home cooking, Italian Food, lasagna, Mark Bittman, non-gluten, vegetarian

Low Carb Vegetarian Lasagne

As I mentioned, the Hubby, for digestive reasons, has gone no-carb.  Not only has be lost a great deal of weight, but the digestion and overheating issues he had are completely gone!  But, as a vegetarian, that makes his options for eating a little monotone.  So, when he was in Grand Rapids recently and had no pasta lasagne, he thought he had found something he could have!  Big surprise was, I had already made it for him in the past.

Since Hubby will be starting a new job tomorrow that’s about a 40 minute drive, he won’t be able to come home and make his lunch, so I offered to make the lasagne.  He can pack it up and take it with him for lunch instead.  I got an enthusiasic “Sure!”, and so we went grocery shopping.

In this version, I used 2 kinds of zucchini as the “pasta” layer, and in the past I have used thinly sliced root vegetables, but I also can see using cooked and chopped spinach, or cooked mushrooms, maybe a duxelle.  Any number of vegetables can be used, the key is to get them as dry as possible, because any liquid generated can’t be absorbed by  the pasta, and so to avoid a soupy mess, dry is the best way to go!  Honestly I started this on Saturday, and assembled and cook this on Sunday, but you can do it all in one go.  You can also vary the cheese you use, as well as the sauce.  For this I used a homemade tomato sauce, but I have also used a bechamel in the past and blogged the recipe.  I can see a cheddar or even a Swiss cheese, yum!


  • 4 large zucchini, sliced lengthwise, as thinly as possible
  • 1 teaspoon course salt (Kosher or sea salt)
  • 1 large package of mushrooms, sliced finely
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 clove or garlic, minced or finely chopped
  • 4 – 6 cups of tomato sauce (see below for recommended preparation)
  • 24 oz ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup ground fresh Parmasean cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil or 1/2 cup shredded fresh
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 – 5 grinds of fresh pepper
  • 1 lb mozarella sliced into thin coins

On a tea towel or a few layers of paper toweling, lay out all the zucchini in one layer (you may have to do it in batches).  Lightly sprinkle each with some salt, and allow to sit for 15 – 20 minutes, to draw out the water in them.  Use paper toweling to dry them on both side, which will remove much of the salt too.  Set them aside in a bowl.  And as you’re prepping, check them periodically and drain away any water collected.

In a large, wide frying pan, heat the olive oil until hot, and add in the mushrooms, get them into one layer if possible, or again do this in batches.  The target is to cook the mushrooms until most of their liquid is evaporated.  I usually very lightly salt them in the pan, just a pinch spread over them.  Allow them to warm through, and as they start to let their water go, toss in the garlic.  Stir them over medium heat until they are all wilted and cooked through, then turn up the heat and stir them well until the water is almost completely evaporated.  They may start to brown a little, and that’s OK, but take them off the heat once that happens and allow them to cool.

I am always amazed at how much mushrooms cook down!


Mushrooms pre-cooking


Mushrooms AFTER cooking!

While the mushrooms cool, if you’re assembling this right away, in a large bowl, place the ricotta, pepper, salt and eggs, and combine well.  Stir in the basil and set aside.

Now it’s just a matter of assembling it all.  In a lasagne pan, or a deep rectangular cake pan, arrange a layer of zucchini, top with 1/2 the ricotta mixture, sprinkle a layer of Parmasean, then a layer of tomato sauce.  Lay another layer of zucchini, and gently press it into the layer below, so any air escapes.  Top with the remaining ricotta, sprinkling of Parmesean, and sauce.  Over that, layer the mushrooms, and strew with any remaining ricotta and a drizzle of tomato sauce, then layer the mozzarella on top and sprinkle all over with the remaining Parmesean.


Allow this to sit for 20 minutes or so, and pre-heat the oven to 375º F.  Before you put the dish into the oven, tap it gently but firmly on the countertop, to force out any air bubbles.  Place in the oven and cook for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350º F and cook for an additional hour.  Start checking it abou 25 minutes before it’s done, to be sure it doesn’t burn on the top.  If it starts to look like it’s burning, lightly cover it with a loose tin foil tent, and continue cooking. Don’t let the tin foil touch the cheese if possible.

In order to remove as much water as possible, when the hour is over, I turn the oven off and allow the dish to sit in the cooling oven for another 20 – 30 minutes.  All you need is a nice salad and a good glass of red wine, and you have a great supper!

For the tomato sauce, there are several ways you can go. There is no shame in a bottled sauce, just remember you are trying to avoid added sugar and carbs, so a best quality sauce is recommended.  My tried and true recipe is below:

  • 1lb tomatoes from the freezer (or 2 cans best quality plum tomotoes, skinned, chopped)
  • 1 can best quality tomato sauce (I love Dellallo, but any good Italian tomatoes are good)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (teaspoons fresh shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup red wine (optional)

In a large, heavy bottomed sauce pot, heat the olive oil for 2 minutes at medium heat.  Add in the onions and a pinch of salt, stir well and cover for 10 minutes.  Remove the cover and stir well, allow to cook for another 10 minutes with no lid, then add in the garlic, oregano and basil, remaining salt and the pepper.  Simmer this all together until the oinions are cooked through and faintly starting to brown, then add in the tomatoes.  Stir all well, and add in the water and wine, if you’re using it.  If you use canned tomatoes, swirl the water in the cans to grab any remaining tomato.

Once everything is combined, lower the heat to low, put the lid on the pot, and allow to cook for 30 minutes, checking once in a while and to stir, so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.  After cooking covered for 30 minutes, take the lid off the pan and allow to bubble away for another 10 – 15 minutes, to reduce slightly.

At this point you can eat with pasta, or whatever you choose to eat it with, or allow it to cool on the stove, wrap up and use within the next few days, or freeze for future use!

Happy Cooking!

This time 1 year ago:
Smooth, Creamy Hummus

2 years ago:
Nutella Cheesecake!

5 years ago:
Homemade cocktail cherries!


home cooking

New Culinary Adventures

The Hubby has become half (well, maybe 80%) of the man he used to be!  He was feeling poorly after eating high carb/sugar foods, like pasta, and beer.  Beer was his most favorite thing, so that was a tough one!  At his own bidding, he cut carbs and sugar entirely.  And almost 60 pounds later, he is reborn and feeling infinitely better!  And so, my quest for feeding my vegetarian husband has taken a turn into a new territory! Zucchini ribbons instead of pasta?  Yes, please!

How has this changed his diet, you ask?  It’s almost entirely different.  He comes home each lunch hour and cooks himself a veggie stir-fry, sometimes with a protein, like tofu or a meat replacement.  Other days, he has a salad.  He is eating full fat yogurts and cheeses, uses coconut oil to stir fry, avoids carbs entirely, for example little to no beans, no bread, no pasta, no chips or potatoes.  I am so in awe of his dedication, and really so proud of him!  But this brings me to a place where I am not really helpful to him much any more, not being able to cook much for him really put me a few steps back. It has taken some time to figure my cooking role out, but I am speeding ahead this week and doing what I know best how to do.  Make all I can from scratch!

We are now in a routine, if Hubby comes home for a salad for lunch, I have salad dressing made for him. I have been making lacto-fermented pickles at least every other week (delicious, and full of probiotics.) And if he is hankering for a nice bit of paneer, I have it ready to get into his stir fry.  I have introduced a few home made cheeses in the past, and paneer is by far the easiest.  All you need is whole milk, lemon juice and salt.  That’s it.  Oh, and some cheesecloth/cloth tea towel and a strainer.  This is a traditional Indian cheese, used in Muttar Paneer, Paneer Sagwala and several other delicious dishes.  It’s pretty expensive to purchase, so making it at home makes complete sense.

As with all at home cheesemaking, try to find milk that is not ultra-pasteurized.  I usually use Calders, which is a local dairy, and their milk comes in glass bottles. It’s pasteurized, but not ultra, and so will work for this recipe.


  • 8 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cups fresh lemon juice, pulp and seeds removed

In a heavy bottom pot, add the milk, cream and salt, place on medium heat, and heat until steaming, there are bubbles around the sides of the pot and there is a hint of a skin beginning to form.  Occasionally stir the milk, to dissolve the salt, and to keep a full skin from forming and the bottom of the pot scorching.


When the milk begins to bubble, take it off the heat and gently stir in 1/2 cup of lemon juice.  Stop stirring, and watch the milk, it should immediately curdle, and the liquid should be clear/cloudy and separated from the curds.  If this doesn’t happen add up to 1/4 cup more of the lemon juice, again stirring gently.  If it still isn’t happening, don’t panic.  Cover the pot and move it off the stove, and allow it to sit for 10 – 15 minutes.  Take the lid off and see how your curds look.  They won’t be big, but will be small, almost like white bread crumbs.  At this point, you can let it sit until it’s cool enough to handle, but I am usually too impatient!  Line a colander with cheese cloth, enough layers so you can not see through to the collander at all.  I use a clean cloth tea towel, which I find keeps more cheese, even though it’s harder to drain the liquid.  Before I use the cloth, I rinse it well with cold water and wring it as dry as I can, then line the collander.  The liquid draining off is called whey.  Traditional Italian ricotta is made from whey, and it’s also used to start pickles, people drink it for its health benefits, and can be used in baking and bread making.

Gently pour the curd and whey mixture into the lined colander, and allow the whey to drain away.  At this point, I usually lift it and gently twist the fabric so more whey flows out. I usually do this for 10 minutes or so, I will warn you, if you use your hands at this early stage, you’ll probably need gloves, it’s fairly hot still.  If you have let it rest and cool, be less cautious.

I allow this to drain for a while, a good 20 minutes or so.  I usually walk off and do something else.  When you come back you’ll see that it’s not shiny, fairly matte, and has lost a considerable amount of volume.  Once this happens, gather up the cloth, and form the cheese into a thin square or rectangle, fold the cloth so that the seam is on the top of the cheese,  and nothing can escape, place it back into the base of the colander and weigh it down with a plate and weight on it.  You can leave it until the desired consistency is reached.  I like this quite dense, so I leave it for a few hours.  Your finished product can be wrapped in plastic wrap, or placed into a freezer bag, and kept in the fridge.  You can, however, eat it immediately.

You’ll start with 8 cups of milk, and this ends up being about 2 cups of cheese, I don’t recommend making a double batch of this, it may take much more lemon juice, and that will give the cheese a pronounced lemon flavor you are not looking for.  This cheese should be clean and fresh tasting, with a faint lemon whiff, but not pronounced.

The best way to eat this cheese is to cut it into small cubes, and fry in a pan with a little oil.  Allow them to brown well on all sides, then toss into your favorite Indian dish, our particular favorite is the spinach dish, Sagwala.  It’s not a melting cheese, so treat it as you would cubes of tofu.



home cooking

Reaching towards the Middle East

I am on the place as I type this, headed back to Michigan from a week with the kiddies in New York.  What a pleasure it has been!  I feel like I am renewed in my soul and ready to tackle the fall.  Before I do that though, let’s reach towards the Middle east for a delicious late summer dinner.

Since moving to Michigan I have been amazed at the variety of foods I have found from the Middle East.  My town, Dearborn, has the highest Arab population in the world, outside the Middle East, and so it’s no surpise you see the foods everywhere.  A few years ago I posted some Valentines Day items I made for the Hubby from Yottam Ottolenghi’s book Jerusalem.  The colors are exciting, the flavors so vibrant and all super healthy to boot, who could ask for more?  I have become a bit addicted to a spice blend called zatar.  It’s a combination of dried thyme, dried parsley, sesame seeds, dried mint and a spice that’s called sumac.  It’s the dried berry version of lemon, or at least that’s what it taste like.  It’s bright brick red, and has a texture that’s a tiny bit woody, but the punch it packs flavorwise is POW!  If you have ever had fatoosh salad, the lemon and oil dressing has a ton of sumac in it, it echos the fresh lemon.  The best description I have seen for it is is pleasurably sour.  YUM!

A few weeks ago, I saw a recipe in the New York Times food section that is a fresh take on the dried zatar in a chicken dish, and I was intrigued, and so I tried it.  All I can say is WOW!  All those flavors but a fresh, herby version.  With the addition of a lot of garlic, the chicken was rich and flavorful, and easy to make.  And it’s delicious cold the next day.   It’s a great way to, once again, grab all the herbs of summer and get them in your mouth!

For my version I used chicken thighs, bone in, skin on, and I cooked them on the grill.  I find that thighs are higher in fat, and therefore in flavor.  I also allowed mine to sit for several hours in the fridge, to really get the full flavor impact.  You can bake the chicken at 350º, for 35 minutes, which I imagine would give you a nice sticky texture, and some really good pan juices.  However, you can use any kind of chicken, I also think this would be great with a butterflied leg of lamb, on the grill again.  You can use different herbs too, but the garlic and sumac are a must.  Ah, the possibilities!


  • 6 bone in, skin on chicken thighs
  • 6 cloves of garlic minced, grated on a microplane or cut small
  • 1 large bunch of thyme
  • 1 small bunch of mint
  • 1 small bunch of flat leaf parsely
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil (plus more if needed)
  • 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds (toasted in a dry pan until they start to brown, cooled)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper (optional)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground sumac

Rinse the chicken thighs and pat dry with paper toweling, and set them aside.  Place the garlic and all the herbs in a food processor or blender and pulse 5 – 10 times to break down the herbs.  Add in the olive oil and continue to pulse and process until you have a loose paste, more liquid than paste.  Remove the paste to a large zipper bag, and add in the sesame seeds, salt, pepper and sumac.  Squish everything around in the bag so it’s all well combined.

Place the chicken in the bag of marinade and use your hands to make sure everything is well covered. Zip the bag closed and allow this to sit for several hour, or overnight.

Take the chicken out of the fridge an hour before you want to cook it, and allow it to come close to room temperature.  If you’re cooking this on the grill, light the grill 20 minutes prior so it’s very hot.  Place the chicken skin up for 15 minutes on high heat, then lower the temperature to medium and turn them skin side down.  Because you have olive oil in the mix, it will flame, but don’t panic, that’s fine.  Allow the chicken to cook for an additional 15 minutes, checking occasionally to see if they are charring and adjust the heat.  Take off the grill and allow to sit for 5 – 7 minutes, then dig in!  I actually served this with the Egyptian Tomato Salad from 2 blogs back, and it was great!!  Enjoy!





gardening, garlic, gourmet, home cooking, vegan

Summer can last all year!

At least in your kitchen it can!  I have, every year for the last 20 somehow stored tomatoes for the long bleak winter.  One way is to blanch, peel, chop and freeze in freezer bags, for soup and sauce all winter long.  Another way I have tried several times, and did this year, is oven roasting them until they are almost dry, and then dousing with olive oil and stashing in the fridge or freezer.

This method preserves and intensifies the ripe flavors, and allows you to use them in several types of dishes in the future.  Honestly, I have taken them out, pulsed them or chopped them and put on crispy toast for a fast crostini snack.  The oil is delicious after they have steeped for a while, and you can even use it to make roasted tomato pesto.  I’ll add a recipe for that at the end of this post, but before we get there, we have to roast the little suckers!

My last post was the Egyptian tomato salad, and I used a gorgeous gaggle of cherry tomatoes someone had given me.  In case there weren’t enough, I bought a big basket of ripe organic tomatoes, so I could supplement if needed.  But, the little cherry tomatoes were plenty, as a matter of act we are still eating them 3 days later!  The larger tomatoes were really ripe, and I wasn’t about to put them in the fridge, so I decided to go to my roasting option.  Directions are below:


  • Large ripe tomatoes (as many as you can find)
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt (may need more, depending upon how many tomatoes you do)
  • 1 cup (or more) of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat your oven to 375º Farenheit.

Slice the tomatoes in 1/4 inch slices, from stem to bottom.  Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper or a Silpat/silicone mat. Don’t use aluminum foil, it will react with the acid in the tomatoes and make them taste metallic.  If you don’t have parchement or Silpat, lightly oil the sheet pan so they don’t stick when roasting.

Arrange the tomato slices in rows, they can touch, but allow some room so they don’t stick together. Lightly sprinkle with some of the salt, have a light hand here, you’re going to intensify the flavors by roasting them, so too much salt will ruin them.  Allow to stand for a few minutes for the salt to dissolve, then put them in the oven.  I usually do two sheets at a time, so the wait time is perfect in between sheets.



Roast them in the oven for an hour, but check at 50 minutes.  You’ll see that they are drier, and carmelized a little.  If not, roast for another 10 minutes.  They should look like this:


Allow them to cool for 20 minutes.  Once they are cool, find the container of your choice, I usually just use a Ziplock bag, pile them in and cover with the olive oil.  Give them a stir or a squeeze to be sure the oil is evenly distributed.  You can keep these refrigerated for a long time, and if you freeze them, they will last for a year.  To use them, you can make a roasted tomato tapenade.

Roasted Tomato Tapenade:

  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (you can use the oil you stored them in, YUM!)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped (plus one cut in half for rubbing the bread)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 10 green olives, pitted and chopped roughly
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried
  • 1 baguette or crusty bread, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds

In a blender or food processor, add all the ingredients except the bread and hold back 1/4 cup of the olive oil.  Pulse and process the mixture until it’s uniform in color, and there are no large chunks of anything.  The texture you’re looking for is thick enough to coat the bread, with some liquidness to it.  As you process, add more of the olive oil, you may need more to reach the proper consistency.

To serve, lightly toast the bread, and rub them with the half garlic to coat lightly.  Spoon the tapenade on the bread and enjoy!

This is an intense flavor, so you don’t need a great deal of it.  You can also top it with a little piece of cheese, mozzarella or some Parmesan, or even some feta!  I have also used this to toss with hot pasta, and Parmesan, it’s delicious.  This is a versatile recipe, you can change out the garlic for some onion and hot peppers, or change the herbs to basil or oregano, or a combination of both.

Every time you eat this over the winter, you’ll think about summer and the sun on your face!


gardening, gourmet, home cooking, kid friendly, Meals, vegan, vegetarian

Tomato Salad, Egyptian Style

We are at the tail end of summer and I, once again, have been a bad blogger.  I am making the effort to right that wrong by posting some lovely, easy recipes that are great for dining in the last few hot weeks of summer.  First on my list is this Egyptian tomato salad.  It’s fairly simple, but packed with flavor, and it only gets better with sitting for a while, so make it today and eat it tomorrow. I will admit, I don’t know what makes it Egyptian, perhaps the garlic and shallots?  In any case, it’s very tasty.

Table of bounty

The original version of this recipe requires that you blanch and peel the tomatoes, and you can still do that, but I find that marinating them, in particular if they are burstingly ripe, as most tomatoes are at this stage of the summer, you’ll be fine without peeling.

If you decide to peel, it’s easy enough.  In a wide deep pot, boil some lightly salted water.  Score the bottom of your tomatoes with a shallow x, as somewhere for you to grab the skin to peel away.  Once the water has come to a rolling boil, take it off the heat and pop your tomatoes in for 5 minutes.  Take them out with a slotted spoon, and plunge into an ice water bath.  Let them sit there until you’re ready to peel them.  Honestly, the peels should slip right off in your hands, fairly easily, especially if they are as ripe as they should be.  Let them sit if they are still warm until at room temperature, and proceed with the recipe.

For my attempt this time, a lovely person I work with (Thank you, Karen Tyler-Ruiz!) gave me a beautiful pint of her own garden fresh cherry tomatoes, and I am using them in addition to some big juicy ripe tomotoes I got from the farmers market.  All you need do is cut them in half.


  • 1 shallot, peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons olive oil, best quality
  • Kosher salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, for juicing
  • Maldon or Kosher course (we’re going for flaky and crunchy)
  • 1 handful chopped fresh herbs (chervil, basil, parsley, your choice)

In the bowl of a food processor, place the shallot and garlic, and pulse 4 – 5 times until chunky.  Add the olive oil and process again for 2 – 3 pulses, so everything is combined, but not pureed.  Add in the Kosher salt and pepper, stir and set aside.

Cut your tomatoes thickly, and lay on a platter in one layer.  Use a spoon to top the tomatoes with the shallot mixture, being sure they all are well covered with it.  Cover and set aside to marinate. At this point, you can chill them, but be sure to take them out and set them at room temperature for an hour before serving.  If they’re cold straight from the fridge, you miss the whole delicious flavor!

Once at room temperature, squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, sprinkle lightly with the crunchy salt and strew with your fresh herbs, and you’re all set.

I would eat this as a side dish, with grilled chicken or fish, or even a steak, but also would include some crumbled feta to make it a meal all of it’s own.  Now grab some crusty bread and a nice glass of chilled Rosé, sit out in the garden or on your patio, and enjoy!

Marinating the salad