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Pasta

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Balsamic Ravioli

Fettuccini with Asiago, Lemon & Parsley

Fiesta Couscous

Fresh Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

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Fettuccini with Asiago, Lemon & Parsley

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Fettuccini with Asiago, Lemon & Parsley

Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: As many as you’d like

Inspired by: I grew up with an Armenian grandmother who always made me pasta with butter and muenster cheese. It was soooooo yum! I love those memories of her feeding me the yummiest of foods. I’ve continued to make various versions of pasta with cheese and butter ever since. It’s really one of the few things I could make before I decided to learn to cook 10 years ago! Now I’ve begun using olive oil much more often than butter, and I love adding other fresh flavors, such as lemon and parsley, to many things. This has become one of my favorite pasta dishes now when I don’t have much time to cook or get to the store. Even though I keep very little food in the house, I almost always have these ingredients. I usually prefer fresh pasta, but like most days, today the fridge is virtually empty so I’m using some dried Fetuccini.

Ingredients:

  • Pasta of your choice – any shape or size – my preference is usually a wide noodle
  • Olive oil – a high quality fruity flavored extra virgin olive oil is best
  • Grated asiago cheese (or other hard salty cheese such as parmesan)
  • Chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans (optional) – this is my favorite protein souce to add to this pasta that I always keep on hand as well

Preparation: Boil water with a bit of salt for flavor. Add the pasta and a bit of olive oil so it doesn’t stick together. Cook according to instructions and drain in collander. While draining, heat garbanzo beans if you plan to include them. Toss pasta in a bowl with some olive oil, fresh lemon juice, grated cheese, chopped parsley and optional garbanzos.

Notes: I’m not really sure this should be classified as “moderately healthy”, but in the pasta world, this does use some very healthy ingredients. It’s of course best to keep your pasta serving light and to go easier on the cheese and heavier on the parsley! There are some pretty decent quinoa pastas these days and I use them often.

Wine Suggestions: If you use a lot of lemon, a high-acid wine with some lemony flavors such as a White Burgundy is a perfect pairing.


Balsamic Ravioli

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Balsamic Ravioli

Time: 25 minutes

Serves: 4-6 as a main dish for dinner

Inspired by: Rachael Ray. I don’t watch much TV so I miss a lot of the great cooking shows – although I may want to start watching more of them. Caught some snippets once of Rachael Ray making this a couple of years ago and tried it and loved it and everyone else seems to love it too. This may not be her exact recipe, but it’s very close.

Ingredients:

  • Two packages of fresh ravioli (I like “The Pasta Shop” Porcini & Truffle or Butternut Squash or Sweet Onion and Red Chard or any of those fancy, fun fresh raviolis). The size and shape do not matter. The packages I buy say that they serve 2-4 people.
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2-3 tablespoons salted butter

Preparation:

  • Heat a large pot of water for cooking the ravioli. Add some olive oil so the raviolis don’t stick to each other.
  • In a large sauté pan, on medium to medium-low heat, drop in 2-3 tablespoons of very cold butter and let it melt and brown.
  • While you are waiting, it’s a good time to wash, destem and chop your parsley and grate your cheese.
  • When the water boils, cook your ravioli according to instructions (usually about 6-7 minutes). Stir now and then so they don’t stick to each other. Drain in a colander when done.
  • Put the ravioli in the pan with the browned butter, turn up the heat to medium high and toss in the butter.
  • Add the balsamic – it will sizzle. Toss the ravioli in the butter and balsamic and watch it begin to caramelize. If you want your raviolis to get a bit crispy you can turn up the heat even more – just toss them often so they don’t burn. This process takes about 5 minutes or so.
  • In a separate bowl, toss the ravioli with the parsley and Parmesan and serve.

Notes: Using fresh ravioli with a yummy filling is key, but the browned butter and caramelized balsamic is also what makes these awesome. For parties, you can let these cool to room temperature and then line them up on a plate and serve with large toothpicks or skewers. They are good hot, warm, room temperature, and even cold out of the refrigerator the next day (if they last that long!).

Wine Suggestions: I like these with a high-acid, crisp white wine such as a Chablis, White Burgundy or Gruner Veltliner. But if I do them with a Porcini filling, then a yummy Red Burgundy is fabulous!

Balsamic Ravioli for Parties


Fresh Pasta with Sautéed Mushrooms

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Fresh Pasta with Sauteed Mushrooms

Time: 10-15 minutes

Serves: As many as you’d like

Inspired by: Eating at Madison & Fifth with my good friend Jeanette. We LOVE the pasta/mushroom dish there – it’s much more decadent than what I make because it has truffle oil and butter – but that dish really just reminds me that I love fresh pasta with any kind of sautéed or grilled mushrooms on top! This is about the easiest dish to prepare – no recipe required really – but I’m posting this as a reminder to myself to make this now and then.

Ingredients:

  • Fresh pasta – I prefer Pappardelle or any thin, wide fresh pasta noodle
  • Approximately 3/4 of a cup chopped mushrooms per serving – I think all mushrooms rock – these are cremini in the photo but I’ve used all kinds and often many kinds all together (grilled Portabellas are another favorite)
  • Butter or olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper
  • Fresh minced garlic (optional)
  • Fresh parsley chopped (optional)

Preparation: Wash, slice and sauté mushrooms in butter or olive oil  – add salt and pepper to taste. I think salt is the key to bringing out the flavors of the mushrooms. Mushrooms are also best when not overcooked – keep them firm and juicy – probably about 5-8 minutes on a medium heat for cremini’s – this varies quite a bit per type of mushroom. If you love garlic, add some minced garlic a few minutes before the mushrooms are finished cooking. When the mushrooms are just about finished, take them off the heat. Cook the pasta according to instructions, usually about 2 minutes. Drain pasta and immediately toss in olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of salt and pepper. Add some chopped parsley if you like. Pour the mushrooms and their cooking juices over the top and toss lightly.

Notes: I recently made my favorite grilled vegetable lasagna and had a couple of packages of fresh lasagna sheets left over so I cut them into 3/4″ strips and they were awesome as pasta noodles. The fresher the pasta, the more easily the noodles stick to each other so add some olive oil to your cooking water, stir pasta immediately after dropping into the water, and add some salt for flavor. Continue stiring a bit to keep the noodles separated while cooking. After draining, toss immediately with olive oil to keep noodles separated.

Wine Suggestions: I love an earthy Red Burgundy with anything mushroom! My next choice would be a high-acid white to cut through the butter such as a Chablis or White Burgundy. Because this is buttery, many people would also love a rich, buttery and creamy California Chardonnay.


Fiesta Couscous

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Time: 30-45 minutes

Serves: 10-20 as a side dish

Inspired by: Tony Khalife, who taught me a great deal about putting unique flavors together. We tried this with all kinds of combinations of flavors and every time it turned out fantastic.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cups of couscous works well for the below quantity of “fiesta” ingredients
  • Water (1 1/2 cups water per cup of couscous)
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano pepper, minced – keep the seeds (if you are sensitive to the oils, wear gloves)
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1 cup dried papaya (chopped to the size of the dried cranberries)
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 cup slivered almonds (unsalted pistachios are great too)
  • 1-2 cups green peas thawed to room temperature

Preparation:

  • Fill a large pot with water – use 1 1/2 cup water to 1 cup couscous
  • Add a dash of olive oil and salt and bring to a boil
  • Add the couscous, stir and bring to a boil again, and then reduce heat to a very low simmer and cover for 20-30 minutes
  • In a separate large sauté pan, sauté olive oil, jalapeno and onion
  • When starting to brown, add bell pepper
  • When they get cooked fairly well – 5-10 minutes, add nuts and dried fruit and cook for another 5 minutes
  • Add the peas in the last few minutes so they get hot but not crushed and mushy
  • Mix the couscous and the “fiesta” mixture in a large glass bowl (don’t do it all at once – start with half of each to ensure you get to your desired consistency/mixture)
  • Add olive oil if it is too dry and needs moisture

Notes: This is good hot or at room temperature so it’s great for making early in the day for a party, or bringing to a potluck or as part of a picnic. It’s a perfect side dish to compliment a Mediterranean-themed meal, with perhaps hummus as a starter, curry chicken kabobs and Greek salad. I also make this recipe with quinoa instead of couscous on occasion because it’s healthier. Just replace the couscous with quinoa – use 1 1/4 cups of water for 1 cup of quinoa.


Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

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Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Time: Approximately 4-6 hours total to prepare and cook; 2 hours to make the arrabbiata sauce, pesto, and cut/marinate/grill vegetables, 30-45 minutes to assemble lasagna, and between 1-3 hours to cook (depending on whether it’s fresh or frozen).

Serves: Approximately 30 main course servings (2″ x 2.5″ x 5″).

Inspired by: My friend Rikke Johansen brought “individual” grilled vegetable lasagnas to a party at my home once that were amazingly delicious! I know she slaved all day over making fresh pasta for them, homemade sauces, and my favorite ingredient was the surprise layer of grilled sweet potatoes that were very subtle in the dish, but added a unique flavor and awesome texture! Reviewing her recipe and a few other similar ones, I concocted this one. It’s a dish full of beautiful flavors! It also makes great leftovers for about a week if kept wrapped well in the fridge. I also love that it can be made the day ahead of a party and sit one night night in the refrigerator covered before being cooked.  My friends with kids love that it can be made in smaller batches and then wrapped well and put in the freezer for whenever it is needed.

Supplies: Ceramic or glass baking dishes that are 2.5-3 inches in height. 3 makes cooking easier.  This quantity of ingredients yields about 300 square inches of lasagna. I use a 10 x 15 inch dish, a 9 x 13 inch dish and an 8 x 4 dish.  If you plan to freeze them for small meals, consider using several small baking dishes. Lastly, you will be grilling a lot of veggies – a large grill will save time!

Arrabbiata Sauce Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 8-10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5, 28 oz cans organic fire roasted crushed or diced tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 teaspoons dried basil
  • 6 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (this gives it a great kick; reduce this to 2 teaspoons if you don’t like too much heat)
  • Salt to taste (approximately 1 teaspoon)
  • 8 large portabella mushrooms chopped into 1/4 inch pieces (for a meat version use 3-4 pounds of your favorite Italian sausage – for parties I often make both  – I get 4-5 portabellas and 2 pounds of Italian sausage – cook them separately, split up the finished arrabbiata sauce and add them in to make two different sauces.

Pesto (see ingredients and recipe)

Filling Ingredients

  • 3 lbs sweet potatoes – peeled and cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 8-10 medium zucchini – cut lengthwise into ¼ inch slices
  • 1 large or 2 medium eggplants, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • Approx. ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Approx. ¼ cup balsamic
  • Approx. 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  • Fresh pasta lasagna noodles – enough to give you three layers in your pan sizes (900 square inches if you are sticking with the quantity of this recipe). This can be tricky because the packages usually only tell you the weight. My favorite fresh pasta shop closed so I’ve been purchasing pasta carried by Whole Foods from the Pasta Shop in Oakland. Each 12 oz container has 3 sheets that are approximately 12 x 12 each so I get three containers and end up with some extra. The leftovers can be cut into ribbons for pasta and frozen to keep longer as well.
  • 3 lbs coarsely grated fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 2 lbs coursely grated fresh asiago cheese (I often use a pound each of fresh and aged)
  • 1 cup of grated parmesan or manchego

Preparation:

  • Start with the arrabbiata sauce. While it is simmering, make the pesto, sauté the portabellas, and prepare and grill the vegetables.
  • Arrabiata Sauce: Heat the olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients and simmer uncovered until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced, about 1.5 hours. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Cover and set aside.
  • Portabellas: For a “meatier” lasagna, chop up your portabellas in 1/4 inch pieces, sauté them with olive oil and a bit of salt (smoky salts is nice), until they release most of their water. Add them to the Arrabbiata sauce when it is finished. If you are using Italian Sausage, just break up the sausage into small pieces while you are sautéing it and brown it a bit.
  • Pesto: Make pesto according to recipe and set aside until ready to assemble lasagna.
  • Cut and Marinate the Vegetables: Prepare a small bowl with a mixture of equal parts olive oil and balsamic. Cut the vegetables according to the ingredient list above. Long thin slices is easier to grill than a lot of small pieces. Use your hands to lightly and quickly coat veggies with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them onto cookie sheets or something easy to carry them to your grill.
  • Grill Vegetables: Grill in batches, until they are tender and browned. Besides adding that beautiful flavor that comes from grilling, your main goal of grilling is getting them to release a lot of their moisture so when the lasagna cooks it will have a perfect moistness and will not end up sitting in a lot of water. At times I’ve thought I’ve overcooked some of the vegetables and they still turn out well in the finished product.
  • Assemble Lasagna:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In one bowl, combine your grated asiago and parmesan cheeses. In another bowl, blend your ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup of the pesto (or enough so that it gives it a nice flavor without being overly salty).
  • Layer 1: Spoon 1/2 of the arrabbiata sauce onto the bottom of each baking dish.
  • Layer 2: Single layer of lasagna noodles so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 3: Single layer of grilled sweet potatoes so they do not overlap.
  • Layer 4: As equally as possible, spread the ricotta mixture combined with pesto. Sprinkle a handful of mozzarella over the top.
  • Layer 5: Layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 6: Layer of zucchini.
  • Layer 7: Layer 1/2 of the mozzarella
  • Layer 8: Layer of eggplant.
  • Layer 9: Layer 1/2 of the asiago/parmesan mixture.
  • Layer 10: Final layer of lasagna noodles.
  • Layer 11: Spread the rest of the arrabbiata sauce.
  • Layer 12: Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella and asiago/parmesan cheeses – pack it all down at this point if necessary to keep it all from overflowing the pan.
  • Top it all off by drizzling pesto over the top. This is a fairly salty mixture so you can also reserve a bit to top off again when you are eating if it needs more, or to spread on some warm bread to accompany the lasagna.

Cook Lasagna from Fresh: Preheat oven to 350. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving, and if you’d like, drizzle again with some of the remaining pesto oil. Or put a “smear” of pesto on the plate under each piece you serve.

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Pre-Baked Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Cook Lasagna from Frozen: Preheat oven to 400. Cover the lasagna with aluminum foil, place your dish on a cookie sheet in case there is some spill over, and bake for approximately 120 minutes. (Add 20-30 min if not completely hot all the way through). Remove the foil and drop temperature to 350 and continue baking until it is bubbling and golden brown (20-30 minutes longer). Let the lasagna rest for 10 minutes before serving and if you have it, drizzle with pesto oil.

Notes: Using fresh ingredients (pasta, cheeses, sauces, and fresh organic vegetables) is what makes this dish so good.

Wine Suggestions: Italian! Any Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany such as a Brunello di Montalcino or Rosso di Montalcino. If you like something less expensive and a bit more rustic try a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. While Barolo is typically paired with heavier and spicy meats, the spiciness and grilled flavors in this lasagna would probably also be yummy with older Barolo with some age that has had some time to soften. Anything too tanic might class with the spice.

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna

Grilled Vegetable Lasagna