Stovetop Meatball Lasagna

This is a crowd-pleasing, lighter, stovetop upgrade to a classic lasagna. It was also less time consuming to prepare. I loved the brightness from the incorporation of fresh herbs.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Shilpa Uskokovic. I modified the method and added garlic. The grated zucchini and panko in the meatballs made them very tender. Fabulous!

Yield: Serves 4 to 6 (5 in my house)

  • 1 large zucchini (about 12 oz), finely grated (about 1½ cups)(I used a food processor)
  • 1 1/2 cups panko
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 6 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 tsp Diamond Crystal or 1 1/4 tsp Morton kosher salt, plus more, to taste
  • 1 lb ground chicken
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped dill, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 28 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • 8 oz fresh whole milk ricotta
  • finely grated lemon zest from 1/2 a large lemon
  • 10 oz lasagna noodles, broken into 2–3 pieces (do not use oven-ready noodles)(I used DeCecco)
  • grated Parmesan, for serving (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  1. Using a sturdy wooden spoon or rubber spatula, vigorously stir grated zucchini, panko, oregano, garlic powder, paprika, 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, and kosher salt in a large bowl until combined and nearly paste-like. (I grated the zucchini medium-large because I used a food processor.)
  2. Add ground chicken, chopped dill and parsley and mix until fully incorporated (you don’t need to worry about overmixing here; mixture will be soft). (I used a food processor to finely chop the fresh herbs.)
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium to medium-high. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
  4. Using a 3 tablespoon cookie scoop, portion out half of meat mixture (meatballs don’t need to be perfectly round; rustic-looking is good) and add directly to pot. (I did 2 batches of 8 meatballs.)
  5. Cook, undisturbed, until well browned underneath, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Carefully turn meatballs over and cook until second side is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes (it’s okay if meatballs still look misshapen).
  7. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate.
  8. Pour an additional 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil into pot and repeat process with remaining meat mixture. (the remaining 8 meatballs)
  9. Return all meatballs to pot, the add canned tomatoes with juice, lightly crushing with your hands as you go, sliced garlic and shallot, and remaining 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; season with salt.
  10. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover pot, and cook meatballs and sauce, gently stirring occasionally (it’s okay if meatballs start to fall apart), until sauce is slightly thickened, 15–20 minutes. (After stirring halfway through the cooking time, I reduced the heat to low.)
  11. Meanwhile, whisk together ricotta, grated lemon zest, and a large pinch of salt in small bowl until smooth; set aside.
  12. Cook broken lasagna noodles in large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente, about 3 minutes.
  13. Using tongs, drop noodles into pot with sauce and cook, stirring gently, until sauce coats pasta.
  14. Divide pasta among shallow bowls and spoon dollops of reserved lemony ricotta over each.
  15. Top with dill and grated Parmesan, as desired. 

Do ahead: Meatballs and sauce can be made 3 days ahead; let cool. Transfer to an airtight container; cover and chill. Lemony ricotta can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Ina Garten’s Macaroni and Cheese with Tomatoes

Once again, Ina did not disappoint. 🙂 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 Gruyère 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.

Fried Chicken & Biscuits

Over the years, my husband has perfected his ultimate birthday menu. Our entire family looks forward to the annual feast. 😉 After his approval, I do try new variations of a few items on the menu- with the exception of his absolute favorite Vanilla Bean Birthday Cheesecake.

I wanted to try this recipe because it is meant to be made in advance, served at room temperature, and made to travel for a picnic. This is ideal because his birthday is usually one of the first days of the year we are able to eat outside on our back porch. We also eat leftovers for a couple of days! The leftover chicken stayed crisp and was great at room temperature but we preferred to re-heat the biscuits the following day.

The fried chicken recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Tejal Rao, inspired by Masaharu Morimoto’s katsu in the cookbook “Mastering the Art of Japanese Home Cooking.” The biscuit recipe was adapted from Sam Sifton’s all-purpose biscuit recipe, also from The New York Times, but is lightly kneaded so it’s not too tender to form into a sandwich. I modified the method and proportions. I also omitted the hot honey butter for salted butter but included the recipe below.

We ate the chicken sandwiched by a split biscuit with or without salted butter and half sour pickle slices. The feast also included Ina Garten’s Macaroni and Cheese, Sweet Potato Spoon Bread, and green salad with Icebox Buttermilk Dressing. (and birthday cheesecake for dessert, of course) ❤

This dish would be perfect for a Memorial Day or Father’s Day celebration as well. Chicken breast meat can be substituted for the thigh meat, if desired.

Yield: Serves 10 to 12

For the Biscuits:

  • 3 cups/450 grams all-purpose flour
  • about 2 tablespoons/37 grams baking powder
  • 1 T granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 7 T/100 grams cold unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1 1/2 cups/360 milliliters whole milk

For the Fried Chicken:

  • 9 to 10 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in half if large (I used 9 thighs and cut the larger pieces to make 15), at room temperature
  • 1 cup plus 2 T/170 grams all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp cayenne
  • 3 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 4 large or extra-large eggs
  • about 2 cups/200 grams panko bread crumbs, plus more if needed
  • canola or other neutral oil, for frying (I used vegetable oil)

For the (Optional) Hot Honey-Butter and To Serve:

  • 10 T/142 grams unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 T honey
  • hot sauce, a vinegary variety such as Crystal, to taste
  • sliced half sour, fridge pickles, or dill pickles, for serving
  • salted butter, at room temperature, to taste

To Prepare the Biscuits:

  1. In a bowl, use a fork to mix the flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.
  2. Add butter and use a pastry blender or a fork to mash it into the flour until the mixture resembles large, lumpy crumbs.
  3. Stir in milk until a dough comes together.
  4. Flour your hands, then gently gather and knead the dough in the bowl for 2 to 3 minutes, or until it springs back slightly to the touch. (If the dough is sticky, sprinkle additional flour as needed.)
  5. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap and rest dough in fridge for half hour (longer is okay!). (I prepared the chicken while the dough was resting.)
  6. Heat oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection.
  7. On a lightly floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough to 1-inch to 1 1/2-inch thickness.
  8. Use a floured knife or round cutter to cut about 12 biscuits, about 2 1/2 inches wide.
  9. Re-roll the scraps and cut again as needed.
  10. Place biscuits on a rimmed, parchment paper lined, baking sheet and bake for 15 on convection, or up to 20 minutes in a conventional oven, or until they have puffed up and the tops are slightly golden.
  11. Let cool completely on a wired rack at room temperature. Transfer to an airtight container if not using until the next day.

To Prepare the Fried Chicken:

  1. Trim excess fat and any membranes from the meat, then lightly hammer the thickest parts of the thighs with a mallet or rolling pin. Season each side with coarse salt.
  2. Mix flour, cayenne and salt in one wide bowl. (I used a glass pie dish.)
  3. Beat eggs in a second wide bowl, or glass pie dish, and place panko in a third.
  4. Dip each chicken thigh in flour, coating it all over and patting off the excess, then in egg, allowing extra egg to drip off, then in panko, making sure each thigh is entirely coated in bread crumbs, and using your hands to press loose crumbs into any places where they look scarce.
  5. In a large, heavy bottomed skillet, pour in oil to a 2-inch depth and heat to 350 degrees F. (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet and clipped on a thermometer.)
  6. Fry 2 to 3 thighs at a time, flipping them with tongs over every two minutes or so, until golden brown and crisp all over, about 8 minutes total.
  7. Transfer to a wire rack set over a paper towel-lined sheet pan and season lightly with salt. (This step is very important in order to maintain the crispy texture!)
  8. Let cool entirely at room temperature, at least 1 hour. (I baked the biscuits at this point.) The sandwiches can be assembled after cooling or transfer the rack to the fridge and leave the chicken uncovered overnight.

To Serve:

  1. When both the chicken and biscuits have cooled (or the next day), mix together soft butter, honey and hot sauce until smooth, if using. (We opted for plain salted butter.)
  2. Cut or split open the cooled biscuits, smear each cut side with honey butter or salted butter, and sandwich with a piece of chicken.
  3. Top with pickle slices, as desired.

Note: If traveling, loosely wrap each sandwich in a piece of parchment paper and pack side by side in a hard container, in a single layer, so the sandwiches aren’t crushed. Serve with additional hot sauce and pickles on the side.

One-Pan Farro & Cauliflower Parmesan

I love vegetable-loaded comfort food. 🙂 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 1/2 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°. (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–inch 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.

Greek Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

This flavor-packed weeknight dish was included in Milk Street Magazine’s “Tuesday Nights” series which features weeknight dishes with bold and fresh flavors. I have found that meatballs that incorporate a panade, hydrated breadcrumbs, are very tender- great.

The recipe was adapted from Milk Street Magazine, contributed by Calvin Cox. According to the original article, these Greek oblong shaped meatballs are known as soutzoukakia smyrneika. Traditionally, they are served with tiganites patates (potatoes fried in olive oil). We ate them with crusty bread to sop up every bit of sauce. The dish could also be served with roasted potatoes or a rice or orzo pilaf.

Yield: Serves 4

  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3 large garlic cloves, 2 finely gratedn(I used a garlic press), 1 thinly sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
  • 2 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano, divided
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (I used fire-roasted)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  1. In a medium bowl, combine the panko, egg and 1/2 cup water, then mix until homogeneous. Let stand for 5 minutes to allow the panko to hydrate. (This step is very important in order to create soft and tender meatballs.)
  2. Add the pork, cumin, the grated (or pressed) garlic, 1/2 teaspoon pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon oregano, 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, then mix well.
  3. Divide into 11 or 12 portions (each about a scant 1/4 cup), then shape each into a 2 1/2-inch-long cigar (oblong) shape.
  4. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 2 tablespoons of oil until shimmering. (Non-stick can be used; I used a 12-inch stainless all-in-one pan.)
  5. Add the meatballs and cook without disturbing until browned on the bottoms, 2 to 3 minutes. Using tongs, flip the meatballs and cook until browned on the second sides, another 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Remove the skillet from the heat, transfer the meatballs to a paper towel–lined plate and set aside.
  7. Return the skillet to medium-high and add the sliced garlic. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
  8. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  9. Stir in the tomatoes, cinnamon, honey and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and black pepper, then bring to a simmer.
  10. Place the meatballs in the pan and return to a simmer. Cover and simmer, undisturbed, until the centers of the meatballs reach 160°F, 12 to 14 minutes.
  11. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and black pepper.
  12. Transfer the meatballs and sauce to serving dish. Drizzle with additional oil, if desired, and sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon oregano.

Turkey Meatballs with Romesco Sauce

Many years ago, my husband and I first tried Romesco sauce while on vacation in Barcelona. It was served with grilled ramps. We were instant fans! Using jarred fire-roasted red peppers as a shortcut is an absolute genius way to create it. I served the meatballs and sauce in this dish with slices of sourdough baguette to sop up every last drop. 🙂

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sara Frost. I modified the proportions. The original recipe notes that the delicious sauce can add richness to other lean proteins such as fish, pan-roasted chicken breast and can also be used as a dip for vegetables. Next time, I may serve this dish with grilled scallions. Yum.

My son ate the leftover meatballs and baguette as a luxurious sandwich with melted cheese, topped with Romesco sauce, of course. This dish could also be served as a fabulous appetizer.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 3/4 lbs ground turkey
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 4 to 6 T finely chopped parsley, plus more coarsely chopped for serving
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 T plus 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup toasted almonds (I used toasted sliced almonds)
  • 1 12 to 16-oz jar fire-roasted peppers in water, drained (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 to 4 small garlic cloves, crushed (I used a garlic press)
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • finely grated zest of half of a lemon
  • crusty bread, for serving, optional (I served it with a sourdough baguette)
  1. Preheat oven to 425°. (I set my oven to convection roast.)
  2. Using your hands, mix ground turkey, eggs, panko, cumin, onion powder, paprika, parsley, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt in a large bowl.
  3. Working one at a time, use a 1 1/2-inch scoop out to ration out the mixture. (I had 28 meatballs.) Place on a plate.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used a large stainless steel “all-in-one” pan.)
  5. Working in 2 batches, cook meatballs until golden brown all over, about 2 minutes per side.
  6. Transfer skillet with all of the meatballs to oven and bake until cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes.
  7. While the meatballs are baking, pulse almonds in a food processor until coarsely ground. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  8. Pulse drained fire-roasted peppers, garlic, vinegar, and cayenne in food processor until almost smooth.
  9. Transfer to bowl with almonds and stir in remaining 1/2 cup oil; season Romesco sauce with salt, to taste.
  10. Spoon romesco sauce onto a platter or into shallow bowls; arrange meatballs on top.
  11. Finely grate lemon zest over and scatter coarsely chopped parsley on top. Serve with crusty bread, as desired.

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