Ina Garten’s Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes

Once again, Ina did not disappoint. ūüôā This classic baked macaroni and cheese recipe incorporated two of my ultimate favorite cheeses and was upgraded with a colorful tomato topping. It was really delicious- a new favorite!

This dish was part of my husband’s birthday feast this year. I was able to assemble the dish the day prior to baking it which was very helpful. I actually grated the cheeses two days in advance- which would be completely unnecessary if making this dish on its own, of course.

The recipe was adapted from FoodNetwork.com, contributed by Ina Garten. I modified the method and used Campari tomatoes and panko in the topping.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8 as a main dish or 10 to 12 as a side dish

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 pound (16 oz) elbow macaroni or cavatappi (I used 17.6 oz Gigli pasta)
  • 4 cups (1 quart) milk (I used whole milk)
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (about 4 cups)(I used Swiss Raw Milk Le Gruy√®re aged over 120 days from Trader Joe’s)
  • 8 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated (about 2 cups)(I used Cabot 3-year extra-sharp white cheddar)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 8 Campari tomatoes or 4 small tomatoes (about 3/4 pound)
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. (I set my oven to convection.)
  2. Grate the cheeses with a food processor, if desired.
  3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season generously with salt. Add the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain well. Reserve the pot for the sauce.
  4. Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don’t boil it.
  5. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in the large pot (the pasta cooking pot) and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk.
  6. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth.
  7. Off the heat, add the shredded Gruyere, cheddar, 1 tablespoon coarse salt, pepper, and nutmeg.
  8. Add the cooked pasta and stir well.
  9. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish. (I chose a shallow baking dish to increase the surface area for tomatoes and crispy panko topping.)*If making in advance, cover and refrigerate after this step.
  10. Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. (I sliced the tomatoes about 1/4-inch thick.)
  11. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine with the panko, and sprinkle on the top.
  12. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the pasta is browned on the top. 

Note: To make ahead, put the macaroni and cheese in the baking dish, cover, and refrigerate until ready to bake. Put the tomatoes and panko on top and bake for about 40 to 50 minutes.

One-Pan Farro & Cauliflower Parmesan

I love vegetable-loaded comfort food. ūüôā This casserole dish also has farro, a favorite, and cheese, of course. My husband said he would have loved it even without the fresh mozzarella on top! Absolutely delicious.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Sarah DiGregorio. I doubled the amount of cauliflower, omitted the olives, used Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro, and modified the method and proportions.

We ate the casserole as a main course with garlic bread and green salad. It could also be served as a hearty side dish. The recipe is very adaptable and could be easily modified to incorporate other vegetables.

Yield: Serves 8

For the Farro and Cauliflower:

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, florets and tender stems cut into large bite-sized pieces
  • 8.8 oz bag Trader Joe’s 10-minute farro
  • 1¬†(28 to 32-ounce) jar good-quality marinara sauce (I used Rao’s)
  • 1/4¬†cup olive oil
  • 1/2¬†cup pitted kalamata or black olives, roughly chopped, optional (I omitted them)
  • 10 large¬†garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
  • 3¬†ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano (about 3/4 cup finely grated)
  • 1 1/2¬†teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 1/2¬†teaspoons dried oregano or dried basil
  • 1¬†teaspoon balsamic or sherry vinegar
  • 1/2¬†teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 1/2¬†teaspoons kosher salt
  • freshly ground¬†black pepper
  • 1 cup stock (can substitute water)
  • 2/3 cup water

For the Topping:

  • 1¬†cup panko
  • 2¬†ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (about 1/2 cup finely grated)
  • 1¬†tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 to 12¬†ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds (I used 12 slices)
  1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. In a 9-by-13-inch pan, combine the cauliflower, farro, marinara sauce, olive oil, olives (if using), garlic, grated cheese, onion powder, oregano or basil, vinegar and red-pepper flakes. Season with the salt and a generous amount of black pepper.
  3. Pour in 1 cup stock and 2/3 cups water and stir well to combine. (can substitute with 1 2/3 cups water)
  4. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake in the oven for 40 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, make the topping: Stir together the panko, grated cheese and olive oil.
  6. Uncover the pan and stir.
  7. Evenly cover the top with the panko topping.
  8. Top with the fresh mozzarella rounds.
  9. Continue baking uncovered until the farro is tender and chewy, the sauce is thick, the topping is browned, and the mozzarella has melted, about 10 to 15 minutes more. (I baked it for an additional 12 minutes on convection roast.) (I also put my garlic bread in the same oven at this point!)

Cheesy & Crunchy Baked Pasta with Cauliflower

I loved that this cheesy comfort food baked pasta dish incorporated an entire head of cauliflower. The lemon zest and capers also added brightness which had a nice balance with the cheese.

The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Ina Garten. Great comfort food.

Yield: Serves 8

  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried pasta, such as medium shells (I used Cascatelli)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2‚ÄČ1/2 pounds cauliflower (1 large head cut into small florets)¬†
  • 3 tablespoons sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 15 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups Fontina cheese, lightly packed (10 oz with rind)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, minced fresh
  1. Preheat the oven to 400¬į. (I set my oven to convection.)
  2. Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until 2 minutes less than al dente, according to the instructions on the package. (Since it will be baked later, don’t overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.)
  3. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12 to 14-inch) skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Season with salt.
  4. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta.
  5. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender and add to the bowl.
  6. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully.
  7. Stir in the Fontina.
  8. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2‚Äďinch rectangular baking dish.
  9. Spoon 12 rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. (I used a cookie scoop.)
  10. Combine the panko, grated Pecorino, minced parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top.
  11. Bake for 22 minutes on convection, or 25 to 30 minutes in a standard oven, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.

Note: The dish can be assembled ahead of time. Assemble the dish, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake before serving.

Oven-Baked Pearl Couscous with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas & Feta

I have served this flavorful dish as a vegetarian main dish served over baby spinach and as a side dish with rotisserie chicken, roasted cauliflower and green salad. So versatile! I also love that it is made in one pan.

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used Trader Joe’s Harvest Grain Blend with Couscous with Quinoa, Orzo, and Garbanzo Beans and modified the proportions and method. Nice.

Yield: Serves 4 as a main dish or 6 as a side dish

  • 1 pint (2 cups) grape tomatoes, halved (or a combination grape & small Campari- quartered)
  • 1 large shallot, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup sliced scallions, for garnish (about 2 large)
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 T balsamic vinegar, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 to 3 large¬†garlic cloves, finely grated or minced
  • 1 1/2¬†teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving
  • 3 oregano, rosemary or sage sprigs
  • 2 cups vegetable stock or water (I used 1 cup chicken stock and 1 cup water)
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro, dill or parsley, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (from 1/2 lemon)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 8 ounces pearl couscous (1 1/2 cups)(I used Trader Joe’s Harvest Brain blend)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups feta, crumbled (about 6 ounces)
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (1 1/2 ounces)( I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. In a 9×13-inch baking dish, cake pan or gratin dish (I used a ceramic 9×13 baking dish), toss together tomatoes, shallot, 2 tablespoons oil, 1 tablespoon vinegar, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and rosemary, oregano, or sage sprigs. Roast until tomatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
  3. While tomatoes roast, heat the stock (or stock and water) until it boils, then stir in remaining 1 teaspoon salt, adding more to taste. (You want a well-seasoned broth here to flavor the couscous.)
  4. Stir in cilantro, lemon zest and cumin.
  5. Remove tomatoes from oven and fold in couscous, chickpeas and hot stock mixture. Cover pan tightly with foil, and return to oven for 20 minutes.
  6. Remove foil and fold in the Parmesan and about 3/4ths of the feta (save the rest for garnish). Bake uncovered until feta starts to melt, another 5 minutes.
  7. To serve, pull out and discard herb sprigs if you like, and spoon couscous into bowls. (I served it in the baking dish as a side dish.)
  8. Top with remaining feta, more Parmesan, scallions, more herbs, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, as desired.

One-Pot Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage & Spinach

In New York, today is a day for cheesy snow-day comfort food.

This dish could be made in a single pot but I must confess that I transferred the pasta to a casserole dish prior to browning it in the oven. This was completely unnecessary but I liked the increased surface area exposed for browning.

The recipe was adapted from Cook’s Country. I modified the method and proportions. I also used crushed tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We ate it with garlic bread and green salad. Great.

Yield: Serves 8

  • 10 to 11 ounces (about 4 links) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 6 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 2/3 cups water
  • 16 ounces (1 pound) ziti
  • 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) chopped fresh basil (chiffonade)
  • 9-10 ounces (9 cups) baby spinach, coarsely chopped
  • 8 ounces whole-milk fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 2/3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/3 cups), divided (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 11 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
  1. Cook sausage in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking up pieces with spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  2. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  3. Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and their juice, salt, oregano, sugar, and pepper flakes. Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in water, pasta, and 6 tablespoons chopped basil. Increase heat to high and bring to boil.
  5. Reduce heat to medium and simmer vigorously, uncovered, until pasta is still very firm but just starting to soften, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
  6. Adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @450 degrees.)
  7. Remove pot from heat and stir in spinach, half of the mozzarella, and 1 cup grated Parmesan. If using a separate casserole dish, transfer the mixture after incorporating the spinach and cheese. (I placed the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet and covered the handles with foil to protect them.)
  8. Dollop surface of pasta evenly with spoonfuls of ricotta.
  9. Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
  10. Broil ziti until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time.
  11. Transfer to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.
  12. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

Enchiladas Verdes (Green Enchiladas with Chicken & Cheese)

Enchiladas verdes has been one of my all-time favorite dishes for almost my entire life. So, naturally, I am drawn to every version that I come across! I liked how this version included cheese in the filling rather than melted over the top. These enchiladas were also extra saucy- loved it.

This recipe was adapted from Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street magazine. I used poached chicken thighs but rotisserie chicken meat could be used as a shortcut.

We ate the enchiladas garnished with chopped onion and cilantro with rice and refried beans on the side. I cooked the rice in the chicken poaching liquid which made it extra flavorful. Great.

Yield: 4 servings (8 enchiladas)

  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 medium-large poblano chilies (about 12 to 14 oz), stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 pound tomatillos, husked, cored, and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped, plus more for garnish, if desired
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • 1 T ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock, plus an additional 2 cups if poaching the chicken
  • 1 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves and stems, rinsed and dried, plus more for garnish
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless chicken (I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken thighs) (or 1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked chicken)
  • 6 oz Monterey jack or whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 T hot sauce, such as Cholula or Tapat√≠o (I used Chipotle Cholula- my favorite)
  • 8 6-inch corn tortillas
  • lime wedges, to serve, optional
  • sour cream or Mexican crema, for serving, optional
  • rice and refried beans, for serving, optional
  1. Place the chicken in a medium saucepan and cover with about 2 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce to low, cover and cook until the thickest part of the meat registers 165 degrees for thighs or 160 degrees for breasts, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let the chicken cool in the liquid until just warm, then finely chop the meat. Reserve the cooking liquid. (Alternatively, 1 1/2 cups of chopped rotisserie chicken meat can be substituted.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees with a rack in the center position.
  3. In a large pot over medium-high, combine 1 tablespoon of the oil, the chopped poblanos, cored & chopped tomatillos, chopped onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are beginning to soften, 5 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in the cumin and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the stock and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have completely softened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
  6. Transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute.
  7. Add the cilantro and continue to process until smooth, about 1 minute. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
  8. Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 13-by-9-inch baking dish; set aside. (I used 4 individual enameled cast iron serving dishes, placing 1/4 cup of the sauce in the bottom of each dish.)
  9. In a medium bowl, toss together the chicken, cheese, hot sauce, 3/4 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper; set aside.
  10. Brush both sides of the tortillas with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, then arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet (its fine to overlap them slightly). Cover tightly with foil and warm in the oven just until soft and pliable, about 3 minutes. (This step is important in order to make sure that the tortillas are pliable enough to fill and roll.)
  11. Uncover the tortillas; reserve the foil. Lay the tortillas out on a large cutting board (or 2) or a clean counter.
  12. Divide the chicken mixture evenly among the tortillas (about 3 heaping tablespoons each), arranging the filling in a line along the bottom edge of each tortilla. (I used a 3 T cookie scoop.)
  13. Working one at a time, roll up the tortillas to enclose the filling and place seam side down in a tight row down the center of the prepared baking dish. (or 2 enchiladas per individual baking dish)
  14. Spoon 1/2 cup of the sauce over the enchiladas. (or 2 T per individual baking dish)
  15. Cover tightly with a layer of parchment paper topped with the reserved foil. Bake until the cheese begins to melt out of the ends, about 15 minutes.
  16. Meanwhile, cook 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of chicken poaching liquid, if desired. (I used white Basmati rice.) (I also warmed refried beans at this point.)
  17. Uncover and spread the remaining sauce over the enchiladas. (or about 2 T per individual baking dish) Re-cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
  18. Serve with lime wedges and sour cream or Mexican crema, garnished with chopped onion and cilantro, as desired.

Chicken & Rice with Leeks & Salsa Verde

I have a few quick weeknight meals to share- perfect for the busy holiday season. I was drawn to this dish because I had several beautiful leeks from my CSA share. I served it with roasted broccoli and Brussels sprouts on the side.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Deb Perelman. I have saved a million fresh sauce recipes to make someday but, regretfully, seldom make one. :/ The salsa verde added so much to this classic comfort food dish!

Because the original recipe incorporated a lot of rice, I ultimately made a second batch of chicken and sauce to serve with the leftovers. Next time, I would double the chicken (to 3 pounds) and the sauce (2 cups of herbs) from the start. The recipe below is updated for this change.

Yield: Serves 4 (1 1/2 pounds chicken) or 8 (2 1/2 to 3 pounds of chicken)

For the Chicken & Rice:

  • 1 1/2 lbs to 3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 T unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 to 3 large leeks, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice, rinsed until water runs clear (I used Basmati rice)
  • 2 cups chicken stock with 3/4 cups water (or 2 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth)

For the Salsa Verde: (make 1/2 recipe below for 1 1/2 pounds chicken)

  • 2 oil-packed anchovy fillets
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 2 T drained capers
  • crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups tender herb leaves (such as parsley, cilantro, basil and/or mint)
  • 8 T extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Pat the chicken thighs with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Season with salt and pepper. (My chicken thighs were very large, so I cut them in half crosswise.)
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. (I used a large, low and wide enameled cast iron pot with a glass lid.)
  3. Add leeks and half of lemon zest, season with salt and pepper, and mix to coat leeks in butter. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are somewhat tender, about 5 minutes.
  4. Remove lid, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and just starting to take on color, about 3 minutes.
  5. Add rice and cook, stirring often, 3 minutes, then add broth, scraping up any browned bits.
  6. Nestle the chicken thighs (“skin side up”) into rice mixture. Bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove from heat.
  7. Cut remaining 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and scatter over mixture. Re-cover and let sit 10 minutes.
  8. While the chicken and rice is resting, make the salsa verde. Pulse anchovies, garlic, capers, a few pinches of red pepper flakes, and remaining lemon zest in a food processor until finely chopped.
  9. Add herbs; process until a paste forms.
  10. With motor running, gradually stream in oil until loosened to a thick sauce.
  11. Add half of lemon juice; season salsa verde with salt to taste.
  12. Drizzle remaining lemon juice over chicken and rice. Serve drizzled with salsa verde.

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