons of your sage, chopped
a few cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
1/3 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Begin by making the white sauce. In a small saucepan on medium heat, melt the butter. If you are using garlic, cook it briefly in the butter (2-3 minutes). Next, add the flour to the butter and whisk it together until smooth. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, making sure that the flour/butter mixture incorporates with the milk. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes or until the sauce is thick and creamy. Don’t forget to stir frequently. Add the sage and the parmesan cheese about 1-2 minutes before removing the sauce from the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mix the nutmeg into the ricotta cheese.

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Assembly!

Now you should be ready to assemble. Spread a layer of white sauce or ricotta in the bottom of your lasagna pan. Drop the circles of butternut squash down in the pan side by side – you should be able to get at least nine in there depending on the size of your squash and the size of your pan. Layer the noodles, spinach, mozzarella cheese, remaining sage, butternut squash, white sauce, and ricotta until you run out or fill the pan. Be sure to save some mozzarella cheese for the very top to lock in some of the moisture.

Bake in a 400˚ oven for 40-60 minutes or until the slices of squash are soft. You may want to cover the pan with aluminum foil until the last 10-15 minutes to prevent it from over browning.

Annnd lasagna is not the prettiest thing to photograph, especially during dinner rush with the family, but here’s a picture of the finished product.

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Stuffed Shells with Mushrooms & Spinach

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I’ve never made stuffed shells before. I make a killer Vegetarian Lasagna of Doom, but I have never attempted stuffed shells before. These were pretty awesome.

I recently started ordering my groceries online because some days, I just don’t have the spoons to go to the store, and when several of those days happen in a row, we end up eating, say, a lot of peanut butter sandwiches. Being the frugal shopper that I am, I begin my meal planning by perusing the “specials” section, and last week, both ricotta and jumbo shells were on sale.

Well! That was simply an invitation to create a dish that I have loved in restaurants but never made at home. I bought the ingredients about 10 days ago but hadn’t had the energy until last night to make the meal. Yesterday, I ran around on sleep deprivation and did all kinds of crazy things like ran errands, replanted my seeds, and made this delicious meal.

Since we’re big on having a spare meal in the freezer, I made this in pie tins (I made three, but probably could have stretched it to four with the quantities that I’ve adjusted a bit below… the ratios didn’t come out quite right! I had a few extra shells and such). We ate one pie tin, and the others were wrapped in heavy foil before baking and put in the freezer for another day.

Here’s a tip if you’re going to do freezer meals: Use a lot of sauce! There’s nothing worse than pasta that gets all hard when reheated because it didn’t have enough sauce on it. (This is also the key to a great lasagna!)

Ingredients

8 oz of mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
two huge handfuls baby spinach
15 oz ricotta cheese
1/4 cup red wine
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons (ish?) extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper to taste
a few good shakes of parmesan & romano cheeses
8 oz shredded mozzarella
1 large jar of tomato sauce
1 box jumbo shells

Directions

Cook jumbo shells according to package directions (but watch it – they always say to overcook that stuff!). Drain and run under cold water to cool. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Saute garlic for about 2 minutes in the olive oil. Add mushrooms and red wine and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Do not overcook the mushrooms. Let cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine the mushrooms mixture with the ricotta. Add the parmesan cheese and about 1/4 of the mozzarella cheese. Add some fresh ground pepper.

Put a thin layer of sauce in each pie tin (or whatever pan you happen to be using).

Fill each shell with a rounded spoonful and put the open side down into the pan. I tried to close them up a bit before putting them down to avoid leakage. Assemble the shells closely, but not too crowded, in the pan. Spoon sauce over each shell and around the edges, making sure that all of the pasta is covered. Sprinkle with more mozzarella cheese.

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Bake at 400 degrees F for about 12 minutes (fresh) or until the cheese is melty and the shells are warmed through (stick yo’ finger in there!). If reheating from frozen, let it defrost on the counter for about 20 minutes (I’m guessing, I’ll update when I do this) and it will take a bit longer in the oven.

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Serve with a green salad and garlic bread if desired.

Make-Ahead Mac&Cheese with Herbs and Chard

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I’ve been trying to get ahead on making meals for the freezer again, for nights when I’m not feeling well, for nights when Charlie and I are tired, for nights when Charlie doesn’t get home from school until ten o’clock at night. I’ve reached out to some of my friends to help me fill my freezer, but there is a space sometimes between good intentions and executions, so I’m trying to get at least a few in there on my own.

So yesterday, in my infinite wisdom of completely overdoing things and being far too tired after, I decided to make some meals, even though I’d already prepared a variation on Mock Morrocan Lentils and Rice for dinner (and leftovers), and even though I’d already made cinnamon raisin yeast bread in the morning.

I went with macaroni and cheese, since it’s delicious and comforting, and we had cheese and pasta in the house. I don’t feel that a meal is complete without a vegetable, though, so I had to throw something in there. Usually, for us, it’s broccoli, but we were totally out of that. I did, however, have some dark green chard with bright red stems that came in this week’s farm share.

I wondered if it had been done before, and some googling told me that it had. I only looked at one recipe, and it suggested that I boil the chard first. I was going for simplicity, though, not to mention that I just hate when veggies are wimpy, limp, and lacking nutrition. The gooey sauce that I make will surely soften the chard just from being on it, and the time in the oven should take care of the rest. I risked it and just heaped it in, shredded into small pieces.

I’m guessing that this is going to make about 4 generous servings (two nights of dinner for Charlie and I), or, more likely, 4 regular servings plus two lunchtime portions, especially if it’s served with a salad or something.

Ingredients

1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sage
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cups chopped, de-stemmed chard (or spinach, kale, or similar dark greens)
1 box whole wheat rotini pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded*
4 oz jack cheese, shredded*
4 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded*
*I often don’t bother shredding, as it’s time-consuming. I’ll just quickly cut up a block of cheese into small chunks or strips.

Directions

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Keep warm.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook, whisking constantly, for about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in milk, and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened, whisking constantly. Stir in about 3/4 of the shredded cheese, continuing to stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. (If the cheese isn’t melting, turn up the heat a tiny bit at a time.) Add the thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, sage, and fresh parsley, and stir over the heat for another minute or two.

Remove from heat. Add the salt and black pepper and stir, then add the pasta and stir until coated.

Now, take your freezer containers of choice, and lightly grease them. I recommend disposable pie pans, since I was able to get a huge stack of them for a couple of bucks one time, and I still have a ton left.

Scoop a bit of mac&cheese into the bottom of the pan, just so that it covers the bottom. Then, take half of your shredded chard (approximately a large handful) and plunk it down in the middle of the mac&cheese. Now, pile more mac&cheese on top, completely hiding the chard. Take the remaining shredded cheese or cheese chunks and poke some into the mixture and spread some on top. Repeat with the second pie pan.

(If you’re not making yours ahead, you can just put it all in any old oven-safe casserole dish that you lightly greased.)

Cover it tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil and plop it in the freezer.

When you’re ready to eat it, let it thaw for a while, then pop it in the oven at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot all the way through. I recommend leaving the tin foil on until the last 10 minutes or so, otherwise your top cheese might be burnt and your top pasta might get dried out.

Whole Wheat Macaroni Salad with Dill

There will surely be a few more BBQs to attend before the quickly approaching end of summer, and macaroni salad is always a hit. We made this for the pie-eating contest and ended up with tons extra and ended up eating it for days afterwards. You see, when we were factoring in how much food we’d need for the two or three dozen people we were expecting, we completely forgot that many people might not have a lot of room left in their bellies after eating a whole pie at warp speed. And, although it’s sometimes iffy, everyone who committed to it showed up with a potluck item, which meant we had tons of food. We got to enjoy a lot of leftovers.

So, if you’ve got one more potluck to attend this summer, you can whip up this macaroni salad. Otherwise, stick it in the recipe log for next summer or for a night when you cook burgers indoors during winter.

Ingredients

1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
3 green onions, finely chopped
a few stalks of fresh dill, finely chopped (if you don’t have this, finely chop a pickle and toss it in there)
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup milk (some recipes call for buttermilk, but I never have this in the house and just used regular milk, figuring the vinegar in the recipe would do the trick)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared yellow mustard
1-2 tablespoons white sugar, depending on how sweet you like your macaroni salad
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 garlic clove, minced
freshly ground pepper

Directions

Prepare macaroni according to package directions, following with a cool rinse to stop the cooking. Toss the carrot, celery, and onions in with the cool pasta. .

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, milk, vinegar, mustard, sugar, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour the dressing over the macaroni/veggie combo, and stir with a spatula to thoroughly distribute the dressing. Cover and refrigerate for several hours if you’ve got the time, but it will be darn tasty if you don’t.

If you’re serving this salad at a BBQ or other outdoor event, try to leave a portion of it inside in the fridge while serving the other portion, as this does spoil. The leftovers are even better after sitting in the fridge overnight, so you don’t want to put the whole bowl out in the sun and have the extras go to waste.

Vegetarian Lasagna of Doom

This has got to be one of the best vegetarian lasagnas I’ve ever made (or even tasted). It’s got to be one that’s recorded in blog history.

One of the key things about making lasagna is having enough sauce. Don’t be shy with it! It helps keep everything moist, and if you’ve ever had a dried out lasagna, you know how important that is. I like to use two kinds, a red sauce and a white sauce. The white sauce is easy to whip up from scratch, but if you’re in a pinch or extremely lazy, you can use alfredo sauce in a jar, though they’re not exactly the same thing.

The other thing I prefer about making lasagna… I hate those no-cook noodles, the ones that you put in still hard. It’s weird to me. I grew up watching the biggest pot we had boiling with lasagna noodles, and getting to eat the curly edges that were leftover. What fun is making a lasagna if you don’t get to eat the curly edges first? So, I recommend the noodles that you have to cook before you layer them in… I think they taste better, too.

Ingredients

1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced (we prefer baby bella mushrooms, but tend to go with whatever looks the freshest)
perhaps 2 cups? of spinach trimmed
1 onion, thinly sliced
2-3 sprigs of fresh oregano, chopped
1 jar of vegetarian tomato sauce of your choice, preferably something with lots of vegetable chunks in it
lasagna noodles (you probably only need a half box because of all the veggies, unless you have a super deep lasagna pan)
16 oz ricotta cheese
16 oz brick of mozzarella cheese (whole milk or part-skim, not fat-free)
parmesan cheese (optional)

Eggplant:
1 small to medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt, pepper, dried parsley, dried oregano to taste
1-2 eggs
Oil for frying

White Sauce:

1/2 cup butter
4 tbsp flour
1 cup milk or light cream
1 cup vegetable stock
1/8 tsp salt
about 5 sprigs parsley (optional)
one huge piece of green garlic (optional)
parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

White Sauce:

Melt butter, add flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly with a whisk. Slowly add milk or cream and vegetable stock; stir until smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add salt.

If you’ve got some fresh parsley handy, you should grab maybe five sprigs of that and the tops of some green garlic. Don’t chop it in any way. Leave it whole and just toss it into the sauce. Let it cook for a few more minutes on low heat, stirring constantly, then strain off the parsley and garlic. Add a bit of parmesan cheese to the sauce if desired.

Eggplant Preparation:

Before you can start layering, you’ve got to fry the eggplant because in this recipe, it’s almost like a eggplant parm/lasagna combo.

Mix breadcrumb ingredients of breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, flour, oregano, salt, pepper, and parsley in a flat tray or plate. In a separate tray, scramble the eggs. Take your eggplant slices and coat them one at a time in egg, then dredge them in the breadcrumb mixture.

Pan fry them in a generous amount of oil at medium-high heat until golden brown, about 4 minutes each side. Remove from pan and let them drain on a mesh spatter shield or a paper towel.

Lasagna:

Prepare pasta according to package directions. If you’re not using a disposable pan, I recommend that you put down a layer of aluminum foil before you begin for easier cleanup later.

Coat the bottom of the pan with a layer of red sauce, then alternate between vegetables, cheeses, fried eggplant, sauces, and noodles until you run out of ingredients or reach the top of the pan. Toss in the fresh oregano and some parmesan cheese along the way, if you feel so inclined. Be sure to reserve enough sauce and mozzarella cheese to cover the entire top of the pan, otherwise your noodles will be hard and your veggies will dry out.

Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 25 minutes at 400 degrees. After 25 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until cheese begins to brown. (The foil on top prevents the cheese from browning too much too quickly.)

Let the lasagna cool for at least 15-20 minutes once it’s out of the oven, or it will be a soupy mess!

If you’re not serving a crowd, I recommend putting a few slices in the fridge for consumption soon, and the rest in the freezer. When freezing the lasagna, make sure that you freeze it in the portion size you’d want to eat it in, since sawing through a frozen casserole is never any fun. Cut slices and put them into little gladware containers, let them cool (until they’re no longer steaming) and then pop them in the freezer for a great meal in a week or a month.