Pasta al Forno with Asparagus and Chard

This dish was the first-runner up for Valentine’s Day dinner. It was a Valentine’s Day bonus that I made it in addition to our celebratory biscuit-topped Chicken Pot Pie. Right? Why choose when you can have both? 🙂

This recipe was adapted from The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook by Jim Lahey. I increased the amount of vegetables, modified the baking temperature, and incorporated the garlic used to make the garlic oil. We could eat some sort of cheesy, veggie pasta every night of the week. Great!

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

For the BĂ©chamel:

  • 5 T (70 g) unsalted butter
  • 2 T (20 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups (650 g) whole milk
  • 1/4 tsp (2 g) fine sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp (1 g) freshly grated nutmeg

For the Pasta:

  • 2 T (24 g) coarse salt
  • 1 pound (454 g) penne or rigatoni
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard (about 1/2 to 3/4 pound), large stems removed, cut into 1-inch ribbons
  • 1 bunch thin asparagus (about 1/2 to 3/4 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 T (30 g) extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 batch bĂ©chamel, about 3 cups (recipe above)
  • 1 1/2 cups (130 g) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

To Make the BĂ©chamel:

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.
  2. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the flour is a light butterscotch color, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking continuously to keep lumps from forming.
  4. Continue to whisk and cook for 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens and has the consistency of heavy cream.
  5. Pour the sauce into a bowl to cool.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil, add the salt, and cook the pasta according to the package directions for al dente.
  2. Drain the pasta well and spread it out over the surface of a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Heat the oven to 475, preferably on convection.
  4. Steam the chard and asparagus for 4 minutes, or until tender. Lightly season with salt and pepper.
  5. Heat the olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so, until it begins to sizzle. Lower the heat and continue to cook for another 3-4 minutes, until the garlic is lightly browned. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. Brush the inside of a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish with some of the garlic oil.
  7. In the pot that was used to cook the pasta, combine the cooled pasta, the garlic oil (including the garlic, if desired), the béchamel, half of the grated cheese, the steamed asparagus and chard. Stir until well incorporated.
  8. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish and top with remaining cheese.
  9. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta begins to brown on top.

One Year Ago: Flattened Chicken Thighs with Roasted Lemon Slices

Two Years Ago: Meera Sodha’s Chicken Curry

Four Years Ago:

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Roasted Eggplant Lasagna

After making a fabulous dish from this book, Flattened Chicken Thighs With Roasted Lemon Slices, I knew I had to try another. The preparation involved to make this dish was a sharp contrast to the quick-cooking chicken thighs, but I knew it would be worth every minute. Twenty cloves of garlic too! 🙂

This might be the most labor-intensive lasagna I’ve ever made, but it was certainly one of the best. The recipe was adapted from Mozza at Home: More than 150 Crowd-Pleasing Recipes for Relaxed, Family-Style Entertaining by Nancy Silverton with Carolyn Carreno. I used large eggs and substituted some reduced-fat dairy. I also omitted the olives, straining the bĂ©chamel, pre-cooking the pasta, as well as broiling the baked lasagna.

Because I used un-cooked pasta when layering my dish, I was not able to use the genius tip of cutting the lasagna prior to baking. Thankfully, I didn’t have any difficultly cutting it after it was fully cooked. Absolutely amazing!!

For the Eggplants:

  • 2 large eggplants (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup large garlic cloves (about 20 large cloves), peeled and sliced 1/16 inch thick lengthwise (preferably on a mandoline)
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 cup (about 3 oz) pitted small black olives, such as Taggiasche, Nicoise, or Kalamata, optional
  • 3 T za’atar or dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp red chile flakes

For the Cheese Sauce:

  • 1/2 large yellow Spanish onion, halved root to tip, peeled
  • 4 T (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 arbol chile pod
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart whole milk (I used 2 cups whole milk & 2 cups 1 percent milk)
  • 2 tsp coarse salt
  • 12 ounces (3 cups) shredded low-moisture mozzarella (part-skim okay)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) fresh ricotta
  • 1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten

For the Pasta & Assembly:

  • 16-ounce package dried lasagna noodles (I used DeCecco)
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  1. Prepare the Eggplant: The eggplant is roasted on the oven floor. If using an electric oven, adjust the oven racks so that one is closest to the oven floor and put a pizza stone on it. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.
  2. Trim and discard the tip and stem ends of the eggplants and cut the eggplants into 1-inch cubes.
  3. Divide the eggplant pieces between two large baking sheets. Drizzle each portion with 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Toss and gently massage the cubes to coat the eggplant. Spread the eggplant cubes out in a single layer on the baking sheets.
  4. Cooking one batch at a time, put one baking sheet on the oven floor or on a pizza stone on the lowest rack and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cubes are dark brown all over and beginning to lose their shape, rotating the baking sheet from front to back and moving the cubes with a metal spatula halfway through the cooking time so that they don’t stick.
  5. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  6. Repeat with the second batch of eggplant.
  7. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, season the second baking sheet or roasted eggplant cubes with 1 teaspoon of salt; set aside.
  8. Combine the garlic and the remaining 1/4 cup oil in a large Dutch oven or another large high-sided pot over medium heat. Cook until the garlic is soft and very light golden brown, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn, about 5 minutes.
  9. Add the tomatoes, sugar, and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, stir to combine, and cook the tomatoes for 5 to 6 minutes, until they thicken slightly.
  10. Spoon out and reserve 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce.
  11. Add the roasted eggplant, olives (if using), za’atar or oregano, pepper, and red chile flakes. Stir to combine and cook until the eggplants have taken on the color of the sauce, about 5 minutes. (Add 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup water if the sauce becomes dry or sticky.)
  12. Turn off the heat and set aside while you make the cheese sauce.
  13. Make the Cheese Sauce (& BĂ©chamel): Trim and discard the root end of the onion half. Cut the onion half in half again root to tip so the onion is quartered. Slice 1/4-inch lengthwise.
  14. Combine the butter, onion, chile pod, and bay leaves in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat.
  15. Cook, stirring often, until the butter is melted and the onion is soft but not brown, about 10 minutes.
  16. Add the flour, whisking constantly to remove any lumps, and cook for 2 minutes to cook off the flour flavor.
  17. Gradually add 1 cup of the milk, whisking constantly.
  18. Increase the heat to high and cook the sauce, whisking constantly, until it begins to thicken, about 1 minute.
  19. Add another cup of the remaining milk, whisking constantly.
  20. Return the sauce to a boil and add the remaining 2 cups milk, whisking constantly.
  21. Return the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, whisking or stirring constantly, until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.
  22. Turn off the heat and stir in the salt.
  23. Remove and discard the chile pod and bay leaves.
  24. With a ladle, remove 1 cup of the béchamel; set aside.
  25. Add the mozzarella, ricotta, Parmigiano, and the eggs to the pot with the remaining béchamel and gently whisk to combine.
  26. Adjust the oven rack so that one is in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  27. Assemble & Finish the Dish: Spread 1/2 cup reserved tomato sauce over the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
  28. Lay 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of lasagna on the bottom of the pan to cover it.
  29. Add half of the tomato-eggplant sauce (about 2 1/2 cups) and spread it evenly over the pasta.
  30. Spoon half of the cheese sauce over the sauce and spread it in an even layer to the edge and into the corners of the pan.
  31. Lay an additional 6 half-sheets (or 3 full sheets) of pasta over the cheese sauce. Press down on the pasta sheets with the palms of your hands to remove air bubbles and to ensure that the layers are flat and even.
  32. Spoon remaining tomato-eggplant sauce over the top; spread evenly.
  33. Spoon remaining cheese sauce over the top; spread evenly and to the edges and corners of the pan.
  34. Lay a final layer of pasta on top.
  35. Using a rubber spatula, gently spread the reserved béchamel evenly over the top of the lasagna.
  36. Sprinkle with Parmigiano.
  37. Put the lasagna on a baking sheet and put it in the oven to bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the edges are golden brown and puffed up a bit. Rotate the pan halfway through the baking time.
  38. Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 1 hour before serving.

Note: The pasta can be prepared through step #34 a day in advance. Cover the pan and refrigerate until ready to bake.

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Spinach, Swiss Chard, & Sweet Potato Gratin

IMG_1238

My husband’s side of the family does not support a sweet potato side dish on the Thanksgiving table, but who can resist sweet potatoes covered in cheese and greens? It was pretty too. In my opinion, gratins have it all. 🙂 This one had a nice balance between the indulgence (bĂ©chamel sauce and cheese), sweetness (sweet potatoes), and healthiness (greens). The sweet potatoes were thinly sliced, so they cooked relatively quickly as well. Nice. This recipe was adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

Yield: Serves 12

  • 1 cup (about 5 ounces) coarsely grated GruyĂ©re cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • coarse salt
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley
  • 2 pounds medium red-skinned sweet potatoes (yams), peeled and cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds (I used a mandolin)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 pounds spinach (I used pre-washed small leaf but not baby spinach)
  • 1 large bunch Swiss chard, about 1 pound, leaves and stems separated, stems reserved for another use and leaves cut into 1-inch slices
  • 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) butter
  1. Prep greens: Cook onion in 2 tablespoons butter in a wide 8-quart heavy pot over moderately low heat, stirring, until softened. Increase heat to moderately high and add nutmeg followed by large handfuls of greens, stirring, until all are wilted. Season with salt and pepper then transfer greens to a large colander (over a large bowl) to drain well and press out liquid with back of a large spoon.
  2. Make sauce: Combine cream, milk, and garlic in small saucepan; bring to simmer; keep warm. Melt two tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over moderate heat and stir in flour. Whisking constantly, bring to a boil and continue to cook roux, whisking, one minute. Then, slowly whisk in warm cream/milk and boil, whisking, for one additional minute. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
  3. Assemble gratin:Preheat oven to 400°F (on convection). Butter deep 9×13 baking dish (or spray with cooking spray).
    • Spread half of sweet potatoes in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and a 1/4 cup of the cheese.
    • Distribute half of the greens mixture over the cheese, then sprinkle salt, pepper, a quarter of the herbs and 1/4 cup of the cheese over it.
    • Pour half of bechamel sauce over the first two layers then continue with the remaining sweet potatoes, more salt, pepper, herbs, and another 1/4 cup of cheese.
    • Top with the remaining greens, salt, pepper and herbs.
    • Pour the remaining bĂ©chamel sauce over the top of the gratin, pressing the vegetables slightly to ensure that they are as submerged as possible. Sprinkle with the last 1/4 cup of cheese.
  4. Bake gratin for about 35 minutes, until golden and bubbly, and most of the liquid is absorbed. Cover with foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Do ahead: You can make the entire gratin but not bake it up to a day in advance and keep it in the fridge. You can also make and bake the gratin and reheat it. Gratins reheat well, but they take almost as much time to gently heat through as they do to bake in the first place, especially deep ones like this.

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