I, like most people out there, do not make gourmet meals every day. In fact, a lot of the time I cook what's affordable, easy, and comforting. I have a collection of recipes that foodies may snub because they are old fashioned - like casseroles - or use pre-packaged ingredients. I am not ashamed of these things because, hey, sometimes it's hard to get food on the table. So here are some recipes that I can depend on to save me when I am low on time, money, and energy.
Beefy Noodle Bake
This is a great recipe for getting rid of leftover produce, frozen veg, and canned goods. You can easily adapt it to use whatever you have on hand. I discovered it in a Taste of Home casserole booklet.
The first time I made this lasagna was during the period where Jasper and I were dating long distance. He was living out here in NoVa, and I was in grad school in California. He invited some friends over to play rock band at his apartment so that we could all hang out, and I wanted to cook something for the party that would suit a crowd. I thought lasagna would be great, but I wanted to try something different from my usual. My favorite lasagna recipe came from an episode of Tyler's Ultimate on Food Network, so I decided to try the other recipe from that episode. I found the recipe online and went to work, but things did not turn out as planned.
Oops! I forgot to take a picture of the crate this week, so I took some pictures of individual produce.
Ah, spring - new beginnings, new growth, and the start of peak veggie season. I am a vegetable fan, but I despise the plain steam treatment, so I am always looking for new ways to incorporate vegetables into fun dishes. Zucchini and spinach are two of my favorites because they are incredibly versatile and easy to add to any dish. One of my favorite spring dishes combines them with pasta and a Gruyere sauce for a creamy, cheesy, and flavorful veggie casserole. You can add in shredded or diced cooked chicken for more protein, if you wish.
Start with fresh, medium sized zucchini - they have fewer seeds and more flavor than larger ones. Also look for vibrant skin - younger, fresher zucchini will have a more tender skin that is easier to eat. Leave the skin on - it has a lot of nutrients!
Spring Shells and Cheese
adapted from The Food Network
Time: 1.5 hrs Serves: 6-8
2 lb medium zucchini
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups whole milk
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 bay leaves
Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1 lb medium pasta shells
4 shallots, minced
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
4 oz Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
4 oz Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 1/4 cups)
4 oz baby spinach
Grate or shred the zucchini (do not peel) into a colander. Toss with 1 tablespoon salt, then place in the sink to drain for about 15 minutes. Squeeze out the excess liquid.
Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour, nutmeg, cayenne, 2 tsp salt, and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the raw flour smell cooks out, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, about a cup at a time. Then add the thyme, bay leaves, and lemon zest and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and simmer until thickened slightly, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain into a bowl, discarding the herbs.
Meanwhile, position a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and add to the sauce.
Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring, until almost tender, about 4 minutes. Add the zucchini mixture to the pasta along with the egg yolks and all but 3 tablespoons of both cheeses. Stir to combine, then add the spinach.
Transfer the mixture to a 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with the remaining cheeses. Bake until browned on top and heated through, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before serving.
Another easy way to incorporate zucchini into a family friendly dish is to bake it with flour, cheese, eggs in a pie dish. This rich, dense, savory pie is sure to be a hit. The original recipe called for Provolone cheese - you can certainly use that, or Mozzarella, but I prefer Gruyere. I also like to add more basil than originally called for.
adapted from Real Simple
Time: 1.5 hrs Serves: 6
3 cups grated zucchini (about 1.5 lbs)
1 small onion, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese
3 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tbsp grated Parmesan
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, reserving 1 tbsp of the Parmesan. Spoon the zucchini mixture into a greased pie plate. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown, sprinkle with the reserved Parmesan. Cool 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.
I love Greek food, and one of my all-time favorite dishes is Moussaka (Greek lasagna). It is hearty and comforting and perfect for winter. I adapted this recipe from Diane Kochilas (prominent Greek cookbook author). Traditionally the eggplant and potato are fried, but in my version I bake them in order to be a little healthier. Also, I like to mix in beef with the traditional lamb. Also, you may notice that the Greek version of bechamel sauce is a little different than the Italian or French version- involving egg yolks and lemon zest.
2lb potato, scrubbed and thinly sliced
3lb eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
2lb any combination of ground beef and lamb (I prefer a lb each)
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups (1 28oz can) whole plum tomatoes, chopped, with juice
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
2 bay leaves
3 cups milk
1 cup cream
8 tbsp unsalted butter
8 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 egg yolks
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the eggplant slices in a bowl, douse with salt, let sit for 45 min. Lay the potato slices on a baking sheet, brush both sides with oil, bake 15 min. Set aside on paper towels. Rinse the eggplant slices, pat dry, lay on a baking sheet and brush with oil. Turn oven down to 350 deg and bake 15 min. Set aside on paper towels.
Meat sauce: In a large saute pan, heat 1-2 tbsp olive oil. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the ground meat and brown. Add the white wine and cook until mostly evaporated. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, and spices. Cover, turn heat to low, and simmer 45 min. Season with salt and pepper.
Bechamel sauce: Heat the cream and milk together until bubbles form at the edge of the pan, remove from heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the flour and cook until it no longer smells raw, 3-4 min. Gradually add the hot milk, stirring with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. After the last addition, cook for 5 min. The sauce should coat the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper, nutmeg. Stir in the feta cheese. Allow to cool slightly, mix in the egg yolks and lemon zest. Cover to keep warm and set aside.
To assemble the moussaka: Spread the bread crumbs into the bottom of a 9x13 lasagna or casserole dish. Arrange the potatoes in a layer on top, arrange the eggplant on top of the potatoes. Spread the meat mixture evenly over the eggplant, and top with the bechamel sauce. Sprinkle the top with Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 deg for 45 min- 1 hour. Cover with foil if it gets dark too fast.