Baked Risotto with Peas, Asparagus, & Pancetta

In case you were worried that I wasn’t embracing early spring vegetables… I have another asparagus and pea recipe to share! ūüėČ

I almost exclusively use my pressure cooker just to make risotto. It converts an otherwise time-consuming dish into a lovely weeknight meal. Well, baking risotto performs similar magic. Fabulous!

This recipe was adapted from TheKitchn.com, contributed by Nealey Dozier. This risotto could also be par-baked in advance, the night before, and reheated on the stovetop with one or two cups of additional stock prior to serving. Perfect when entertaining guests.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 4 ounces finely chopped pancetta (or olive oil for vegetarian version)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 large shallots (4 cloves), finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 4 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen green peas
  • 1 pound pencil-thin asparagus stalks, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, or to taste
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven 400¬įF, preferably on convection.
  2. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 6-8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add 1 tablespoon butter and shallots to the pancetta drippings and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the rice and sauté until every grain is coated with butter, about 1 minute.
  4. Increase heat to high. Pour in the wine and simmer until the liquid evaporates. Add stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  5. Cover the pot and transfer to the oven. Cook until the liquid is almost cooked out and the risotto is creamy, about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and place over moderate heat. Stir in peas and asparagus and cook until the vegetables are bright green and warmed through, about 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in remaining 2 tablespoons butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with additional Parmesan and reserved pancetta.

To Make in Advance: Bake the risotto for 15 – 20 minutes. Cool and transfer to the refrigerator. When ready to serve, add 1 1/2 cups hot stock and vegetables and cook over medium heat until warm. Stir in the butter, Parmesan, and lemon zest. Season to taste.

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Pasta Primavera with Asparagus, Peas, & Cr√®me Fra√ģche

This quick and fresh dinner was truly springtime on a plate. It uses a combination of early spring vegetables- asparagus, peas, and scallions- which, as the author describes, makes it a “true celebration of the season.”

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I modified the proportions and omitted the tarragon. I also used reserved pasta water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Loved it!

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1/2 pound sugar snap peas, stems trimmed
  • 3/4¬†pound asparagus, ends snapped
  • 3¬†tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1¬†cup fresh English peas
  • 1/3¬†cup (5 large) thinly sliced spring onion, white part only (or use shallot)
  • 5¬†garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ¬†coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 16¬†ounces pappardelle, fettuccine or tagliatelle, preferably fresh
  • 1¬†cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, at room temperature
  • 6 oz (3/4 cup)¬†cr√®me fra√ģche or whole milk Greek yogurt, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup¬†finely chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped tarragon, optional
  1. Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  2. While the water is coming to a boil, slice snap peas in half and asparagus stems into 1/4-inch-thick pieces; leave asparagus tips whole.
  3. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add snap peas, asparagus, English peas and onion. Cook until vegetables are barely tender (but not too soft or mushy), 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute more. Season with salt and pepper; set aside.
  5. Drop pasta into boiling water and cook until al dente (1 to 3 minutes for fresh pasta, more for dried pasta). Drain well, reserving 1 cup of pasta water.
  6. Transfer pasta to the skillet of prepared vegetables or to a large bowl.
  7. Immediately toss pasta with vegetables, Parmigiano-Reggiano, cr√®me fra√ģche and herbs.
  8. Thin sauce to desired consistency with reserved pasta water.
  9. Season generously with salt and pepper, if needed, to taste. Serve.

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Three Cheese Crepe Manicotti

During my college days, I was lucky enough to celebrate¬†Easter with one of my roommates and her large Italian family. It was always an amazing feast. One of the first courses served was a homemade manicotti. I’ve loved it ever since- and now think of it in the springtime.

I was drawn to the “French” twist in this version, using cr√™pes in lieu of pasta. They were tender and delicious. Lovely.

This recipe was adapted from Food and Wine contributed by Christine Dimmick. I adjusted the seasoning and ratios. I also modified the cr√™pe batter technique from using a blender to hand-whisking, and to cooking them on a lightly oiled cr√™pe pan, my tried and true method. This dish could be modified to include any variety of fillings in the cr√™pes. Next time I may incorporate spinach or mushrooms. ūüôā

  • 2 cups ricotta cheese (15 ounces), preferably fresh
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella (about 6 ounces)(part-skim okay)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped basil, plus more for garnish
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • vegetable oil, for the pans
  • 3 cups tomato sauce, preferably homemade¬†(I used local Mamma Lombardi’s Marinara Sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  1. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta with the mozzarella, basil, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and the pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning, to taste.
  2. In a bowl, whisk the flour and eggs until thoroughly combined. Add the water and a generous 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Whisk until smooth.
  3. Heat an 8-inch crêpe or omelet pan over moderately high heat. Using a brush, lightly oil the pan and add a small ladle of the batter (about 1/4 cup); working quickly, swirl the pan to coat it evenly.
  4. Cook until the top of the crêpe is dry and the bottom is lightly golden, about 1 minute. Flip the crêpe and cook until the bottom is lightly golden, about 20 seconds longer.
  5. Transfer the crêpe to a large plate and repeat with the remaining batter to make a total of 16 crêpes.
  6. Preheat the oven to 375¬į, preferably on convection.
  7. Coat the bottom of a 3-quart baking dish with 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
  8. Arrange the crêpes on a work surface. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the ricotta filling in a line down the center of each crêpe. Loosely roll up the crêpes, burrito-style with ends folded in, and arrange them, seam side up, side by side in the baking dish. (I placed them in 2 rows of 8 crêpes.)
  9. Pour the remaining 2 cups of tomato sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
  10. Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake for an additional 5 minutes, or until the tomato sauce is bubbling and the manicotti are heated through.
  11. Garnish with basil, if desired. Serve piping hot.

Make Ahead: The unbaked manicotti can be refrigerated overnight. Allow up to 15 minutes longer for baking.

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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! ūüôā

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 b√©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 (& Béchamel): 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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Birthday Lasagna

I am partial to lasagna laden with mushrooms and spinach… with plenty of cheese, of course. ūüôā

When requesting his birthday menu, my son wanted “regular” lasagna, “you know, with just meat and cheese!” His wish was my command. ūüôā It was delicious!

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart. I used ground turkey and chicken sausage, added red pepper flakes, and increased the amount of garlic. We ate it with garlic bread and¬†Caesar salad. He absolutely loved it. It was even more celebratory for him to eat¬†it with our special “Happy Birthday” fork. ūüôā

  • 1/2 sprig basil, (3 tablespoons coarsely chopped)
  • 4 ounces Parmesan, (1 cup finely grated)
  • 14 oz (about 1 1/4 cups) whole milk ricotta
  • 1 1/2 pounds mozzarella (5 cups grated)
  • 1 pound no-boil lasagna noodles (I needed 2 additional sheets.)
  • 28 ounces canned, diced tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1-2 dashes red pepper flakes, optional, or to taste
  • 1/2 pound sweet Italian sausage (casings removed) or sun-dried tomato-basil chicken sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat; cook onion, garlic, salt, and pepper 1 minute.
  3. Add turkey and sausage; cook, breaking up with a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and oregano. Reduce heat; simmer 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat. Stir in basil. Taste and adjust seasonings, as necessary.
  6. Coat baking dish with cooking spray or oil; spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the dish.
  7. Top with a layer of noodles. (I used 6 noodles per layer.)
  8. Next, spread a third of the ricotta, then 1 1/2 cups sauce, on top. Sprinkle with 1 cup mozzarella and 3 tablespoons Parmesan. Repeat these steps 2 more times.
  9. Top with a layer of noodles, the remaining sauce, mozzarella and Parmesan.
  10. Cover with parchment paper topped with foil; bake 20 minutes.
  11. Remove foil and parchment; bake 20 minutes more. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Vegetarian Variation: Clean and trim 8 ounces button mushrooms; finely chop in a food processor. Follow the recipe, but in step 2, cook onion and garlic in 2 tablespoons olive oil. In step 3, add mushrooms, 1 cup diced zucchini, and 1/2 cup diced red bell pepper instead of turkey and sausage; cook, stirring, until just tender, about 6 minutes. After simmering with the tomatoes and oregano in step 4, stir in 4 cups chopped spinach along with basil.

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Fresh Ricotta

My husband and I have a favorite local restaurant where we like to go and have a special lunch together. Even though it is quite indulgent, we cannot go without ordering the fresh ricotta cheese appetizer. It is seasoned with lemon and served with warm bread. Irresistible.

I knew that making homemade ricotta was an easy task but had never tried to make it. I’m a little bit worried that now that I’ve finally done it because I’ll be making it all of the time! ūüôā I brought it to serve as an appetizer at a party to spread on slices of sourdough baguette… but-¬†wow-¬†it would also be amazing over¬†pasta with¬†a little drizzle of olive oil.

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by J.J. Goode. I added lemon zest (like at my restaurant!) and coarse salt, to taste. I found the consistency was perfect after straining for just twenty minutes. It was beyond creamy, rich, and fabulous.

Yield: about 1 cup

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • ¬Ĺ teaspoon coarse¬†salt, plus more for seasoning, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or distilled white vinegar
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon, or more, to taste
  1. Bring milk, cream, and 1/2 tsp salt to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  2. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice; stir gently until mixture starts to curdle. Let stand 5 minutes.
  3. Pour mixture into a fine-mesh sieve lined with 2 layers of cheesecloth set over a medium bowl.
  4. Chill until cheese is spreadable, at least 20 minutes and up to 12 hours (the longer it strains, the thicker it will be). (I recommend the consistency after about 20 minutes.)
  5. Cover and chill cheese up to 3 days. (If it lasts that long!)

Note/Update: This ricotta was absolutely delicious in Spinach & Ricotta Pappardelle. Wonderful!!

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Roman Egg Drop Soup (Stracciatella alla Romana)

My husband prefers creamy or stew-like soups to brothy versions. This classic Italian soup had caught my eye in the past, but he “rejected” it as a dinner option. :/ When it was featured in the New York Times as the recipe of the week, I had to have it. I made it when my husband¬†had a work dinner! My son and I gobbled it up. What’s not to like? Eggs and cheese with loads of pepper. I used homemade stock as the base as well. Delicious.

This recipe was adapted from the New York Times, contributed by Samin Nosrat. We ate it with warm naan on the side (not very Italian, I know). Perfect warm and cozy comfort food on a cold night.

Yield: 6 servings

  • ¬ľ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, diced
  • coarse¬†salt
  • 6 large eggs
  • ¬Ĺ cup finely grated fresh Parmesan, rind reserved, plus more for serving
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade (I incorporated 4 cups of homemade Turkey Stock.)
  • 2 T finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Set a large Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add oil. When it shimmers, add the onions and a generous pinch of salt.
  2. Reduce heat to medium. Stirring occasionally, cook onions for 10 to 15 minutes until tender. It’s fine if they start to take on a little color.
  3. In a large measuring cup or medium bowl with a spout, thoroughly whisk together the eggs, ¬Ĺ cup grated Parmesan, nutmeg, black pepper, and a generous pinch of salt.
  4. When onions are tender, add Parmesan rind and stock to pot.
  5. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce to a strong simmer.
  6. While gently whisking soup with one hand, pour egg mixture into pot in a thin stream with the other.
  7. Once all of the egg mixture has been added, turn off the heat.
  8. Remove Parmesan rind. Taste and adjust for salt.
  9. Ladle soup into bowls and serve immediately, garnished with Parmesan, black pepper, and parsley.

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