White Lasagna with Asparagus, Spinach & Peas

This meatless lasagna was described as a showcase of spring vegetables. The filling was full of asparagus, peas, fresh herbs, greens, and leeks. It was loaded with cheese too, of course. ūüôā

The recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used no-boil noodles. I prepared it the day it was served but it could be prepared up to two days ahead. It can be assembled ahead of time and baked before serving or baked in advance and reheated before serving. Clark notes that the lasagna is easier to slice if it is baked and then reheated.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

For the Béchamel:

  • 4 T unsalted butter (plus additional butter or cooking spray for greasing the pan)
  • 1/3 cup (5 T) all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk, plus more if needed
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 3 large garlic cloves, finely grated or minced (I used a garlic press)

For the Filling:

  • 3 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound), ends trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces if thin or 1/2-inch pieces if fat
  • fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas (no need to thaw)
  • 1 cup combination of soft herbs (parsley, chives, basil, dill), finely chopped, plus more for garnish
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts, thinly sliced into half moons and cleaned
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces baby spinach or baby greens, like kale or arugula (about 8 cups), chopped if large
  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • 32 ounces whole-milk ricotta (about 4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 12 ounces dried lasagna noodles (about 12 noodles), or substitute the same amount of no-boil, oven-ready or fresh noodles; all will work
  • 8 ounces whole-milk mozzarella, thinly sliced or torn into pieces

To Prepare the Béchamel:

  1. In a large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons butter over medium heat.
  2. Once melted, add flour and whisk until combined. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes, or until pale golden.
  3. Slowly whisk in the milk, a little at a time, so that the sauce does not clump.
  4. Add the salt, nutmeg and bay leaf. Gently bring to a simmer and let cook for 9 to 12 minutes, whisking often, until the béchamel is thick but still pourable.
  5. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan and grated garlic, and taste, adding more salt if needed. (I used coarse salt.)

To Prepare the Filling & Complete the Dish:

  1. Place a 12-inch skillet over medium to medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Let it heat until it thins out, about 30 seconds, then add the asparagus and sauté, shaking the pan, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes.
  2. Season asparagus with salt and pepper, then transfer to a medium bowl and stir in the frozen peas and 2 tablespoons mixed soft herbs.
  3. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to the pan and heat until the oil thins out, about 30 seconds, then add the leeks, fennel seeds, red-pepper flakes and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Sauté leeks until tender and golden at the edges, 4 to 6 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and remaining herbs, working in batches if needed, and sauté until the greens are very tender and the pan is very dry, about 10 minutes.
  5. Stir in lemon zest and juice. Taste and add more salt if needed. It should be well seasoned.
  6. Add leek-spinach-herb mixture to a large bowl. Stir in ricotta and 3/4 cup each Parmesan and pecorino (save remaining Parmesan for the top). Taste and add more salt if needed.
  7. Heat oven to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to true convection.) Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray or a little butter.
  8. Remove bay leaf from béchamel, then ladle some of the sauce into the bottom of the baking pan until just covered.
  9. Place as many noodles as will fit on top of the béchamel, breaking or cutting them to fit in one layer.
  10. Ladle a little more béchamel on top of the noodles, covering the surface.
  11. Add half of the ricotta-leek-spinach-herb mixture, spreading evenly, then sprinkle half of the asparagus-pea mixture on top.
  12. Add another layer of noodles, then béchamel, then the remaining ricotta mixture, then the remaining asparagus-pea mixture.
  13. Top with the sliced mozzarella.
  14. Add a third and final layer of noodles (don’t worry if you don’t end up using all of the noodles) and cover with remaining béchamel.
  15. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan.
  16. Cover the pan with parchment paper and then foil; place on a parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet to catch any drips.
  17. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove parchment and foil. Rotate the pan.
  18. Bake for another 30 minutes on convection or up to 40 minutes in a standard oven, or until golden brown and bubbling on top. Rotate the pan for even browning, if necessary. (If the top is still pale, you can run the lasagna under the broiler for 1 to 3 minutes.)
  19. Let sit for 20 to 30 minutes before serving.

Chicken Parm Burgers

I loved the idea of transforming one of our absolute favorite comfort food dishes into a summer dinner made on the grill. The burgers were very moist and packed with flavor. We ate them on potato rolls with coleslaw, potato chips, pickles, and watermelon. Perfect!

This recipe was adapted form The New York Times, contributed by Ali Slagle. We grilled the burgers, increased the amount of garlic, and used sliced fresh mozzarella. Cheesy and delicious.

Yield: Serves 4

  • olive oil or cooking oil spray
  • 1 pound ground chicken or turkey, preferably dark meat
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, divided
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely grated or pushed through a garlic press
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 (1/4-inch thick) slices from a large ripe tomato
  • 4 (1/-4 inch thick) slices fresh mozzarella or 1/2 cup grated fresh or low-moisture mozzarella
  • potato rolls, burger buns or ciabatta rolls
  • baby spinach or arugula, for serving
  1. Lightly grease a large plate with olive oil or cooking oil spray and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup Parmesan, basil, tomato paste, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Gently incorporate the ground meat into the cheese mixture.
  4. Working the meat as little as possible, form 4 patties that are each about 4 1/2 inches wide and about 1/2 cup or 135 grams.
  5. Transfer to the greased plate, cover, and refrigerate. (This helps maintain the shape and also prevents the juices and fat from leaking.)
  6. On a rimmed plate, sprinkle the tomato slices with salt.
  7. If using grated mozzarella, stir together the mozzarella and the remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
  8. Preheat a grill to medium heat. (I used a griddle on the grill and preheated it at this time too.)
  9. Toast the buns on the preheated grill, if desired. (I omitted this step.)
  10. Oil the grill griddle and add the patties. Cook until browned underneath, 3 to 5 minutes. (Reduce heat if the patties are burning.)
  11. Flip the patties, top each with 1/2 tablespoon of the grated Parmesan cheese followed by a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese (or with the combination of grated cheeses, if using).
  12. Cover the grill with the lid and cook until the cheese is melted and the patties are cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.
  13. Pat the tomatoes dry.
  14. To each bottom bun, add a handful of baby spinach or arugula, followed by a slice of tomato, a chicken patty and its top bun. Serve hot with chips and coleslaw, as desired.

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!)

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.

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash & Greens

My kids love the Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from Trader Joe’s. (It sells out daily- so they are clearly not alone!) This vegetarian comfort food dish seemed reminiscent enough to be a crowd-pleaser. ūüėČ I liked that it incorporated leafy greens too.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Yasmin Fahr. I modified the method and proportions. I also added a poblano chile, red onion, garlic, and cilantro. Nice.

Yield: Serves 6

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium or 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 1 poblano chile, seeded, ribbed, and diced, divided (or 1 jalape√Īo, sliced into rounds)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeds removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound rigatoni, penne, or other tubular pasta
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano), divided
  • 4 packed cups greens (I used 2 cups turnip greens (sliced into 1-inch ribbons) and 2 cups baby spinach)
  • 8 oz (1/2 pound) fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size chunks
  • 1/3 cup cilantro or flat-leaf parsley and tender stems, roughly chopped, for garnish
  1. Bring a large covered pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until not quite al dente, 3 to 4 minutes less than the package instructions. (It should be a little too firm to the bite.) Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water and drain. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet with high sides and a tight-fitting lid (or a Dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high until shimmering. (I used a large and wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. Add the diced onion and half of the diced poblano chile, season with salt, and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the cubed squash and season with salt, cumin, and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring every minute, until squash becomes browned in spots and feels just tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to convection.)
  7. When the squash is just tender, add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. Bring to an active simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft and easily mashable, 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat, then use the back of a wooden spoon to crush about half of the butternut squash and leave the rest chunky. Season the squash to taste, keeping in mind that salty Parmesan will be added soon.
  9. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet along with the remaining 1 cup of reserved pasta water and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Stir vigorously to combine.
  10. Stir in the greens one handful at a time until each addition wilts slightly.
  11. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, and the remaining diced poblano chile. Place in the oven and cook until the top is melted and browned in spots, 12 to 15 minutes.
  12. Top with minced cilantro and serve.

Farro with Roasted Tomatoes, Pesto & Spinach

I love a dish involving warm dressing and wilted greens. I am also in love with farro- and pesto. This full-flavored vegetarian dish was made for me! Loved it. ūüôā

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Yasmin Fahr. I used homemade pesto, Campari tomatoes, and several of the modifications and options that were suggested in the original recipe for ingredient substitutions.

It was incredible as a summer dish but could easily be served in any season with all of the possible variations. It can be served warm, cold, or at room temperature. The dish could also be topped with a protein such as grilled chicken, scallops, or shrimp, if desired. We ate it for dinner with roasted CSA vegetables and a green salad. It would also be lovely for a special lunch or brunch. Fabulous.

Yield: Serves 4

  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1¬†cup farro, rinsed (I used Trader Joe’s “10 minute” Farro)
  • 2¬†pints (4 cups) cherry or grape tomatoes or 2 pounds of Campari tomatoes (12-14 tomatoes)
  • 1¬†red onion, peeled, quartered and cut into 1-inch wedges keeping the root intact (I cut a large red onion into 8ths)(can substitute shallots)
  • 2¬†tablespoons olive oil, plus more for the farro
  • 1/4 to 1/2¬†teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 1/4¬†cup (4 T) store-bought or¬†homemade pesto, plus more to taste (recipe below)
  • 1¬†lemon, zested (about 1 tablespoon) and juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 2¬†packed cups baby spinach, arugula, Swiss chard (stemmed & chopped), or baby kale
  • 1¬†(4 oz) ball fresh mozzarella or burrata, torn into chunks, or 1/2 cup ricotta salata or feta, crumbled, optional (I used 4 oz crumbled feta)
  • 1/4¬†cup fresh flat-leaf parsley or basil leaves and tender stems, chiffonade or roughly chopped, for garnish
  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the farro and adjust the heat to maintain a medium boil. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom, until tender and not too chewy, about 10 to 30 minutes. (I used Trader Joe’s “10-minute” Farro which cooked in 10 minutes)
  3. Meanwhile, on a parchment paper-lined, rimmed sheet pan, combine the tomatoes and onion wedges with the oil, making sure everything is well coated and glistening, then season with salt, pepper and the red-pepper flakes. Roast until the tomatoes blister and slightly deflate, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. When the farro is done, drain, then pour into a serving bowl or back into the pot. Toss with some olive oil, then mix in the pesto.
  5. Add the lemon zest and juice, then stir in the spinach (or other greens). Set aside to cool slightly.
  6. Scrape the onions, tomatoes and their juices into the farro; season with salt and pepper as needed.
  7. Add the cheese, if using, then garnish with herbs and serve.

For the Pesto: (Makes about 1 cup)

  • 2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
  • coarse salt
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 T toasted pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano
  1. Combine the basil with a pinch of salt, the garlic, the nuts, and about half of the oil in a food processor or blender.
  2. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container if necessary and adding the rest of the oil gradually.
  3. Add more oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. (Sometimes I add a little bit of stock instead to achieve the same result.)
  4. Stir in the cheese.

The pesto recipe is from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman. The amounts can be modified to reduce the volume; only 1/4 cup of pesto is used in the farro dish.

One-Pot Crispy Gnocchi with Burst Tomatoes & Fresh Mozzarella

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. ūüėČ 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
  1. Heat the broiler with a rack about 6 inches from the heat source.
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi and olive oil.
  5. Add the butter to the skillet and cook over medium-high, stirring often, until golden-brown and toasty, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Add the seared gnocchi and basil, stir to coat, then shake into an even layer.
  9. Top with the mozzarella and drizzle lightly with olive oil.
  10. Broil until the cheese is melted and browned in spots, 2 to 4 minutes. (I set my oven to 500 degrees Broil+Max.)
  11. Top with more basil, red-pepper flakes, and black pepper as desired.

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