Lasagna Roll Ups

Lasagna Roll Up with basil

Wednesday night is pasta night at White House Red Door; at the very least, that means 52 nights of pasta a year and, to be honest, I’m sure we exceed that, easily. The wonderful thing is that there are so many shapes, sizes, styles, and sauces that we could quickly go through a year without any repeats. Actually, having written that, I really should consider this a challenge. Note to self… New Year’s Resolution decided… a year’s worth of pasta.

Most Wednesday nights I use dry pasta, pairing with some seasonal veggie and sauce. Occasionally meat makes an appearance, but only in a supporting role. Favorites include:

  • orechiette + kale + Italian sausage
  • spaghetti carbonara
  • baked orzo + shrimp + tomatoes + feta
  • penne + tuna + tomatoes + capers
  • tortellini + sautéed zucchini + pesto

Fresh pasta is a tremendous treat; a group effort saved for a quiet day when we can dedicate ourselves to the task. The rewards are well worth the effort and seem to lend themselves to cold, snowy days.

  • homemade butternut squash ravioli + sage + brown butter
  • homemade tagliatelle + bolognese
  • homemade lasagna noodles + béchamel + bolognese + parmesan

Rainbow ChardOne dish that turns up almost monthly is Lasagna Roll Ups. The perfect preset portions, incredible variety in terms of filling, and ease in getting this on the table make it one of my pasta night “go to” stand outs. The basic formula of ricotta, parmesan, salt and pepper remains constant, even standing alone if needed. However, when you have leftover or fresh veggies staring at you every time you open the fridge, throw them in the filling. Just about anything works- squash, zucchini, greens, peppers, mushrooms, onions are just a start.

This recipe is one to play with according to your taste. The quantities of sauce and cheese below are just guidelines. Love your lasagna gooey, saucy and cheesy? Done. Just add more sauce and cheese.   Hate greens? No problem. Swap the greens for another vegetable you like. Missing the meat? Brown some sausage, ground beef, or add leftover chicken. It will be delicious. Trust yourself!

PS- If you have any roll ups left, they make excellent additions to a lunch box. Simply warm up in the microwave and immediately transfer to a thermos.

Lasagna Roll Up with basil

Lasagna Roll Ups

  • Servings: 6-8
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Ingredients:
1 box lasagna noodles (15-18 noodles)
1 32oz jar of your favorite marinara sauce, 1 ½ cups reserved
2 cups ricotta
½ cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for sprinkling
1 ½ cups shredded mozzarella, ½ cup reserved
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 bunch greens… spinach, kale, swiss chard or combination
salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare casserole dish by covering bottom with thin layer of marinara sauce.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook lasagna noodles, 6 at a time, until flexible. When flexible, remove noodles with tongs and place on a cookie sheet lined with a clean dish towel. Top with another clean dish towel, and repeat with next batch of 6 noodles. Repeat until all the noodles are cooked.

Make the filling:
Saute chopped greens in 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Remove from pan and finely chop. Set aside.

Combine ricotta, parmesan, and nutmeg. Stir in finely chopped greens. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Assembly:
Spread ricotta filling lengthwise down noodle (approximately 2 tablespoons per noodle). Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons marinara sauce over ricotta and top with 1-2 tablespoons shredded mozzarella.

Tightly roll up noodle jelly roll style and place seam side down in prepared casserole. (Depending on the casserole dish I use, my noodles usually end up being in 3×5 rows. It is important for the rolls to fit snugly against one another so that they don’t unfurl.) Repeat with remaining noodles.

Pour reserved 1 ½ cups of marinara over roll ups. Top with reserved ½ cup of shredded mozzarella. Sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.

Bake until heated through and bubbly, 30 minutes or so.

Chopped kale on cutting board.
Chopped kale, but use whatever greens you have… swiss chard and spinach work beautifully.
Ricotta filling mixed with chopped greens.
Mix chopped greens with ricotta, parmesan, a few gratings of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste.
Lasagna roll up ingredients are out and ready for assembly, casserole dish, lasagne noodles, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese, filling, marinara sauce and salt.
All the ingredients are prepped and ready for assembly.
Lasagna noodles spread with ricotta filling.
Spread ricotta filling along the length of each noodle.
Lasagna noodle with ricotta filling and drizzled with marinara sauce.
Drizzle your favorite marinara sauce over the ricotta filling.
Lasagna noodles rolled up jelly roll style.
Tightly roll up the noodle jelly roll style.
Lasagna roll ups fit snugly in the casserole dish.
The roll ups should fit snugly in the casserole dish so that they don’t unfurl during baking.
Lasagna roll ups topped with sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Top with sauce, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Bake at 350° until heated through and bubbly.

Focaccia BLT

Focaccia BLT

Tomatoes on the vineWith Labor Day behind us and the kids back in school, summer has come to an end. Well, not officially. We still have a couple of more weeks before fall takes over the calendar and thankfully, Mother Nature is not hastening the transition. The temperatures are still steamy and, more importantly, the tomatoes are still coming in. Loads of them!

There is no comparison to fresh local Tomatoes on the vine in the gardensummer tomatoes and what is available the rest of the year. In winter, I’ve been fooled too many times by perfectly round, ruby red, “vine ripened” tomatoes for sale at the grocery store. They are tempting and they look gorgeous, a sight for sore eyes especially in the dead of winter, but inevitably I get them home, onto the cutting board, and slice into a mealy mess. Nothing but disappointment. It just means that as soon as the real tomatoes start coming in during the summer, I enjoy them any and every way I can: raw, baked, roasted, simmered, and grilled, in all sorts of salads, soups, sauces, pies, or straight off the vine, warm from the sun, with a sprinkle of salt. And don’t forget sandwiches.

An easy dinner this time of year is the classic BLT. Perfect for those nights when after school activities and homework seem to be all consuming- dinner needs to be quick, filling, maybe even portable. This BLT comes with a few twists and is always a hit, focaccia instead of sandwich bread, avocado replaces the mayo, and the bacon gets baked in the oven (hassle free bacon- no splatters!).

Deconstructed BLT with avocado
The makings of a beautiful BLT…

Bacon cooked in the oven is the way to go… whether for BLTs or Sunday morning breakfast.  This method is hands free which means no standing at the stove patiently turning the bacon over and over while hot grease splatters and blisters your hands (and stovetop).

Raw bacon slices on a foiled lined sheet pan.

Simply line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and place a metal cooling rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 400°. Place the bacon on the metal rack in one layer. Bake for 15-20 minutes, but start checking after 10 minutes. Some people like their bacon fatty, while others want a nice crunch.

Cooked bacon on foiled lined sheet pan.
The bacon is done and clean up is a breeze.

This focaccia is well worth the time… if not for a BLT, then to be enjoyed another way.  The recipe yields quite a bit, perfect for making once and freezing half to be pulled out in a pinch for appetizers, sandwiches, soups, or just enjoyed on its own.  For lunch I toasted leftover focaccia, spread the halves with pesto, and topped with sliced tomato. Heaven.

Focaccia

Focaccia

  • Servings: 16
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*recipe adapted from Marcella Hazen

Ingredients:
For the dough
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
6 ½ cups unbleached flour
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon
salt

For baking the focaccia
Heavy duty rectangular metal baking pan, about 18”x14”
Extra virgin olive oil for smearing the pan
A baking stone (optional)
A mixture of ¼ cup extra virgin olive, 2 Tablespoons water and 1 teaspoon salt
A pastry brush

Instructions:
Dissolve the yeast by stirring it into ½ cup lukewarm water, and let sit for about 10 minutes.

Combine the yeast mixture and 1 cup of flour in a bowl, mixing them thoroughly. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salt, ¾ cup water and half the remaining flour. Mix thoroughly until the dough feels soft, but compact, and no longer sticks to the hands. Put in the remaining flour and ¾ cup water, and mix thoroughly again. When putting in flour and water for the last time, hold back some of both and add only as much of either as you need to make the dough manageable, soft, but not too sticky.

Take dough out of the bowl, and slap it down very hard against the work counter several times, until it is stretched out to a lengthwise. Reach for the far end of the dough, fold it a short distance toward you, push it away with the heel of your palm, flexing your wrist, fold it, and push it away again, gradually rolling it up and bringing it close to you. Rotate the dough a one-quarter turn, pick it up and slap it down hard, repeating the entire previous operation. Give it another one-quarter in the same direction and repeat the procedure for about 10 minutes. Pat the kneaded dough into a round shape.

First rise- Smear the middle of the baking sheet with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, put the kneaded, rounded dough on it, cover with a damp cloth, and leave it to rise for about 1 ½ hours.

Second rise- After 1 ½ hours, stretch out the dough in the baking pan, spreading it toward the edges so that it covers the entire pan. Cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 450°. If using a baking stone, put the stone in the oven and preheat for at least 30 minutes before you are ready to bake.

After the second rise, keeping the fingers of your hand stiff, poke the dough all over, making many little hollows with your fingertips. Beat the mixture of oil, water and salt with a small whisk or a fork for a few minutes until you have obtained a fairly homogeneous emulsion. Use a pastry brush to spread the mixture all the way out to the edges of the pan. The liquid will pool in the hollows made by your fingertips.

Place the pan on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Check the focaccia after 15 minutes. If it is cooking faster on one side, rotate the pan accordingly. Bake for another 7-8 minutes until golden brown all over. Lift the focaccia out of the pan using spatulas and set on a wire rack to cool.

The focaccia is best enjoyed the day you make it, but can also be frozen and reheated in a hot over for 10 minutes.

Focaccia dough stretched out to fill a sheet pan.
After the first rise, stretch the dough out to the sides, completely filling the pan.
Focaccia dough after the second rise.
After the second rise…
Dimpled focaccia dough
Dimple the dough using your fingertips.
Brushing the dough with olive oil
Using a pastry brush, gently brush the dough with a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, water, and salt. The oil will puddle in the dimples.
Focaccia squares on a cutting board.
Cut the focaccia into sandwich sized servings, then slice again horizontally through the middle to form top and bottom crusts.

Zucchini Fritters, Tzatziki Sauce, and Carpaccio

Zucchini Fritters make a great appetizer or side dish.

Zucchini Fritters make a great appetizer or side dish.

I love vegetables, especially those I can cook quickly and simply. Shopping with the seasons in mind makes it easy to enjoy their flavors in their truest form… you don’t have to do much to a perfectly ripe, in season tomato, or green beans, or [insert your favorite vegetable of choice].

a typical July pick up at the farm
A typical July pick up at the farm.

Our town is home to a small organic farm and we are fortunate enough to belong to its CSA (Community Supported Agriculture); in the cold dark months of winter we pre-pay our local farm for a season’s worth of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. Here in our part of the world that means I pick up our weekly share beginning in June and go through October. Each pick up day is a little like Christmas morning… what is in my share this week? How much am I going to get? Since June, this season has brought greens of all sorts, lettuces, scallions, scapes, carrots, cabbage, cucumbers, kohlrabi, onions, garlic, beets, fennel, beans, herbs, and berries. With every pick up comes the happy challenge of how to use each of these gifts before next week’s share demands my attention and refrigerator space.

Part of a weekly pick up in July
Part of a weekly pick up in July.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side. Because of the seasonality, the downside is that “you get what you get and you don’t get upset.” Words I’ve often said to my kids and lately, find myself repeating weekly as I pick up an every growing ration of zucchini. It’s the nature of the beast and we are in prime zucchini season. I’m sure you are seeing loads of zucchini too… in your CSA, at the farmer’s market, and at the supermarket.

Zucchini
Zucchini

Despite all my veggie love, zucchini is one that I could do without. It’s my personal kryptonite. I’m not sure why this is… I don’t recall any traumatic childhood dinner table incidents involving zucchini. Maybe it’s because it looks so much like a cucumber- and I love cucumber, so that I’m always disappointed by the false pretense, a poser. Maybe it’s the tendency to quickly turn to mush if left a minute too long on the stove, in a soup, or on the grill.  In any case, I must accept that we are at peak zucchini season. Each passing week larger and larger quantities are appearing in my share, stretching my creativity, pushing me out of my zucchini comfort zone. Rising to the challenge, I’ve found a few ways to prepare this green monster so that I actually enjoy eating it. Zucchini season won’t last forever, by the time I’m ready to wave the white flag, or dishtowel in this case, it’s time will be done, replaced by one of my favorites- tomatoes. In the meanwhile, enjoy these easy and delicious takes on zucchini.

The Zucchini Fritters make excellent appetizers, sides, and stand on their own for lunch (or breakfast- eaten straight from the fridge!).  You’ll find plenty of uses for the accompanying Tzatziki Sauce recipe. In addition to serving it with the fritters, I use it as a topping for meat- think lamb burgers and seafood, especially shrimp; use it as a dip for veggies or pita chips; spread it on naan, add the protein of your choice and some crunchy lettuce to build a delicious wrap.   The Zucchini Carpaccio recipes are incredibly versatile, and take about 5 minutes to get on the table.  I’ve given measurements, but please improvise according to your taste.  There is no right or wrong!  If you love lemon, use more lemon!  Don’t like goat cheese and thyme?  Use feta and oregano!  Play with your food.

Please feel free to share your favorite ways of preparing zucchini. I’m always on the hunt for more tasty ideas.

Zucchini Fritters
Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini Fritters

  • Servings: about 18 fritters
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adapted from Bon Appetit, May 2007

Ingredients:
2 ½ cups coarsely grated zucchini (from about 3 medium)
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
½ cup (or more) all purpose flour
½ cup crumbled feta
1 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
½ cup chopped green onion
1 ½ Tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Tzatziki Sauce (recipe follows)

Preparation:
Toss zucchini in ½ teaspoon salt in a colander, place in the sink allowing the zucchini to “sweat.” Let stand for 5 minutes. Press out excess liquid; transfer zucchini to a dry bowl.

Mix in egg, yolk, ½ cup flour, cheese and remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Mix in parsley, onions, and dill. If batter is very wet, add more flour by the spoonful.

Preheat a cast iron skillet or griddle* over medium high heat. Working in batches, drop batter by rounded tablespoons onto skillet. Cook fritters until golden, about 5 minutes per side.

Serve with tzatziki sauce or plain greek yogurt.

*Because seasoned cast iron is non-stick I didn’t need to use oil. If you are using a regular skillet, you will have to fry the patties in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of corn oil, adding more olive and corn oil as needed.
**Can be made 1 day ahead. Place on baking sheet, cover, and chill. Rewarm uncovered in 350° oven for 12 minutes.

Grated zucchini waiting to be salted.
After grating the zucchini, toss it with 1/2 tsp of salt. Set in a colander and place in the sink to let it “sweat.”
prepped and chopped dill, parsley, and green onion
Dill, parsley, and green onion prepped, chopped, and ready to go.
grated zucchini, flour, egg, egg yolk, and feta
Gently combine the grated zucchini, flour, egg, egg yolk, and feta.
adding the herbs to the zucchini mixture
Add the herbs to the zucchini mixture.
the zucchini batter is ready
After gently incorporating the herbs with the zucchini mixture, the batter is ready.
zucchini fritters cooking on the griddle
Drop batter by rounded tablespoons onto a preheated cast iron skillet or griddle.
zucchini fritters are cooking on the other side
When the fritters are golden on one side, flip them. Cooking time is about 5 minutes per side.
zucchini fritters
Serve the zucchini fritters with dollops of tzatziki or plain greek yogurt.

Tzatziki Sauce

  • Servings: approximately 1 cup
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This sauce is a delicious multitasker. Serve it as a dip for vegetables, pita chips or wedges, grilled lamb, and the zucchini fritters.

Ingredients:
8 oz full fat greek yogurt
½ a hot house cucumber, cut lengthwise, seeded, quartered, and finely diced
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:
Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Serve immediately, or let it sit in the fridge to really let the flavors come together.

Yogurt, cucumber, dill, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and salt
Combine the yogurt, cucumber, dill, lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, and salt. It really is that easy!
Tzatziki Sauce with olives and pita wedges
Tzatziki Sauce with olives and pita wedges. Add the zucchini fritters and a glass of rosé … a perfect way to start a summer evening.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Parmesan, Pine Nuts, and Basil

  • Servings: 2
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Ingredients:
½ zucchini, any size
1 Tablespoon toasted pine nuts
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons chopped basil
parmesan shavings
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Using a vegetable peeler, peel zucchini vertically into thin ribbons.

Toss with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.

Top with parmesan curls, toasted pine nuts, and basil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Zucchini ribbons tossed with parmesan, pine nuts, and fresh basil.
Zucchini ribbons tossed with parmesan, pine nuts, and fresh basil.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Goat Cheese and Thyme

  • Servings: 2
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Ingredients:
½ zucchini, any size
2 Tablespoon crumbled goat cheese
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
Using a vegetable peeler, peel zucchini vertically into thin ribbons.

Toss with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil.

Top with crumbled goat cheese and fresh thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Zucchini ribbons tossed with goat cheese and fresh thyme.
Zucchini ribbons tossed with goat cheese and fresh thyme.