Shortcut Baked Rigatoni with Meatballs

There are so many end-of-the-school-year parties this time of year. A great time to share a crowd-pleasing casserole! I brought this baked pasta dish to my son’s pre-County Championship Swim Meet pasta dinner. I was thrilled when my friend’s husband asked for the recipe. ūüôā

This recipe was adapted from such a fun book- Mad Genius Tips: Over 90 Expert Hacks + 100 Delicious Recipes by Justin Chapple and the Editors of Food and Wine. I love Chapple’s column in the printed magazine and knew I would enjoy this book as well. The pasta and the meatballs cook in the oven. Truly genius!

  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1/2 pound ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup lightly packed basil, torn or chiffonade, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ziti,¬†rigatoni,¬†rotini, fusilli, shells, or campanelle pasta
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, torn into 1-inch pieces
  • 28 oz (about 3 cups) prepared marinara sauce
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, bread crumbs, eggs, 1/3 cup torn basil, 1/4 cup of Parmesan and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper; mix well.
  3. Using a cookie scoop, form the meat mixture into one-inch balls.
  4. In a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking dish, spread half of the pasta in an even layer.
  5. Arrange half of the meatballs (about 16) and mozzarella on the pasta.
  6. Spoon half of the marinara on top and season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Repeat with the remaining pasta, meatballs, cheese, and marinara. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  8. Place baking dish on a rimmed cookie sheet. Add 2 1/2 cups of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil.
  9. Bake for about 1 hour, until the pasta is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.
  10. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes longer, until lightly browned.
  11. Let stand for 5 minutes. Garnish with basil and parmesan and serve.

Make Ahead: The baked pasta can be refrigerated overnight. Reheat gently.

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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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Seared Scallops & Cauliflower Grits

With the sunshine and warmer weather, an Easter weekend tradition in our house is to celebrate our love (and the food!) of the beautiful South Carolina Low Country. I usually serve a version of the classic Low Country dish, Shrimp and Grits, but, this year tried this scallop and cauliflower grits adaptation. We absolutely loved it!

This recipe was adapted from Joel Gamoran, Sur La Table National Chef, via Sur la Table.com. I puréed the vegetables instead of juicing them for the sauce, used riced cauliflower, and doubled the garlic. Amazing.

Yield: Makes 4 Servings

For the Cauliflower Grits:

  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 pounds riced cauliflower
  • 1 to 2 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

For the Scallops:

  • 2 medium whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
  • 16 sea scallops, patted dry
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare the Cauliflower Grits: In the microwave, steam the riced cauliflower for 4 minutes, or until very tender.
  2. Combine the steamed cauliflower with Parmesan, garlic, and enough cream cheese to achieve desired consistency.
  3. Season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  4. Prepare the Scallops: Combine the tomatoes, pepper and carrot in a Vitamix, food processor, or blender. Puree.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  6. Season scallops with salt and pepper and add to pan in one layer. Sear the scallops for 2 to 3 minutes on each side until golden. Remove scallops to a platter.
  7. Reduce heat to medium-low and add remaining oil to skillet.
  8. Add shallot and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes.
  9. Add garlic and smoked paprika and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute.
  10. Slowly whisk in puréed vegetables and bring to a boil.
  11. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  12. To serve: Serve scallops on top of cauliflower grits with sauce spooned on top. Garnish with scallions and extra black pepper, as desired.

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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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Cauliflower Gratin

My husband refused to let me simply roast the special heads of cauliflower we received in our CSA share. When he agreed to eat this indulgent cheesy cauliflower celebration as a main dish, we struck a deal. I added a little bit of pasta to make it more substantial.

We enjoyed this dish with roasted potatoes, roasted carrots, as well as Toscano kale and watermelon radish greens saut√©ed with garlic, onions and leeks on the side. It truly was a CSA box feast. ūüôā

This recipe was adapted from Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home by Ina Garten. I used one and a half heads of my small CSA cauliflower, about two pounds total. The original recipe called for three pounds, so I added pasta to the gratin. I also drizzled olive oil over the top of the dish instead of butter.

Cheesy deliciousness. ūüôā

  • 1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets (I used 2 pounds of cauliflower supplemented with 1 cup orecchiette pasta)
  • coarse¬†salt
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 3 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups hot milk (I used whole milk)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Gruy√®re, divided
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I used Parmigiano Reggiano)
  • 1/4 cup panko or fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 to 2 T extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, preferably on convection.
  2. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.
  3. Cook the pasta, if using, about 2 minutes less than the package directions for al dente.
  4. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened.
  6. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyère, and the Parmesan.
  7. Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish or another equivalently sized baking dish.
  8. Place the drained cauliflower on top (and the pasta, if using) and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top.
  9. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyère and sprinkle on top.
  10. Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the gratin.
  11. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Cheesy Pasta Casserole with Wild Mushrooms

This is high-class macaroni and cheese. ūüėČ Fancy comfort food. A delicious vegetarian main course. What’s not to love? My favorite pasta shape- orecchiette- with earthy mushrooms, salty Parmigiano Reggiano, and fabulous melted fontina cheese. Prior to incorporating the mushrooms with the pasta, they are¬†roasted with rosemary which infuses them with amazing flavor. Delicious.

This recipe was adapted from the New York¬†Times, contributed by Melissa Clark. I used two cloves of garlic and a combination of cremini and shiitake mushrooms. I also decreased the baking temperature to 475 degrees (because I was worried about damaging my special casserole dish). No worries- it was still brown and bubbly. ūüôā

Now that spring has sprung, I thought that I may have missed my chance to post this cozy dish, but it may snow here tonight! So I suppose I’m safe. :/

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1 pound mixed wild or cultivated mushrooms, such as oyster, maitake and shiitake (I used 12 oz cremini mushrooms and 4¬†oz shiitake mushrooms.)
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¬Ĺ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
  • ¬Ĺ teaspoon black pepper, plus a few grinds
  • 2 fresh rosemary branches
  • ¬Ĺ pound orecchiette, farfalle or other short pasta
  • ¬ĺ cup heavy cream
  • ¬Ĺ cup fresh ricotta
  • 5 ounces fontina cheese, grated (1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely grated (I used a garlic press.)
  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Trim the mushrooms and cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the olive oil, the salt, a few grinds of pepper and the rosemary. Spread on a large baking sheet and roast, tossing once or twice, until golden brown and crisped around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Discard rosemary.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for at least a few minutes less than the package directs. (You want the pasta very al dente; it will finish softening in the sauce.) Drain well.
  4. Turn oven up to 475 degrees.
  5. In a large bowl, stir together the cream, ricotta, fontina, Parmesan, sage, pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt
  6. Stir in the pasta and mushrooms.
  7. Arrange in a shallow 2-quart gratin dish or 9- by 13-inch pan.
  8. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.

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