Holiday cooking, home cooking, Italian Food, vegetarian

Simple, Silky Tomato Sauce

marcella

I have often spoken of my deep love for Julia Child, and my girl crush on Nigella Lawson, however there are some others that I have affection for, for example Madeleine Kamman and Marcella Hazan.  Such exotic names aren’t they?  Chef and teacher Ms. Kamman was someone I was also introduced to via public television, I believe as a teenager.  Many years later I bought her large tome, The New Making of a Cook.  Believe me, if you can lay your hands on it, buy it.  It’s truly a lesson in not only French cooking, but in being a true cook.  It taught me about slurry, great pastry crust, and some of the most wonderful sauces.  I highly recommend it.  Marcella Hazan (photo above), who sadly left us in 2013, I became aware of due to the New York Times.  She has a long history of bringing simple traditional Italian food to the American public.

The recipe I am offering today is one of Marcella Hazan’s.  It’s comforting in these days of turmoil. It’s so simple, it’s almost not a recipe, but wow, the end product is seriously delicious! Yes, there is a great deal of butter and no olive oil or garlic, and some onion you don’t eat with your pasta, but believe me, it will be  a new favorite!

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 28 oz can of best quality whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 stick unsalted butter (see my note below)
  • 1/2 onion, peeled
  • Salt (to taste)

Yup, that’s it!

Place the tomatoes, butter and half onion in a heavy bottomed saucepan.  It’s up to you to salt now or at the end, try a pinch or so.  Just remember even though you do not cook this for a long time, it will concentrate, so be careful with the salting.

I’ll be honest with you, even with canned tomatoes, I usually seed them.  All you have to do is cut them in half, wriggle your fingers in them to release the seeds over a fine mesh strainer and bowl.  Then gently press whats in the strainer with a spoon to release any liquid, and add to the pot.  You’ll need the juice, but not the seeds.  Of course that is personal preference, you don’t have to do it, and seeds won’t change the outcome in any way other than texture.

Bring the pot to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring, and pressing the tomatoes with a spoon to break them up.  Uncover the pot and cook another 15 minutes, still checking and stirring.  Once 45 minutes has passed, check for seasoning, and add salt as needed.  Remove the onion (eat it, cooks treat, it’s delicious), and you’re ready to dress pasta.  And that’s all folks.  Easy as boiling water, but much more tasty.  This will keep for about a week in the fridge, much longer if you freeze it, but I am fairly certain after the first try, there won’t be much left over!

I will admit, I do sometimes puree this, just to make it smooth, with an immersion blender.  Again, just my preference.  If you do this though, put it back on the stove for another 10 minutes at low, pureeing will release a lot of water from the cooked tomatoes.

Butter Note: I am newly re-obsessed with Dairy Gold which is an Irish butter, from 100% grass-fed, pastured cows.  I know it from when I was a kid and young adult when we went to Ireland.  It’s delicious and very healthy.  I don’t need to tell you how important fats are for your body, but this is a wonderful and recently more available source.  I don’t know what to suggest if you are vegan, but let me know if you try it and what you used.

Buon Appetito!

 

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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!

Ingredients:

  • 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!

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Mushrooms pre-cooking

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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.

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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!

 

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brown, eggs, gourmet, home cooking, homemade cheese, Italian Food, kid friendly, lasagna, marinated artichokes, Meals, ricotta, vegetarian, winter

No pressure!

How many of you live outside of the Eastern seabord?  Ok, so of you, how many have heard of something called mostaccioli?  Am I wrong when I say that it’s the poor younger brother of baked ziti?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good baked pasta.  My issue here is that the mostaccioli I speak of is a kind of bland, basic, tasteless staple at Michigan weddings, and in hot bars.  Truly, it’s not worth all your effort to turn out something so bland and kinda boring.

So, Michiganders, and Midwesterners, please see below for a few easy, and very tasty tips to turn your mostaccioli into a mouth watering and delicious baked pasta dish.  I am listing them as DO’S and DON’TS.

  • DON’T refrain from salting your pasta water.  The Italian tradition says your pasta water should taste as salty as the sea.  Listen to them, if anyone knows of what they speak, as far as food, it’s the Italians!
  • DO add luscious cheese and some good ricotta to your casserole.  Now, I am making an assumption here that most people know how to make baked ziti, or mostaccioli?  If not, I’ll give you a run down at the end of this list.
  • DON’T over boil your pasta before you put it in the dish. (Self explanatory.)
  • DO add vegetables, and all kinds of meat or proteins to your dish.  As a matter of fact, I use the very best jarred sauce I can find, or you can make your own.  (You hear me?  No sweet, sugary jarred Prego here, please!)
  • DO be liberal with seasoning, with the exception of salt.  Remember, you have made your pasta cooking water “like the sea” so the salt will be an inherent part of your dish.  I usually add ricotta cheese, and salt that rather liberally too, so there is that salt to remember.  Too much salt isn’t what you’re going for here, it’s mellow, cheesy and luscious.  (Maybe I should just call this Luscious Bake.)
  • DO use a large enough pan.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of new bakeware this Christmas (Thanks, Pop!) and it is non-stick and comes with silicone inserts, so no need for the pot holders or oven mitts to get it out of the oven!! My point is, even cooking and enough crunchy brown stuff to go around makes for maximum deliciousness!
  • My final DON’T is, DON’T NOT make this!  It’s so good, and so easy, and will feed you and your mid-sized family for several days.  This, a salad, and perhaps a good glass of wine and some bread?  That’s what will keep you warm in these ridiculously cold days!

Sooo, I forgot to mention above, have you heard of ziti?  Don’t we all know what that is?  It’s a tubular pasta, with ridges, although, I have to say that might be rigatoni, I’ll have to check my pasta shapes book.  But, you can use either, you can also use any stuffed pasta, like tortellini  (I would refrain from ravioli, simply because it will bust open and make a mess, trust me on this one)  I am also imagining how great this would be with elbows, spirals, pretty much anything that will catch the filling and sauce.

Here is the basic recipe.  You can add anything you like, but the bake time should remain fairly the same.  If you’re super adventurous, you can use fresh pasta.  In that case cut back the pasta cooking time, but then you’re probably experienced enough to know when fresh pasta is ready to go.

Bep’s All Purpose Baked Pasta (aka Baked Ziti)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Prep a large baking dish, about 12 inches long by 3 deep.  You can rub it with olive oil, but you really don’t have to.

  • 1 pound uncooked pasta (ziti, rigatoni, etc) Usually one box/bag
  • salt, olive oil
  • 1 large jar spaghetti sauce (or 4 cups of your homemade. I really prefer Newman’s Own, or Barilla here, but it’s up to you) (*Not a paid sponsor)
  • 1 15 oz tub of ricotta cheese (whole or skim, makes no difference)
  • 1 whole egg, per container of ricotta (you can leave out, but it makes a huge flavor difference)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella (I have used provolone too, really good)
  • 8 oz Parmesan, shredded or powdery

Any or all of the below:

  • 1 pint cooked mushrooms (sliced thin, sauteed in olive oil with garlic until soft)
  • 1 jar artichoke hearts, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large bunch fresh spinach (or a packet of baby spinach leaves), washed and sliced fine (if using baby leave, just leave them whole)
  • Bunch of fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, to taste) washed, dried, chopped
  • Meat (1 lb ground meat, chicken cooked, pork sausage diced, you get the idea)

Bring a large pot full of water to the boil.  When it comes to the boil, add enough salt so the water is well and truly briney, taste it (probably about a tablespoon of Kosher, 2 tsp of table salt).  Add a good glug of olive oil, and let it come back to the boil.  Once it’s rolling boiling, add the dried pasta.  Cook it to the packet’s instructions, but my rule of thumb is, stir it until they’re all rolling around in the water.  Once you make the other preparations, it will be ready to drain and sauce (close to 12 minutes.) Now, I said above, don’t overcook it, and I mean that.  You should feel slight resistance when you taste and bit into it, but not crunch, just a nice solid resistance to your teeth.  It should above all be cooked through.

While your pasta is cooking, place your ricotta cheese into a medium sized bowl and add the egg, beaten, and salt and pepper.  Use a fork to beat this until it’s fully incorporated.  Now, you will need to taste it for seasoning.  A little tiny bit of raw egg won’t kill you.  Adjust the salt and pepper so it tastes good to you.  At this point, if you’re using the herbs, add them, and beat again into the ricotta mixture.  Reserve a tablespoon or so for later.  Set this mixture aside.  Prep all the other ingredients you’re adding, if any.  Check if your pasta is done, and if it’s ready, drain it in a large colander. Once the pasta is drained, it’s really just a matter of plonking everything in the baking dish, adding cheese and baking it.

Leave your pasta to drain for a few minutes, and add the sauce to the bottom of your baking dish.  Add the pasta to the baking dish and mix until all the pasta is covered with sauce evenly.  Take 1/3 the ricotta mixture and mix it through the pasta and sauce.  If your using the other ingredients, with the exception of the artichokes, swirl them into the pasta now too.  Once everything in incorporated, add the artichokes to the ricotta and mix well.  Then spread the mixture evenly over the pasta, it doesn’t have to perfect, it will get covered with cheese at this point!.  Sprinkle the Parmesan over it, then cover the whole thing with the mozzarella.

Once everything is done, put it in your oven and bake for 45 minutes, and allow at least 10 minutes of cooling time to be able to cut through it.  If you reserved any herbs, sprinkle them over the plate when you’re serving.  For the two of us, this will make 3 dinners, or at least 2 dinners and 1 lunch.  It’s so good, and honestly, isn’t that easy?  Mostaccioli, FEH!!

This is what ours looked like tonight!

YUMMY!  And so easy!

YUMMY! And so easy!

For all of you that will be getting into Winter Storm Ivan, be safe, and don’t spend much time outside if you don’t absolutely have to!  Cook something instead!

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home cooking, homemade cheese, Italian Food, Julia Child, kitch recipes, Mark Bittman, Michael Chiarello, ricotta, vegetarian

I have found Nirvana…!!

I have always prided myself on being able to tell a great story.  I hear it all the time, “Oh, you’re so funny, you should write a book!” And so, I have thought about writing a book of my humorous stories and becoming the next David Sedaris (a complete joke on my part!).  Alas, usually after relaying the story a time or two, it is gone from my increasingly sieve-like mind.  And so, writing a book based on my crazy life, pales as time passes.  When the world of blogging came into being, I thought in a smug, self-satisfied way that it was only for people that liked to hear themselves talk, and who were caught up in the whole “me, me, me” culture that I see popping up all around me.  It took years for me to actually stop and read people’s blogs, on topics that interested me.  Like cooking.

And so this blog was created, and I have tried to keep it up, even though I sometimes forget about it totally.  I thought about cooking myself through all kinds of books, similar to the woman that cooked her way through Julia Child’s cook book (and had a movie made about her book, about her blog…)  I don’t have enough discipline to do that, my attention span just won’t stretch that far.  My next idea was to write what I was cooking on a weekly basis, but, true to form, I can’t remember to write it all up in the blog.  So, the next idea was to create my own ingredients, and show people how easy it is to make your own stuff, and take the mystery out of all the packaged foods we buy and eat on a daily basis.

One reason why this idea was a winner is where I grew up, versus where I live now.  I grew up in New York, in Flushing, Queens in fact.  Or as my niece and nephews call it “the big city.”  You can find ANY ingredient there, at any time of the day or night.  Not so in Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where I live now.  Although there are many upsides to living here, not the least among them being, it’s fairly handy to be able to walk down the street to what is called  “party store” and pick up wine, beer or spirits and mixers on any day of the week, well into the wee hours of the morning.  That counts for quite a bit when you’re a foodie and a cocktail-er, as I am.  I am actually passionate about telling people that they can make things so much better if they make it themselves, rather that going out and buying something that may be of questionable quality, and certainly of indeterminate freshness and pureness.

And that is now my goal.  I will attempt to give people the skinny on things that I myself make, or have made, that are simple and easy and infinitely cheaper than most of the stuff you try to buy in the stores.  Today’s lesson is homemade ricotta.  Full fat, home made and delicious cheese.

Living in New York for the first 30+ years of my life, the cheery, bright yellow Polly-O Ricotta was a wonderful staple of my cooking repertoire.  With my husband being a lacto-ovo vegetarian, good Italian casseroles are a great way to keep us fed and quickly ready for dinner.   Alas, after moving to Michigan, I have come to find that there isn’t a readily available source of ricotta that I can find at any store.  And thus the use in most Michigan recipes of cottage cheese in those foods that I have grown to love and make all the time.  That to me is sacrilege and 100% unacceptable.  But, I found a shop nearby that sells what I expect is normal, out of the tub ricotta for a ridiculous price.  I use it sparingly and don’t buy it much because it’s expensive.  Imagine my surprise when I was watching The Cooking Channel and saw one of the chefs making cannolli with homemade ricotta that he had sweetened before the cheese making process.  It was a revelation!  I COULD do that and on a regular basis, and a fraction of the cost!  And so, I made it today, and made the best ricotta gnocchi (thank you, Mark Bittman) that I have ever had!  On this day, I pass along to you, the simplest recipe I have ever made (although that’s not saying much) which packs an amazing flavor punch for as few ingredients as you have to have on hand!  Enjoy, and as always, let me know what you think, or what your experiences are doing it… I can always use a critique!

(NOTE: I use full fat milk here, but once you get used to making it, you can use skim or anything in between)

Homemade Ricotta cheese:

2 quarts of full fat milk (8 cups)
1 pint heavy cream (optional)
1/3 cup of lemon juice, no pips (1/4 cup if you use the heavy cream)
1 tsp salt

Implements you will need:
2 sheets of cheese cloth, folded so you have 6 layers
Colander with many holes (mesh ones are usually best, but a metal kitchen colander is fine)

In a heavy bottomed, large pot, combine the milk and cream and on a medium heat, bring the milk to a steady boil.  While heating it stir it occasionally to prevent a skin from forming over the top.  Keep and eye on it, and when you start to see a foam form around the sides of the pan, and it starts a slow rolling boil, pull the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two and stir in the salt.  After cooling briefly, and making sure all the salt is dissolved, add in the lemon juice.  Stir it gently until well combined.  You will see the mixture will thicken slightly, and you will see a little curdling.  Once you have stirred the juice in, stop.  Let it all sit for an hour to an hour and a half.  It will seem to be turning a darker yellow, but resist the temptation to stir it.  The idea here is that you want to allow the cheese to form as large of a curd as you can manage.

While the cheese is cooling, line the colander with the cheesecloth and set the whole thing into the sink.  After the cheese has set for a while, take it gently to the sink and use a ladle to spoon the mixture into the cheesecloth lined colander.  When you have about half of it in the cheesecloth, you can pour the remaining cheese into the colander and let it drain.

DO NOT press on the cheese curds to extract liquid.  Resist this as strongly as you can, so you don’t lose valuable cheese as opposed to liquid, or whey that drains out.  You will see the cheese will start to become creamier and more solid.  I usually wait anywhere from 15 to 30 min to check where the progress is.  The goal for this is to have a creamy and very small curd cheese.  After about 30 min, I usually gather up the cheese cloth and either hang it from the faucet in the sink, or transfer the whole thing to a mesh colander, which will allow the whey to drain much faster.

It is completely up to you, how long to drain this.  If you want ricotta, then maximum of 45 minutes draining.  If you want to make something like Indian paneer, at least 2 hours until the cheese is very firm (similar to firm tofu)

Fresh ricotta will not keep long, so my suggestion would be to make it as you need it and use it soon.  It really does not freeze well at all, so keep that in mind.  It will keep for several days well covered and completely cooled in the refrigerator. 

A few notes here on flavoring.  You can very easily make this a sweet cheese for desserts by omitting half the salt and adding in 2 tablespoons of sugar in the step where you add the salt.  Remember to stir well so all the crystals melt and are fully combined, then proceed with the lemon as above.  Also, on the savory side, I made a batch of this with 3 finely chopped cloves of garlic (you may even want to grate them finely), 1 teaspoon of dried fresh basil, and a good solid grinding of freshly cracked black pepper.  Also, for the curdling agent, the lemon is a good non-flavoring agent, but I have also seen about half the amount of white vinegar used.  I have not used it myself, so I don’t know how the vinegar effects the flavoring.

OK, go forth and create cheese!

E.

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