Creamy Pesto-Chicken Lasagna

24 03 2015

Traditional lasagna can be time-consuming, but in this version you can save time by using store-bought or pre-made pesto, and no-boil lasagna sheets. Just because you’re saving on time though, doesn’t mean you’re skimping on the flavor. Trust me, this lasagna is totally decadent! You can make this two days in advance if you want, just store covered in the fridge and bring to room temperature before baking.

I made this for a family Sunday supper and was feeding a crowd, so I doubled the recipe. If you end up having some leftover ricotta filling like me, you can toss it with some whole wheat pasta and a little of the pasta water for another great meal or side!

Creamy Pesto-Chicken Lasagna

The following makes 10-12 servings (adapted from Cuisine at Home):

  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup basil pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb cooked ground chicken
  • 1 package (15 oz) whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 box flat, no-boil lasagna sheets
  • 4 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350.

For the bechamel, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and nutmeg, bring to a simmer, and cook 2 more minutes. Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup pesto; season with salt and pepper. Stir in cooked chicken (simply season with salt, pepper and granulated garlic and saute in a little olive oil until cooked through) and set aside.

For the lasagna, stir together the ricotta, parmesan, and 1/2 cup pesto; season with salt and pepper.

To build, spread 2/3 cup bechamel in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Using a rubber spatula, spread some of the ricotta mixture on 3 lasagna sheets making sure they’re fully covered, then lay them side by side in the baking dish. Top lasagna with more bechamel, making sure to cover the noodles. Next top with 3/4 cup mozzarella. Repeat laying three times or until your ingredients run out, making sure that the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Top the final layer with 1 and 1/2 cups mozzarella.

Cover lasagna with foil and bake until bubbly, about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake lasagna 15 more minutes, then broil on high until golden, 2-3 minutes. Let lasagna rest 15 minutes before serving.

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Minestrone

21 02 2015

This is a healthy and comforting Italian soup, sure to wrap you in warmth even on the coldest of winter days! It’s loaded with veggies and is a great option for meatless Mondays, or to enjoy during Lent. Mangia!

Minestrone

The following serves 6 (adapted from Food Network Magazine):

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1 large or 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 6 cups low-sodium, reduced-fat chicken broth
  • 1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes – if you don’t have crushed on hand, puree a can of diced tomatoes in a high-speed blender until smooth
  • 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes, or fresh diced tomatoes
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of green beans cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup dry ditalini pasta
  • Grated parmesan cheese
  • Chopped parsley

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add celery and carrot and cook until they begin to soften, 3-5 minutes. Add tomato paste, dry herbs and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring around, for about a minute. Deglaze the pan with wine and cook until nearly evaporated.

Next add the chicken broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in green beans and cannellini beans and cook for 5 minutes. Finally, add the pasta and cook 10 minutes more. Season with salt to taste.

Serve with lots of cheese and parsley for garnish.





Sausage and Lentil Soup

17 01 2015

This hearty Italian soup, packed with protein, is a great addition to your winter recipe lineup! I didn’t grow up with lentils like a lot of Italians, but my Mom did….eating them all the time. Which is likely why she left them out of her meal plans, she was over them.

But I’m a lentil convert now, thanks to this soup (and maybe my Ma will be again when she sees this)! Don’t be intimidated by the amount of ingredients. They basically all go into a large pot and time will do the rest. I recommend making this over the weekend so you can enjoy it throughout the week – the longer it sits the better it gets.

Sausage and Lentil Soup

The following serves 6 (adapted from Food.com and The Italian Table):

  • 1 lb bulk mild chicken sausage – if using sausage that’s in a casing, just remove the casing first
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 2 cups dried lentils
  • 1 pint fresh, diced tomatoes or a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups of water or low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1-2 Tbsp red wine vinegar (optional)
  • Grated parmesan cheese for serving

In a large dutch oven, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, celery and garlic and saute until the veggies begin to softened, 3-5 minutes. Season lightly with salt. Next, add the sausage, breaking up with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sausage is cooked through and broken up in little pieces.

Next, add all the spices (parsley, oregano, basil, salt, thyme, pepper flakes and pepper) – stir to combine well and toast for a minute until the spices become fragrant. Add the dried lentils, stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the lentils are lightly toasted.

Add the tomatoes and all their juices, mix well and scrape up any bits that formed on the bottom of the pan. Finally, add the water or stock, stir to combine and bring to a slow boil. If using water, you can also add a few chicken bouillon cubes for extra flavor (1 cube for each cup of water).

Lower heat, cover and simmer for 1 – 1 and 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. The longer you let it cook, the thicker the soup will become on its own.

Turn off heat, stir in vinegar if desired and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Allow the soup to sit for 5 minutes. Serve with parmesan cheese.





Seared Scallops with Braised Cauliflower

9 09 2014

Top braised cauliflower with quick seared mini scallops for a fast and healthy weeknight meal. Loaded with flavor and super easy to make!

Seared Scallops with Braised Cauliflower

The following serves 3 (compliments of Lidia Bastianich and This Girl’s Gotta Eat):

  • 5 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • Dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 5 large Roma tomatoes, diced
  • 1-2 Tbsp capers, drained and rinsed
  • 12 oz frozen mini scallops, thawed and patted dry
  • Ground black pepper
  • Fresh parsley, chopped
  • Parmesan cheese, grated

Heat 3 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add 4 cloves of minced garlic, and let it sizzle for a minute or two, stirring. Toss the cauliflower and stir to coat with the oil. Deglaze with a splash of dry white wine.

Add the olives, oregano, salt and red pepper flakes and stir. Next add the tomatoes and their juices, along with the capers. Bring the cauliflower/sauce to a rapid simmer. Cover, and cook 10 minutes. Uncover, and simmer until the cauliflower is tender and the sauce has thickened, about 10 to 12 minutes.

Right before you’re ready to serve, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil in a medium-large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add dry scallops and sear for 4-5 minutes, constantly tossing the scallops in the garlic oil. Remove from heat and season lightly with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with fresh parsley. Serve immediately.

Garnish cauliflower with a good handful of chopped parsley. To serve, dish out the cauliflower, top with a little parmesan cheese and finish with scallops and some of the garlic oil they were cooked in.





Lemon Chicken Piccata Over Spaghetti Squash and Broccoli

2 09 2014

I originally made this lemon chicken piccata over the weekend for a bachelorette party, to go along with the spaghetti aglio e olio with marinated tomatoes I shared yesterday. But tonight, I served some of the leftover chicken and sauce over spaghetti squash and roasted broccoli to make a new meal. Below I show how to make this new meal all at once though.

The piccata recipe originated from Giada De Laurentiis, which my Mama adapted and gave to me. I have since slightly altered my Ma’s version. Thanks ladies! My twist is to kick up the flavor and lemon taste in this chicken by seasoning and adding lemon zest to it the night before I’m going to serve it.

Lemon Chicken Piccata Over Spaghetti Squash and Broccoli

The following serves 2 (compliments of This Girl’s Gotta Eat with inspiration from This Girl’s Mama and Giada De Laurentiis):

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts thinly sliced – if you can’t find them packaged this way in your local grocery store (which will save you time), use 2 large breasts and sliced them horizontally in half and then pound them thin
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground pepper
  • Lemon zest
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Unsalted butter
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium, reduced-fat chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 small spaghetti squash
  • 1 head broccoli, chopped into florets
  • Grated parmesan or romano cheese

Season the chicken the night before you want to serve it with salt, pepper and lemon zest to taste on both sides. Store covered in the fridge.

When you’re ready to make dinner, preheat oven to 400. Poke small holes all over the spaghetti squash with a knife or fork. Place on a baking sheet and roast until tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from the oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

While the squash cools, toss the broccoli florets with a little olive oil and just a little salt on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees in the oven for 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1-2 Tbsp of butter and 1-2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the seasoned chicken in a little bit of flour, shaking off the excess. When the butter and oil are melted and start to sizzle, add the chicken. Cook the chicken for about 3 minutes or so until it begins to brown. Flip it over and cook another 3 minutes until the other side is browned. When nicely browned, remove from the pan to a plate and set aside.

Deglaze the hot skillet with the lemon juice, scrapping up any brown bits that may have formed. Next add the chicken broth and the capers. Bring to a boil. Return the chicken to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the chicken to a platter. You can either plate the sauce as is, or if you want it a little richer, add another Tbsp or so of cold butter to the pan and whisk to combine. Remove sauce from heat.

Cut the cooled squash in half and discard the seeds. Using a fork, scrape the flesh out of the skin of the squash over a bowl. Discard the leftover skin. Toss the squash with just a little olive oil and a pinch of salt.

To serve, divide the spaghetti squash and broccoli among plates. Nestle chicken in the middle and top with sauce. Garnish with a good helping of chopped parsley and serve with parmesan or romano cheese.





Spaghetti Aglio e Olio With Marinated Tomatoes

1 09 2014

This past weekend I cooked dinner for a friend’s bachelorette party, and served this fantastically flavorful spaghetti to 15 lovely ladies. I took my grandma’s spaghetti aglio e olio (spaghetti with garlic and oil) up a notch by featuring marinated tomatoes. As you can see from the pic, I made enough to serve an army – but below I show the normal recipe. If you want to serve a crowd like me, you can easily double this and even make most of it the night before. Which coincidentally will not only save you time day of, but will add more flavor to this classic Italian dish.

Spaghetti Aglio e Olio

The following serves 4-5 (compliments of This Girl’s Gotta Eat):

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Half a head of garlic cloves, plus a few extra cloves, minced
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Fresh basil, sliced into ribbons about 1/4-1/2 cup worth (stack the basil leaves on top of each other, roll like a cigar and then thinly slice into ribbons)
  • 1 lb thin spaghetti
  • Grated parmesan or romano cheese

Heat oil until it’s hot in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. You don’t want to boil the oil, so just watch it. After a few minutes test to see if it’s ready by dropping a little piece of minced garlic in. If the garlic floats to the top and starts to sizzle the oil is ready. Carefully add the rest of the half a head of minced garlic, and reduce heat to low. Add a good pinch of red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook the garlic in the oil until the garlic looks like it’s just about to begin to brown, stirring often. Turn off the heat and move the saucepan to another burner that hasn’t been used. Allow the oil to cool.

Add the sliced tomatoes to a large mason jar along with the remaining minced garlic and sliced basil. Top with the cool oil, along with all the cooked garlic and seasonings in the saucepan. Secure with mason jar lid. The longer you’re able to let the tomatoes marinate, the more flavorful this dish will be. I recommend doing this the day before and just allow the tomatoes to marinate in the fridge. If you want to eat this the day of, try to let them marinate for at least 4 hours.

When you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to boil and add a generous amount of salt. Cook the spaghetti to al dente according to the package directions. Meanwhile to a large skillet over medium heat, add most of the oil from the marinated tomatoes, but don’t add the tomatoes – reserve those for later.

Right before you’re ready to strain the spaghetti, reserve 1/4 – 1/2 cup of the starchy pasta water. Strain spaghetti and immediately add it to the skillet. Add some of the starchy water, 1/4 cup at first. Toss the spaghetti in the oil for a minute or two. Add a little more of the starchy water if needed.

Remove from the heat and add the tomatoes and the remaining oil from the mason jar. Toss well. Top with a little more fresh basil and serve along with grated cheese.





Italian Sausage and Leek Stuffed Eggplant and Peppers

21 08 2014

This week’s CSA grab bag was a good one, loaded with all sorts of wonderful fruits and veggies! So it was no surprise that tonight I whipped up this delicious, Italian stuffed eggplant and pepper dinner using almost all Fresh Fork Market goodies! A great tip for easily making stuffed eggplant and peppers is to grill the veggies first. You can quickly soften the veggies (just as you would in the oven) while getting a good char and smokey flavor at the same time!

Italian Sausage and Leek Stuffed Eggplant

The following makes 2 stuffed eggplants and 4 stuffed peppers (compliments of This Girl’s Gotta Eat):

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced horizontally in half
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 bell peppers, sliced horizontally in half and stem and seeds removed
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 large candy onion, chopped (or whatever onion you like or have)
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (mild or hot)
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 3 medium-large garlic cloves, minced
  • Reduced-fat, low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 leek, white part sliced thinly into rounds
  • 1 cup shredded Italian cheese blend
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan, plus more for topping

Sprinkle some salt on the inside of the sliced eggplant and allow to sit untouched for at least 30-45 minutes. The eggplant will start to give some of its water, which will also eliminate some of its bitterness. Blot dry using a paper towel.

Preheat grill to medium-low.

Preheat oven to 350.

Drizzle eggplant and halved peppers with a little olive oil and rub all over. Grill covered over medium-low heat for a few minutes on each side. You just want to get a decent char all over and to soften the veggies so that you can easily scoop out the center of the eggplant. Remove the veggies from the grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet and saute chopped onions a few minutes until beginning to soften. Add sausage and break up with the back of a wooden spoon. Saute until meat browns, stirring occasionally and continuing to break up into small pieces with the wooden spoon. Add red pepper flakes if you’d like, along with the minced garlic. Saute until fragrant, a few minutes. Deglaze the pan with a little chicken stock (good turn of the pan) and scrape up all the brown bits that may have formed on the bottom of the pan.

The eggplant should be cool enough to handle at this point. Scoop out the center of each half and transfer to a cutting board. Just be sure to leave the outer shell of the eggplant in tact so that you can stuff it. Chop the eggplant you removed and add it to the sausage. Add the leeks as well. Season lightly with salt and saute for just a minute or two until the leeks start to wilt. Add a little more chicken stock (another good turn of the pan) and turn off the heat. Allow the mixture to cool, then mix in the cheeses.

Lay the eggplant and pepper halves in a casserole dish. Stuff the sausage and leek mixture into the halves – just divide the mixture among the halves, piling up high if you have too. Top with more parmesan, then transfer to the oven to bake.

Bake for 25 minutes, or until everything is hot and cheese has melted. Top with more parmesan and  serve with a side salad.