Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rescued From Take-Out (Layered Vegetable Casserole)

Hot and bubbly from the oven...
waiting is the hardest part
Like Mother Hubbard,  I went to the cupboard this evening and by golly it was bare.  

The thought did cross my mind to make a quick call to Sal’s Pizza or run over to Alan & Son for some BBQ.  Not exactly healthy moves. 

So instead I took another inventory of the ‘fridge and pantry.  Here’s what I came up with:
  • 1 small striped zucchini from last weekend’s trip to the Farmers Market
  • 1 medium summer squash from the same farmer
  • A good-sized handful of baby spinach
  • 6 large mushrooms
  • ½ pint of whole milk ricotta (the inspiration for this dish.  I couldn't bear to toss it)
  • About ¼ cup of shredded and ¼ cup of grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 slice provolone cheese (like you’d use in a sandwich) this is probably optional but sounded like a good thing to do
  • Some fresh basil
  • Some fresh parsley
  • About a cup of dried rigatoni (any shape or style would do)
  • 1 medium can of Cento San Marzano tomato sauce
  • Staples of salt, pepper, olive oil, fennel seed and fresh garlic
Put it all together and what do you get? 

Layered Vegetable Casserole (or lasagna without lasagna pasta), that’s what.


Here’s the game plan:
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degree
  • In small sauce pan, sauté two chopped cloves of garlic and a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds in about a Tbs of the olive oil; then add the tomato sauce and a handful of the basil that you’ve rough chopped
  • Simmer as you prepare the rest of the recipe
  • In a large pot, boil some salted water and cook the pasta until al dente.  When done remove the pasta and add to the simmering sauce
  • Slice the squash into ¼ inch lengthwise slices. 
  • Mix the ricotta cheese with the grated parmesan cheese, a handful of chopped parsley, about a teaspoon of olive oil and a scant pinch of salt and about six grinds of pepper.
  • Slice and sauté the mushrooms in a tsp of the olive oil

Now to assemble:
  • Put some sauce in the bottom of a small casserole dish; smear it around
  • Add a single layer of zucchini
  • Dot the zucchini with ½ of the ricotta mixture
  • Add a layer of the spinach
  • Scoop out the pasta from the sauce and layer on top of the ricotta
  • Add the mushrooms
  • Add the summer squash in a single layer
  • Top with rest of the ricotta mixture
  • Pour on the rest of the sauce
  • Slice the provolone into thin strips and put them as the final layer
  • Sprinkle the shredded parmesan cheese on top’
  • Cover lightly with foil

Time to cook it
  • Bake for 40 minutes covered
  • Remove the foil and bake for 10 more minutes or until the cheese starts to turn golden

Cool for 15 minutes

Slice and serve


Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Year and Counting! (Favorite Marinade & Mixed Pepper Relish)

Roasting peppers at the Carrboro Farmers' Market

Yesterday marked our first year in Chapel Hill.  As you may know, both Steve and I are California natives, as were our parents. So picking up and moving cross-country was no small thing. But we did it.  And despite the fact that we miss our friends we are truly glad we did. 

Slowly but surely we are meeting new people and establishing new routines.  We have learned about the seasons and understand their allure.  The humidity thing wasn’t as bad as it was cracked up to be.  However, I have learned that I am a human magnet for any kind of insect that bites.  Seriously, forget the bug spray – just invite me to your next outdoor party and your guests will be bite free!

But I digress.  So yesterday was the one-year marker.  It was a beautiful Carolina day. Blue skies, a bit of a breeze. Hotter than blazes, but I still drove around town with the sunroof open and all the windows down. 

As I’ve noticed before, it dawned on me that I smile more here. Winding my way through the farmers’ market, shouting “hey” to my brother I passed him and his family heading to the lake on their bikes, strolling down Franklin Street after getting my hair cut, and waving “thanks” to the Southern Gentleman who let me turn left into the line of cars leaving a shopping center – something that happens all the time here. Yes, Chapel Hill is a happy place for me to be.

We ended the day by breaking in the new deck we just had built off the screen porch.  My brother and his family came over, Steve fired up the grill (I’m finally starting to get used to not calling it a BBQ, which in the South refers to the food not the method of cooking) and we enjoyed a long leisurely evening together. 

Today, I’ll share a couple of recipes from the dinner we served.  I hope you try them and smile.


Favorite Marinade
(Mainly used for beef and pork, but surprisingly good on chicken)


¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ soy sauce
1 1/2  TBS herbs d’ Provence (if you don’t have it on hand - as was the case for me yesterday - you can actually substitute poultry seasoning – go figure!)
2 cloves of garlic chopped
Big pinch of salt
6 – 10 grinds of black pepper
1 bay leaf

  • Put all ingredients in a large plastic zip bag
  • Add meat
  • Mush around to coat
  • Stash in ‘fridge

(I marinade tri tip roasts 2 hours to over night; pork chops for a couple hours and surprisingly, chicken does well with this but I only marinade it for 30 minutes to 1 hour)
  • Grill meat as normal.

For a 2.5 pound tri-tip on a gas grill: sear on high heat and then drop to medium-off-medium  with the lid closed for 30 minutes then check with an instant read thermometer.  You should be at around 140 for medium rare/150 for medium (if you want it well done, skip the grill and go buy some jerky). 
  • Tent with foil for 10 minutes then slice thin.

Serve with Roasted Mixed Pepper Relish

Roasted Mixed Pepper Relish
(This one was inspired by Giada De Laurentiis, but she uses only red and yellow bell peppers and does not include garlic)
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 poblano pepper
  • 1 anaheim pepper
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large clove garlic, grated on microplane or finely diced
  •  3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Salt and Pepper

  • Grill the peppers until charred; preferably over an open flame, but you can also use the broiler.  My farmers’ market has a guy who does this for you – he’s very popular!
  • Put the peppers in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Wait at least 10 minutes.
  • When the peppers are cool enough to handle, scrape off the charred skin
  • Cut open and scrape out the seeds and the ribs
  • Slice into thin strips
  • Put the pepper strips, capers, olive oil, garlic and parsley in a glass bowl.  Stir to combine thoroughly
  • Season with a pinch of kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper
  • Cover with plastic wrap and stash in the ‘fridge until It’s time to serve.