Lasagna: Everyone’s favorite casserole

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So as I mentioned yesterday, I had quite a busy baking Sunday.  I knocked out that pull apart bread and tomorrow you will get to see the delicious holiday bundt cake I made.  So I wanted to make a delicious dinner that tasted like I spent all day making it, but didn’t take that long.  I have made lasagna before and I have had great success using a blend of methods out of my own recipes and my go-to cookbook: “Pasta Revolution” which was produced by America’s Test Kitchen.

Typically I like to blend the recipe for classic lasagna out of this cookbook and use my pork ragu that I described in my very first post.  On Sunday however I did not have the time or energy to spend two hours putting together my delicious sauce, so I went with the much quicker, about 20 minute, sauce that they use in the cookbook.  The sauce is a straight forward and rather simple tomato sauce so it is perfect for a quick meal.

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The other thing that I really like about this lasagna recipe is that it incorporates two of my favorite things in a pasta: cheese and fresh basil.  The recipe has lots of ricotta, Parmesan, and mozzarella cheese in every layer which adds a delicious richness in every bite.  Mixed in with the cheese is lots of fresh basil.  The taste of fresh basil locked into a tomatoey sauce and layers of cheese adds a fresh pop to the dish.  The two things should be included in every pasta dish

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So I admit that I used the recipe directly out of the cookbook, and thus have little to cut up in it.  However, the recipe provides one and I made on small adjustment that could be useful to some.  The people at America’s Test Kitchen have opened my eyes to a lot of new and interesting ideas when it comes to cooking pasta.  Maybe the biggest is their use of NO BOIL lasagna noodles.  These are dried noodles you can find in the pasta aisle at the grocery store that require no pre-cooking, they simply go into the dish with the rest of the elements, then cook and become tender during baking.  I had my reservations about this at first but after trying it once, I doubt I will ever boil another lasagna noodle.

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The cut up that I made must be attributed to my mother.  As I have made clear, I cook for just my wife and I.  This recipe makes a 13×9 baking sheet of lasagna, which is more than enough for even a large family.  If I made that much, we would end up throwing half of it away before we ever finished it.  So, I had talked to my parents and mentioned that I was making the recipe and my mom mentioned that she had already tried it.  She spoke highly of the dish, but also mentioned that she was able to successfully divide all of the ingredients in to two 8×8 pans and froze on lasagna for another day.  So that is what I decided to do.  If you are cooking for more, just make the recipe as described below.  If cooking for 2-3, make the dish into two pans, and each layer will use only 2 noodles.

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Classic Lasagna with Hearty Meat Sauce

  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound pork Italian sausage
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 28 oz can tomato puree
  • 1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 15 oz package ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 egg
  • 12 no boil lasagna noodles
  • 1 pound mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the onion and cook until softened.  Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds until fragrant.  Add the sausage, and break up. Cook until no longer pink.
  3. Add the milk and simmer until mostly evaporated.  Stir in both cans of tomato and simmer until everything has blended together nicely and the flavors have melded.  Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, Parmesan, basil, egg and salt and pepper.
  5. LAYERING: spread a little bit of the sauce in the bottom of the pan.  Top three noodles with about 3 tablespoons each of the ricotta mixture and layer in the pan.  Top with about a cup and a half of the sauce then sprinkle with 1 cup of mozzarella cheese.  Repeat the layering 2 more times.  For the final layer, place 3 noodles over the top (no ricotta this time).  Top with the remaining sauce, mozzarella, and a little bit of Parmesan.
  6. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil.  Bake covered for 15 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for about 25 more minutes until the cheese is browned and sauce is bubbling.  Let stand for about 10 minutes so the lasagna can set.  Serve and enjoy.

This recipe comes from “Pasta Revolution” from the people at America’s Test Kitchen

Pork Ragu with Ricotta Gnocchi: A new beginning with one of my newest favorites

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My wife has put pressure on me for a while to try doing this.  In recent weeks things have not really gone my way and I thought now was as good a time as any to try my hand at a craft I have admired and utilized for well over a year.  Food blogs have been of great use to me as they have provided me with a way to discover new ideas for in the kitchen.  I have developed quite a love for cooking but have not had a good outlet for it since we moved to our small town in southern Oregon.  I miss cooking for my family in Portland and being able to test new ideas and try new flavors in my mom’s big, well-stocked kitchen.  So now with this blog I hope to inspire myself to continue to adventure, just slightly, and regain that feeling of cooking and creating for more than just myself.

Lets start by me explaining a little bit about the title of this blog.  The title has two different meanings for me.  First of all, I am NOT a professional chef or cook.  I am an amateur on a budget, with limited skills.  Because of this, I can occasionally be prone to accidents in the kitchen.  Just this week I have cut my finger, not with a knife, but on the cap to my jar of red pepper flakes, and I also cut myself with a steak knife, not on the finger or hand, but actually my lip because this genius chose to try to guide his mashed sweet potatoes to his mouth with his steak knife and actually sliced his lip.  Second,  I am not about to unload a large number of completely original recipes that have been born from my own creative genius.  What this blog is, is an outlet for me to share with you the cooking experiences that I will have, the recipes I use, and from where they come, and my ways of adjusting them to make them more affordable and more accessible for cooks on a budget and who might not have the exotic tastes as many chefs and cooks who write the recipes we are all so impressed by do.  So in my own way, many of the recipes I will present will be my cut ups that make them accessible and affordable. Because of this I hope no cooks, chefs, or publishing companies take offense to my posts or feel as though I am stealing from them.

As I stated in the title of this post, this first recipe has become one of my very favorites.  My mom comes home from the library all the time with stacks of cookbooks to peruse through.  Often, the cookbooks go unused, but there was one that did peak both of our interests with it’s arrival.  It was “The Best of Food and Wine,” the magazine’s cookbook from one year, I do not remember which.  While flipping through it I found many recipes I wanted to try and the cookbook actually got lots of love while it was in the house.  The recipe in the cookbook is actually “Ricotta Gnocchi with veal ragu,” but it seems to me that the title has the focus backwards.  I am reminded of an episode of “Good Eats” with my personal idol, Alton Brown, in which he talks about the tradition of meat sauces in Italy and how they did not originate as sauces as we think of, but more as meat stews to be enjoyed often independently.  And this ragu, with some slight adjustment from me, is definitely the star of this dinner perfect for any winter day.

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You will have to forgive the photos in this post, and the quality of the photography overall in this blog as I am no professional photographer and am armed with my simple digital camera, purchased in a foreign country.  And for this post, I made this last night and was not properly documenting the proceedings as I was not sure of this beginning at that time.

The cut ups here, beyond the previously described finger injury, revolve mostly around the ragu.  The Gnocchi are simple and delectable, they are so easy and quick, that you could pair these delicious pillows with almost any pasta sauce and be extremely satisfied.  The ragu as I mentioned was a veal ragu in the cookbook.  Now I don’t know about you but I don’t have or know of a good place to get ground veal, and something tells me that even if I did, I probably wouldn’t be able to fit it into my small weekly grocery budget.  Now, I am sure that veal would be amazing in this so if you have the ability and desire, go for it.  But in keeping up with our theme, we are going to use another lean, flavorful, and slightly less expensive meat, ground pork.  You could also use a lean ground beef, but I have made this with that and the results were not as successful.  With the ragu as the star of this dish, I want to make one recommendation that flies in the face of pasta eating everywhere.  This is one dish you should eat with a spoon, The ragu is thick like a perfect Italian chili that can be lost if you simply attempt to stab the gnocchi and hope the sauce comes along for the ride.

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Pork Ragu with Ricotta Gnocchi

This is my first attempt at writing out a recipe for others to use, so please excuse any missed or incomplete steps.  If you notice anything, please comment and let me know so that I can fix it and avoid the mistake in the future.

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 pound groud pork
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 rib of celery, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine
  • 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs dried parsley
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 15oz jar ricotta cheese, dried out with a few changes of paper towels
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 cups flour

All of the dices can be as large or small as you like.  I like to go a little larger as the vegetables can provide a nice crunch against the soft pork and gnocchi.

  1. Heat the oil in a large pot (I prefer my dutch oven as it allows for the development of flavorful bits on the bottom of the pot as well as has a wide enough area to work and allow for easy evaporation). Brown the pork over medium-high heat until well browned.  This may take up to 10 minutes but don’t worry about making sure everything is cooked through as it will finish in the sauce if necessary.
  2. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and saute with the pork for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables just begin to soften.  Add the wine and allow to reduce by about half.  Add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes and dried spices and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, salt and pepper to taste, and allow to simmer, covered, for about an hour and a half (I know that this is a long time, but your patience will be rewarded as the flavors will develop substantially and you will avoid a tinny taste from the canned tomatoes)
  3. While the ragu is simmering prepare the gnocchi.  In a bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, egg yolks and 1 cup of flour.  It should form a dough but will still be a bit sticky.  Knead a few times on a well floured surface until the dough is no longer too sticky to handle. Roll the dough out, in pieces, into a rope about a half an inch thick.  Cut each rope into 1 inch pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, then make an indentation with your thumb and set aside.
  4. When the ragu is looking thick and just about done.  Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Drop the gnocchi into the water.  Allow the gnocchi to cook until they float and simmer for another minute or two.  When done, remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and move directly into the pot of ragu.  This will allow the gnocchi to absorb some of the tomatoey goodness. Discard the bay leaf.
  5. Serve the ragu and gnocchi in a bowl with a spoon.  No cheese is necessary and just a nice salad and maybe a piece of garlic bread will make this the perfect dinner that goes really well with a delicious red wine.

Again, this recipe is adapted from the “Riccota Gnocchi with veal ragu” from a copy of “The Best of Wine and Food” credited to Ethan Stowell (ethanstowellrestaurants.com)