This cheesy pasta lived up to its title as “classic.” The combination of cheeses gave it the perfect velvety texture. We ate it as part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. Everyone loved it!
The recipe was adapted from The New Best Recipe All-New Edition from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated. The original recipe also notes that the recipe can be halved and baked in an 8-inch square baking dish. Great.
Yield: one 9×13-inch casserole: Serves 6 to 8 as a main course or 10 to 12 as a side dish
For the Bread Crumb Topping:
6 slices (about 6 ounces) good-quality white sandwich bread, torn into rough pieces (I used Trader Joe’s Sourdough sandwich bread)
3 T cold unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
For the Casserole:
1 pound elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe’s)
5 T unsalted butter
6 T all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
5 cups milk (whole, low-fat, or skim okay)(I used 3 cups whole and 2 cups low-fat)
8 oz Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (2 cups)
8 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (2 cups)
To Prepare the Bread Crumbs:
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the bread and butter until the crumbs are no larger than 1/8-inch, about 10 to 15 pulses. Set aside.
To Prepare the Pasta & Cheese:
Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the broiler.
Place a 9×13-inch broiler safe baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. (I also covered the enameled handles of my baking dish with foil to protect them from the heat of the broiler.)
Bring 4 quarts of water to a rolling boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the pasta and 1 tablespoon of salt and stir to separate the noodles. Cook until the pasta is tender (NOT al dente).
Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water (for reheating leftovers). Drain in a colander and set aside.
In the now-empty Dutch oven, heat the butter over medium-high heat until foaming.
Add the flour, mustard, and cayenne; whisk well to combine. Continue whisking until the mixture becomes fragrant and deepens in color, about 1 minute. (I used a flat whisk.)
Whisking constantly, gradually add the the milk; bring the mixture to a boil. The mixture must reach a full boil to fully thicken.
After the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, about 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat and whisk in the grated cheeses and 1 teaspoon of coarse salt. Whisk until the cheeses are completely melted.
Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming and heated through, about 5 to 6 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to the baking dish and sprinkle the top evenly with the bread crumbs.
Broil until the crumbs are deep golden brown, about 3 to 5 minutes, rotating the pan if necessary for even browning. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @500 degrees.) Cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
Recently, my friend gave me beautiful cast iron baking dishes. I knew that I wanted to make enchiladas in them right away! Our Cinco de Mayo feast was the perfect occasion. Our meal also included chips and guacamole, of course. 😉
The recipe for these hearty, vegetarian enchiladas was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. I modified the proportions and method. We ate them garnished with sour cream, red onion, avocado, and cilantro with refried beans and rice on the side. We topped off our festive meal with a Tres Leches Cake. Perfect.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped (I used a food processor)
1 poblano chile, stemmed, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, peeled and minced (I used a food processor)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (15-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes (I used Trader Joe’s)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 chipotle chile in adobo, chopped
1/4 cup sour cream, plus more for serving, optional
2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 1/2 to 2 cups coarsely grated mild Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
10 to 12 (6-inch) soft corn or flour tortillas (I used Trader Joe’s corn & wheat tortillas)
fresh cilantro leaves and stems, for serving
sliced avocado, for serving, optional
diced white or red onion, for serving, optional
rice and refried beans, for serving, optional
Heat the oven to 425 degrees. (I used the convection setting.)
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. Add the onions and chopped poblano chile; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and charred in spots, 4 to 5 minutes.
Stir in the cumin and minced garlic; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.
Transfer half the vegetable mixture to a blender; add the tomatoes, chili powder and chipotle chile. (I used a Vitamix.) Blend until very smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (If your blender isn’t particularly strong and the sauce looks more like a chunky purée, add 1/4 cup sour cream and blend again until smooth.)(I omitted the sour cream in the sauce.)
Add the black beans and 1/2 cup cheese to the remaining vegetables in the skillet and stir to combine. Some canned beans are already salted, so taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
Place the tortillas in a tortilla warmer (or on a plate) covered with a damp paper towel. Cover and microwave for 1 minute, or until warm and pliable.
If using individual dishes, spread a few spoonfuls of sauce over the bottom of each dish. (I used 5 dishes.) Alternatively, pour enough enchilada sauce to lightly coat the base of a medium casserole dish or a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Spread it to cover the bottom of the dish(es).
Line up the filling, tortillas and baking dish in a row. Place a heaping 1/4 cup of the bean mixture in the center of each tortilla. Roll up the tortilla and place in the casserole dish(es), seam-side down. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. (I placed 2 enchiladas per individual dish.)
Spoon or pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.
Sprinkle with the remaining 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cheese, to taste. (I used 1/2 cup cheese per dish.)
Place the baking dish(es) on a rimmed baking sheet and tent with foil. Bake for 10 minutes.
Remove foil and continue to bake until the cheese has melted and has browned in spots, about 10 additional minutes.
Top with sour cream, avocado slices, diced onion, and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Note: The sauce and the black bean mixture (without the cheese) can be made up to 5 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The spice level in the sauce can be easily modified by adjusting the amount of chili powder.
This is a variation of one of my favorite quick dishes that also uses store-bought gnocchi as a shortcut. It is less spicy which pleased my husband. 😉 The cheesiness of this version definitely made it a crowd-pleaser.
The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. It was the perfect dinner to make and serve after making cupcakes all afternoon with my daughter. Fast and fabulous.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 (12- to 18-ounce) packages shelf-stable or refrigerated potato gnocchi (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/4 cup (4 T) unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
8 to 10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more, to taste
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups (2 pints) small tomatoes, such as cherry, grape or Sungold
4 to 6 T thinly sliced (chiffonade) or torn basil leaves, plus more for serving
8 to 9 ounces (8 slices) fresh mozzarella, cut or torn into 1/2-inch pieces
Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat source.
In a large (12-inch) skillet on the stovetop, heat enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan (about 1 tablespoon) over medium-high. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet.)
Add half the gnocchi to the pan, breaking up any that are stuck together. Cover with a lid or baking sheet and cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on one side, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
Repeat with the remaining gnocchi and olive oil.
Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until golden-brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the garlic, red-pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and a few grinds of pepper, reducing the heat slightly if necessary to avoid scorching.
Add the tomatoes and 3 tablespoons water and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the tomatoes have softened and the liquid has slightly thickened, 4 to 6 minutes. Smash the tomatoes as they burst to help them along.
Add the seared gnocchi and basil, stir to coat, then shake into an even layer.
Top with the mozzarella and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Broil until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. (I set my oven to 500 degrees Broil+Max.)
Top with more basil, red-pepper flakes, and black pepper as desired.
I have a Maqlubeh (Maqluba) recipe collection. I have always wanted to make this beautiful, multi-layered, flavor-packed dish but was hesitant because it is a bit of a project. This streamlined version inspired me to finally try it. I even made it on a weeknight! (admittedly a little ambitious…)
This recipe was adapted from 177milkstreet.com, contributed by Courtney Hill. I substituted boneless, skinless chicken thighs for bone-in. I also used unsalted butter and chicken stock.
When presenting the finished dish, the platter is gently shaken to create cracks in the rice. The cracks reveal the aromas as well as the chicken and vegetables inside. I absolutely loved it- and drove my family crazy talking about it all evening. 😉 Although it could be served as a complete meal on its own, I served it with roasted asparagus and broccoli as well. It is classically served with a tomato, cucumber and yogurt salad. Fantastic.
8 ounces cauliflower florets, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 to 10 large garlic cloves, minced
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
4 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground allspice
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 to 3/4 medium eggplant (about 8 to 12 ounces), sliced into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 quart (4 cups) chicken stock
In a large bowl, combine the rice and 2 tablespoons of coarse salt. Add water to cover by 1 inch, then set aside.
Prepare a lidded pot that measures 9½ to 11 inches in diameter and 4 to 6 inches deep. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.) Cut 2 rounds of kitchen parchment the size of the pot. (I cut the rounds slightly oversized so that it had a little bit of a lip.)
Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper.
Set the pot over medium and heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering.
Add the chicken “skin side” down and cook until browned, about 7 minutes for boneless or 10 minutes for bone-in. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
Remove the pot from heat. Place 1 parchment round on the bottom, then turn to coat it with fat.
Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil to the parchment-lined pot, then sprinkle evenly with the almonds.
Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer, then rinse under cool running water and drain again.
Scatter 1 cup of the rice in a thin, even layer over the almonds.
In a medium bowl, mix together the remaining rice with the cauliflower, garlic, melted butter, cumin, allspice, turmeric, nutmeg and 1 3/4 teaspoons each salt and pepper. Reserve 1/2 cup of this mixture, then distribute the remainder in an even layer in the pot.
Place the chicken and accumulated juices (if using boneless, skinless chicken) in the pot, slightly nestling the pieces into the rice-cauliflower layer; discard any accumulated juices (if using bone-in chicken).
Shingle the eggplant slices over the chicken in an even layer. Sprinkle with the reserved 1/2 cup rice-cauliflower mixture.
Pour the stock into the pot (it will not fully cover the eggplant), then bring to a boil over medium-high. Set the second parchment round over the food, the cover the pot with the lid. Cook for 5 minutes, reduce to low and cook, undisturbed, for 35 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, uncover and let stand for 15 minutes.
Remove the parchment (and accumulated liquid on the top), then invert a serving platter onto the pot. Holding the platter against the pot, carefully invert the two together; leave the pot overturned on the platter and let rest for about 10 minutes. Slowly lift off the pot and, if needed, remove and discard the parchment.
Gently shake the platter to create cracks in the top of the finished dish.
This one pot dish was creamy, flavorful and absolutely delicious. The spices had a great balance with the richness of the coconut milk. I served it with roasted asparagus on the side. It was a perfect springtime dinner.
The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Shayma Owaise Saadat. I modified the proportions and method. I also swapped spinach for the kale. I increased the amount of leafy greens but would add even more next time! The original recipe notes that canned chickpeas can be substituted for the chicken to make a vegetarian version.
Yield: Serves 6
1 1/2 cups white basmati rice
2 T grapeseed or vegetable oil
2 medium or 1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken thighs (I used 9)
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3 tsp kosher salt, divided
1 13.5-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
6 to 8 cups of thinly sliced spinach or 4 cups Tuscan kale, ribs and stems removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise into strips
store-bought sliced pickled red chiles, for serving, optional
lime wedges, for serving, optional
Place rice in fine mesh sieve set inside a medium bowl; pour in cold water to cover.
Agitate rice with your hands until water is cloudy. Drain and repeat until water is almost clear (about 3 to 5 times). Drain.
Pour in water to cover rice by 2 inches; let soak 30–45 minutes.
Heat oil in a large heavy pot with a wide base over medium-high. (I used an enameled cast iron pot.)
Add shallot and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring until softened, about 1 minute.
Using paper towels, pat the chicken dry.
Add chicken, turmeric, cayenne, and 2 teaspoons of salt to the shallots and garlic. Cook, turning and moving around chicken thighs as needed, until chicken begins to turn opaque, about 2 minutes.
Pour in 3/4 cup water and bring to a simmer.
Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer, turning chicken once, until chicken is cooked through and very tender, about 20 minutes.
Remove the lid of the pot and wrap it with a kitchen towel, securing the corners up and over the top of the lid with a rubber band.
Drain the rice and add to pot with chicken, then add coconut milk and remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Stir to incorporate and bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook, undisturbed, 15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove towel and lid. Remove towel from the lid.
Arrange spinach (or kale) in an even layer over chicken and rice and cover with lid. Let sit until wilted, about 10 minutes.
Top with chiles, if using. Serve with lime wedges.
I have shared my love for manicotti in the past– stemming from wonderful memories of enjoying it with my college roommate’s large Italian family on Easter Sunday.
I have made many versions of spinach manicotti, usually filling store-bought manicotti noodles. Using no-boil lasagna noodles instead was a great “less-hassle” shortcut. They were also chosen to mimic the texture of fresh pasta. It was absolutely true! I will never buy manicotti noodles again. 😉
This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I replaced one cup of ricotta cheese with an equivalent amount of chopped, steamed spinach seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg. I also used whole milk ricotta instead of part-skim, part-skim mozzarella instead of whole milk mozzarella, coarse salt instead of table salt, and modified the method. Fabulous.
4 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Parmesan cheese, divided (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
8 ounces (about 2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim mozzarella)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Trader Joe’s)
Steam the baby spinach until wilted. (I did this on the stove top.)
Let the spinach cool slightly, then use a potato ricer to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop. (You should have about 1 cup.) Season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Set aside.
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
Make the Sauce: Pulse 1 can tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining can tomatoes.
Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
Stir in basil; adjust seasoning with salt. Set aside.
Make the Filling: Combine the chopped spinach, ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.
To Assemble: Pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. (I used a pyrex dish.) Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 to 6 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking.
Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels. Do not use paper towels because the noodles may stick. (I used flour sack towels.)
If using the same dish to bake the manicotti, drain the water and dry the dish. (I used a ceramic baking dish to bake the manicotti instead of using the pyrex dish.)
Place the preferred baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce.
Using a large cookie scoop or a soup spoon, spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the spinach-cheese filling mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed.
Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down.
Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered. (It seems like a lot of liquid but it’s necessary for the no-boil noodles to cook properly.)
To Bake: Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil.
Remove baking dish, adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element).
Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Return to the oven on the adjusted oven rack; bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
Set the oven to broil.
Broil until cheese is lightly brown or spotty brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve.
Note: The manicotti can be prepared through step 15, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours.
WOW. This was amazing. We are battling over the leftovers. 😉
This version of this classic Italian casserole is from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I added garlic and basil to the tomato sauce and modified the proportions. I found it interesting that breading the eggplant is an Americanized method used to prepare this dish. Hazan only coats the salted and dried eggplant slices with flour prior to frying them.
We ate it with pasta on the side but crusty bread would also be wonderful. Cheesy and delicious.
Yield: Serves 6
3 to 3 1/2 pounds eggplant (I used 4 small organic eggplants)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced, optional
28 oz can canned whole imported Italian plum tomatoes with juice (such as San Marzano), crushed by hand or coarsely chopped
3/4 to 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably buffalo-milk mozzarella (I used cow-milk mozzarella)
vegetable oil, for frying (I used canola oil)
all-purpose flour spread on a plate or glass pie dish
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves plus 1 sprig for the sauce plus chopped leaves for garnish
an oven-to-table baking dish, approximately 11 inches by 7 inches or its equivalent (I used a 2-quart baking dish)
unsalted butter or cooking oil spray for the pan
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
crusty bread or pasta, for serving, optional (I used 1/2 pound penne)
Cut the green, spiky top off each eggplant and peel it. Cut each eggplant lengthwise into slices about 3/8-inch thick.
Stand one layer of slices upright against the inside of a pasta colander and sprinkle with salt.
Stand another layer of slices against it, sprinkle with salt, and repeat the procedure until you have salted all the eggplant you are working with. Place a deep dish under the colander or place the colander in a large bowl to collect the drippings and let the eggplant steep under salt for 30 minutes or more. (This process is important in order to remove excess moisture from the eggplant.)
Meanwhile, put the olive oil in a pot, turn the heat on to medium, add sliced garlic, if using. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add tomatoes (with juice), basil sprig, and salt; stir, and cooking the tomatoes down until thickened, about 15 minutes.
While the sauce is cooking, thinly slice the mozzarella.
Before cooking, pat each slice of eggplant thoroughly dry with paper towels. (I placed all of the eggplant slices in 3 layers (one for each layer of casserole) between slices of paper towels to dry.)
In a large frying pan, pour enough oil into it to come 1 to 1 1/2 inches up the sides, and turn the heat up to medium-high to high. (I used 45 to 50 oz of canola oil in a 12-inch sauté pan.)
Working a few slices at a time, with the eggplant thoroughly dried with paper towels, dredge the slices in the flour, coating them on both sides. (Do only a few slices at a time at the moment you are ready to fry them, otherwise the flour coating will become soggy.)
After coating with flour, fry the eggplant, by slipping as many slices into the pan as will fit loosely without overlapping. Cook to a golden brown color on one side, then turn them and do the other side. Do not turn them more than once. When both sides are done, use a slotted spoon, tongs, or spatula to transfer them to a cooling rack placed over a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels.
Repeat the procedure until all the eggplant is done. If you find the oil becoming too hot, reduce the heat slightly, but do not add more oil to the pan.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. (I set my oven to convection.)
Wash the basil leaves, and tear each leaf into two or more pieces.
Smear the bottom and sides of the baking dish with butter or coat with cooking oil spray.
Put in enough fried eggplant slices to line the bottom of the dish (about 1/3)(the original recipe recommends placing them in a single layer but I used overlapped slices).
Spread some of the cooked tomato over the first layer of eggplant slices (about 1/3), cover with a layer of mozzarella (about 1/2), sprinkle liberally with grated Parmesan (about 1/3), distribute a few pieces of basil over it (about 1/2), and top with another layer of fried eggplant (another 1/3).
Repeat the procedure in step 16, ending with a layer of eggplant on top. (3 layers of eggplant with sauce and 2 layers of cheese with basil)
Sprinkle the top layer of eggplant slices with remaining sauce topped with remaining grated Parmesan (about 1/3), and place the dish in the upper third of the preheated oven.
Occasionally eggplant Parmesan throws off more liquid as it bakes than you want in the pan. Check after it has been in the oven for 20 minutes by pressing down the layered eggplant with the back of a spoon, and draw off any excess liquid you may find.
Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes, and after taking it out allow it to settle for several minutes before bringing it to the table.
Garnish with additional fresh basil, as desired.
Note: Eggplant Parmesan tastes best shortly after it has been made, but if you must, you can complete it from several hours to 2 or 3 days in advance. Refrigerate under plastic wrap when cool. Warm it up on the top-most rack of a preheated 400°F oven.