Pasta Fagioli

We are entering cold weather season here in Indiana and nothing to me says “welcome cold weather” like a big bowl of warm and comforting soup! Pasta Fagioli – which basically means “pasta and beans” – is quickly becoming one of my favorite soups! It is hearty, warm, cooks up in no time and is only 4 ingredients! FOUR! Can you believe that? Print this out, save it, bookmark it, whatever you want to do – just keep this recipe and make it this weekend!

Pasta Fagioli

1 jar “Ragu Chunky” pasta sauce with tomato, basil and garlic
2 cans (19 oz each) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 package (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed but not drained
16 oz ditalini pasta, cooked and drained
4 cups reserved pasta water
4 cups water

To prepare the spinach: microwave the frozen spinach in a microwave safe container for four minutes. Using a fork, cut up and separate. Do not drain the spinach.

To prepare the pasta: cook in a large amount of salted boiling water with a splash of olive oil added. Cook according to package directions.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, combine the pasta sauce, prepared kidney beans, prepared chopped spinach, pasta and reserved pasta water. Bring to a low boil, stirring occasionally.

Add in four cups of water and simmer, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve hot. Store leftovers, covered, in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Enjoy!

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Panzanella

I have always been a secret fan of panzanella, but never really make it. Why? I do not know… Maybe it is because this is best made with fresh farm stand ingredients – tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, etc. Or maybe it is just because this is a salad…and I do not make many salads – other than mayonnaise based ones – which I love. Anyways, moving on, if you do not know what panzanella is, Google it. Or click here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panzanella

Panzanella can actually be made with anything – to an extent. Mine is made with some of the things I like – onions, croutons, tomatoes… And a light vinaigrette dressing. It is delicious!

You can use fresh bread, cut and drizzled with olive oil and toasted in the oven, or use croutons (like me). I like them fairly large, and use this brand – http://www.newyorkbrand.com/croutons?id=115

Panzanella Blaise The Baker Blaise Doubman

Panzanella

For the salad…
2 large tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cups black olives
5 cups “Texas-style croutons”

For the vinaigrette dressing…
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon spicy mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Start by preparing the vegetables. Dice the tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper to where they are all pretty close to the same size. After completing this and thinly slicing the onion, place all vegetables in a large bowl with the black olives and croutons.

Next, make the vinaigrette by whisking together the olive oil, white vinegar, minced garlic, spicy mustard, salt and pepper in a medium sized bowl.

Pour the finished vinaigrette over the vegetables and croutons, and toss to coat. Serve immediately or allow to sit for about 30 minutes for the flavors to blend together.

Enjoy!

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Double Batch Lasagna

I am telling you – this is the BEST lasagna recipe, and the only one you will ever need! Seriously – it is absolutely incredible! And you know what? The best part is it makes a DOUBLE BATCH! This means, one for now, and one for later! Yes, I am using a lot of exclamation points!!! See – here are more!!!

You COULD half this recipe, and only make one pan of lasagna, but why? Let us be honest – you will have the mess anyways, why not make TWO – one for now, and one for later!? Pop the other one in the refrigerator (for up to 3 days), or freezer (for up to 3 months) and throw the other one in the oven for one of the best lasagnas you have ever had! I promise…

Now, this lasagna is very “classic” in flavor. There is not any veal, and there is not any fire roasted tomatoes in this version. It is just a clean, classic and simple version that my family and friends LOVE! Anytime someone is sick, or happy, or pregnant, or divorcing, or ANYTHING in life – I always make and deliver this lasagna! (I took this to my friend Judy – who LOVED it and has requested it at least twice a month…) I typically serve this with garlic cheese bread and a salad. It is also good the next day – cold…or on bread…or toast…or battered and deep fried… Ha! Perfect anyway you slice it…

TRY IT! (You can thank me later…)

I got the inspiration from this recipe from my Aunt…Ree Drummond. You all may know her as “The Pioneer Woman”, but to me, she’s my “Aunt Ree Ree”.

Ok – so I stretched the truth a little. She’s not my Aunt…and I do not know her…but I tell people she is my Aunt just to get a reaction! Ha! Anyways, her recipe can be found here – http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2007/06/the_best_lasagn/ – but honestly, I DO like mine better. I have changed it to fit what works for ME. MY taste, what I like, how I like to make it and mine makes a DOUBLE batch – DOUBLE the fun!

Before you start – it is easier to get everything together in bowls, sections, however you lay out ingredients before hand…and then start and follow the recipe. Chop the fresh parsley, the basil, beat the eggs, etc. It will be SO much easier. Also – use foil pans. Seriously – it will be so much easier for storage, refrigerating, freezing, etc. Keep in mind though that you really need to keep the foil trays on a baking sheet while in the oven, cutting, etc. – just for safety reasons, spillage, etc. Carry on…

Double Batch Lasagna Blaise the Baker

Double Batch Lasagna

2 pounds ground beef
2 pounds hot sausage
4 tablespoons minced garlic
4 cans crushed tomatoes (14.5 oz each)
4 cans tomato paste (6 oz each)
6 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
4 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
7 cups cottage cheese
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 packages lasagna noodles (10 oz each)

Start by spraying 2 13×9-inch foil baking pans with non-stick cooking spray.

Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil, and salt the water heavily with Kosher salt, or in a pinch, regular table salt.

Once the water is boiling, put in both packages of lasagna noodles, and coax them all down into the boiling water. Be careful not to break them – in a few minutes time, the noodles will all fit – as long as your pot is big enough – I promise.

Boil them just until firm to the tooth – about 10 minutes. Read the package instructions just to double check on the time for your particular brand.

Drain them, allow to cool slightly, and arrange the noodles individually side by side (over lapping is fine) on your strainer. This is the best way of “laying out the noodles”.

Next, in a large skillet brown the ground beef and hot sausage, over medium-high heat. About half way through the cooking process, add in the minced garlic, and continue cooking the meat until fully cooked and no longer pink. Drain a little of the fat, and then add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, 4 tablespoons of the fresh parsley, the fresh basil, salt and black pepper. Stir, carefully, to combine and allow to simmer on medium heat for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally – and tasting occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine the cottage cheese, beaten eggs, grated parmesan cheese, and (why not?) a little more salt and black pepper.

Now – you are ready to layer! The fun part…

Start by arranging four noodles on the bottom of each pan. Layer like this…

About 4 noodles first – on the bottom. Then, a little of the cottage cheese mixture, then the shredded mozzarella cheese, then the meat mixture. Layer and layer in BOTH PANS like this, until you are out of ingredients, and END with the meat mixture on top. Sprinkle on more grated parmesan cheese all over the top of both.

IF BAKING – Place in preheated 350-degree oven for 30-40 minutes on a flat baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes for a “softer” edge lasagna, 40 minutes for a more “crunchy” edge lasagna… I prefer the 40 minute option…

IF FREEZING – Snap on plastic lid that comes with foil container, and place in freezer for up to 3 months.

IF REFRIGERATING – Snap on plastic lid that comes with foil container, and place in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Enjoy!

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Cookbook Corner – Extra Virgin

Time for a new “Cookbook Corner”! 

Extra Virgin Cookbook Blog

“Extra Virgin” By: Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar

You might recognize Gabriele and Debi from their hit cooking show “Extra Virgin” on “The Cooking Channel”. I have been a fan of their show since day one, and I credit it for helping me expand my vision of what true Italian food is and what true Italian food is all about.

A lot of people get wrapped up in “popular” cooking methods or the “must have ingredients” of the moment – but not this adorable Italian couple! Their cooking is rustic, straight forward, easy and delicious.

As soon as I received my copy of “Extra Virgin” the cover blew me away. I was not quite sure what the dish on the cover was…but I knew I wanted to try it! It looked delicious…and encouraged me to flip through the book until I found the recipe. (“Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Caprese” page 22).

The pictures throughout the book are absolutely gorgeous (and aside from the delicious recipes) the perfect excuse (if you need an excuse) to buy the book…

After marking down the cover picture recipe to try, I flipped to the back and looked under “desserts”, as I usually do with cookbooks. And…I was not disappointed!

“Almond Cookies” (page 234), “Carnival Fritters” (a personal favorite and page 236), “Coffee Granita” (page 247), “Tiramisu” (one of my all time favorite desserts and page 248), and “Lemon Sorbet” (page 256) were all marked with a couple executed to perfection!

The cookbook is beautifully put together with chapters divided up into perfect categories – each with wonderful and rustic recipes! Categories are: Appetizers, Pastas and Sauces, Risotto, Soups, Salads, Meat, Fish, Vegetables, Pizza, Panini, Desserts and Drinks.

The “Guacamole” recipe (page 28) is amazing alone, but even better with the “Baked Beet Chips” (page 29). Tip: Wear gloves when handling beets…and be careful because they stain EVERYTHING they touch…

Another wonderful (and simple, rustic) recipe can be found on page 59 – “Fake Sauce”. It’s delicious, chunky and very flavorful. The “fake” part comes from the lack of meat in the recipe…which is perfect for vegetarians. The sauce is very versatile and delicious when served with any form of pasta…but also just as delicious when served with your favorite crusty bread.

The chapter on “Risotto” has been flagged for me to try just about every single recipe. I love making risotto and find the whole process relaxing…but I have not had the chance to try any of these recipes yet…but look forward to when I can!

“Grilled Tuscan Chicken” (page 143), “Beef Stew with Polenta” (page 155), “Grilled Endive with Gorgonzola and Sage Oil” (page 186), and all of their rustic pizza recipes are perfect examples of the type of cooking that fills this book! They are simple, rustic, flavorful and couldn’t be easier!

I highly recommend this cookbook for those of you who want to know and experience more “true and rustic” Italian cooking. There’s no hype here – just truly simple and delicious Italian cooking…

To buy the book please click here…
http://www.randomhouse.com/book/226338/extra-virgin-by-gabriele-corcos-and-debi-mazar

To visit their website, blog and learn more about the cookbook (including recipes) as well as their TV show, please click here…
http://www.cookingchanneltv.com/shows/extra-virgin.html

The personal views and reviews of this blog are mine and mine alone. Any opinion or thought expressed are strictly my own. I received this book from “Blogging for Books” for this review. More information can be found by emailing me your questions.

Blaise