Spaghetti squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

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It’s been a looong time readers!  I apologize for my absence, but life gets in the way sometimes.   Over in our household, things have changed radically!  In November our little girl was born, and you know what newborns mean!  Amazement, happiness, wonder, lack of sleep and no time.  Yet, I have to say that we are lucky, she sleeps through the night already and is a pretty easy baby, so that has freed up some time for me to be able to cook again.  Granted, not much time, but on weekends I get to make nice comfort food because the hubby and my eldest daughter are around to give me a hand.

Since the birth of our little one, I have started to eat more vegetables, in preparation for starting her off on the right foot.  What I didn’t expect, is how much better I feel, and how heavy and bloated I get when I eat meat.  Now, don´t get me wrong, I looove meat, but I think I am going to do weekday vegetarianism and save the meat for the weekends!

Just recently I started seeing spaghetti squash at the market, and its been two weeks in a row that I cook it at home.  This recipe was inspired by a Jamie Oliver show I saw last week, but he used butternut squash instead.  This recipe is mine, because I know he didn’t use any béchamel and his was a sort of rotolo, like a rolled up pasta.  I don´t get to watch too much tv now and when I do, I usually don’t get to see the whole program!

I wasn’t sure about this combination of veggies, but it works marvelously and is going to be a repeat offender in our house!  My daughter who only ate spinach in spanakopita, now loves this dish and bonus she gets squash and  spinach!  This is a sunday type meal, since it does take a little bit of extra time to make it.  But please, do try it, I guarantee you will not miss the meat and will keep this recipe to use again and again!

Spaghetti Squash, Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Serves 8

12 sheets precooked lasagna sheets

1 recipe garlic spinach (below)

1 small spaghetti squash, roasted and seeded, peeled and mashed

1 recipe tomato sauce (below)

1 recipe béchamel (below)

1 small tub of ricotta cheese

1 mozzarella, chopped

2 tbsp grated Parmigiano Reggiano

To make the lasagna, preheat your oven to 190C (375F).  In a large bowl, mix the squash, spinach and ricotta, try it to see if it needs any more salt or pepper. In a baking dish, spoon some of your tomato sauce on the bottom so the pasta sheets won’t stick.  Then lay 3 lasagna sheets down, and top each with a large spoonful of the squash mixture, a little bit of the mozzarella, béchamel sauce, and then some tomato sauce.  Repeat 3 times until you get to your last layer, which you only top with the remaining béchamel, tomato, mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.  Take off the aluminum foil, raise the heat to 200C (400F) and cook for another 10 minutes.  Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving (or you WILL burn your tongue off!)

For the garlic spinach recipe:

300 g frozen baby spinach

1 tbsp of olive oil

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

water, to defrost spinach

In a large sauté pan, add the frozen spinach, garlic, oil and water (just enough to cover the spinach, like half a cup).  Over medium high heat, cook the spinach until it defrosts and the water has evaporated.  Add salt and pepper and then place in a fine mesh colander to strain the cooking water out of the spinach.  Place in a large bowl to cool, set aside.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce…

Tomato Sauce recipe:

2 400g tins of pureed tomatoes

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 dried red chili pepper

1/4 tsp of oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp of olive oil

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, garlic, chili, and oregano.  Heat until the garlic is fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, 3/4 of the can full of water, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 20 minutes.  Meanwhile make the béchamel sauce….

Béchamel Recipe:

4 tbsp unsalted butter

4 tbsp flour

3 cups cold milk

dash of white pepper

dash of freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp salt

In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium low heat, add the butter and melt.  When foamy, add the flour and whisk until completely incorporated and let cook for about 4 minutes, whisking constantly.  In a constant drizzle add the cold milk and keep whisking until added.  Continue to cook, whisking to make sure you have no lumps until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.  Take off heat and add the pepper, nutmeg and salt.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

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Spinach and Four Cheese Baked Pasta

Spinach and 4 cheese pasta

 

The only way I can get my daughter to eat spinach is to pair it with cheese.  So, I did.  Pasta al Forno, or Baked Pasta, I guess could be considered the great granddaddy of Mac & Cheese.  My family adores Pasta al Forno, so whenever I can, I try to come up with interesting variations.  One of the most important parts of this recipe is making a great béchamel.  Bechamel is silky and creamy, if done properly.  The only thing it requires, is time, a good amount of stirring and a proper roux.

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Making a roux is easy, ruining it is even easier.  This part of the process requires you to be completely aware and not leave it for a second, because it can and will burn!  The key is cooking it over very low heat, and stirring constantly.  Another tip, is to always slowly stream COLD milk (or cream, if you’re feeling really sinful) into the roux, while stirring vigorously.

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Your béchamel should be perfect in about 10 – 15 minutes.  When it’s done, take off the heat, and add the salt, pepper and all the cheese you want!

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I used a mix of Gruyère, Ricotta Salata, Emmenthal (a.k.a. Swiss Cheese) and Old Amsterdam, which has a slightly nutty flavor, similar to a mild cheddar.

Whatever combination, I am sure this will be a winner at dinner!

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So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6 approx.

1 lb pasta, I used gnocchetti

200 g frozen spinach, boiled and drained

4 tbsp butter

4 tbsp all-purpose flour

3 cups cold milk

1 cup cold heavy cream

4 cups mixed, grated cheese

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

1 cup bread crumbs plus 1 tbsp butter, melted

Boil pasta according to package directions, draining one minute before the time on package.  Set aside.  In a heavy stockpot over very low heat, melt the butter until foamy.  Add the flour and whisk.  Cook over low heat for about 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly.  Slowly pour in your cold milk (or milk and cream), whisking all the time to make sure there are no lumps. Now switch to a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring all the time, until thickened.  Take off the heat and add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and the cheeses.

Add the spinach and pasta to the cheese sauce, mix well.  Preheat the oven to 180 C.  Add the pasta to a large baking dish, set aside.

In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the butter until thoroughly combined.  Sprinkle on top of the pasta evenly.

Place the pasta in the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and the breadcrumbs are nice and golden.  Take out of the oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

Seared Scallops with Cilantro Chutney

Scallops and Cilantro Chutney

The first weekend we were in Florida, we drove up to Sanibel Island to visit my aunt and uncle who live in Ft. Myers.  They have a wonderful friend who rented out her beautiful house to us for 4 incredible days.  It was absolute heaven.  Sanibel is a small island off the coast of Florida, and it’s main draws are shelling on its pristine beaches, biking, swimming……RELAXING.

Shelling beach, Sanibel Island

Check out the amount of shells!

It was wonderful.  We spent most of our days doing Dolce far Niente, which in Italian means the sweet art of doing nothing.  The house was perfect, 4 bedrooms, large living room, but the best part was the large screened in patio, where we ate ALL of our meals.  Everyday we came up with delicious food that we all enjoyed making together, family style.  It was pure heaven I assure you.

One of those days, my mother made a specific request that she wanted lobster tails.  But the ones that we were able to purchase were quite small, so we got the lobster, but I also decided on Scallops, which is something I hardly ever get to make in Spain.  And the best part was being able to prepare it with the wonderful ingredients that are native to South Florida, and some little cheats that my family had brought over, such as this amazing cilantro chutney.

This dish has an overall ease that is hard to beat.  Scallops cook quite quickly and are delicious on their own.  With the addition of the cilantro chutney, well it was just sublime!  I placed it over some julienned zucchini, just because we had that on hand, and over a bed of spinach, so we could get some heart healthy vitamins in!

Made in a flash, and eaten almost faster, it’s a dish you will love, I promise!

Seared Scallops with Cilantro Chutney

Serves 5

1 lb medium scallops

1 lime, juiced

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp butter

Salt and Pepper to Taste

1 small container of store-bought cilantro chutney

1 zucchini, julienned

1 garlic clove, minced

1 bunch of fresh spinach leaves, washed and stemmed

On a small plate, place the spinach leaves and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, and decorate the plate with a few drops of the cilantro chutney if you want.  If you don’t, just plop it on top of the spinach and you’re good to go!

In a small frying pan, add a teeny drizzle of olive oil, and heat to high.  Add the julienned zucchini, garlic and sauté until just tender, about 5 minutes.  Keep warm.

In a large frying pan, add 2 tbsp of olive oil and tsp of butter.  Heat on high until smoking.  When you make scallops, the pan has to be extremely hot, if not they won’t sear and they’ll let out this gummy liquid that isn’t pleasant.  When the pan is super hot, add your scallops, and sauté on one side for about 1 minute, then turn to sear on the other side, one more minute.  Add the lime juice, salt and pepper, and sauté another minute or so.

On your plate, place a small bit of the warm zucchini, and top with 4 or 5 of the scallops.  Drizzle a little of the cilantro chutney.

Your taste buds will thank you!

From my (Sanibel) kitchen to yours,

Carla

Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin stuffed with Spinach, Mushrooms and Ricotta

When I was in college, I remember we had a friend over for dinner, well actually, he made dinner.  He said he was a professional chef, and he made something similar to this.  I remember thinking it was one of the most sophisticated things anyone my age had ever made for me.  And back then, I thought it was so complicated!  I was very, very impressed.  So, recently I purchased this gorgeous piece of pork loin that comes from Spanish Black Pigs, which apparently are juicier and tastier than their pink counterparts.
It definitely didn’t disappoint.  I decided to use some of my beautiful rosemary growing on my little balcony, and to stuff it with portobello mushrooms, spinach and ricotta.  It was divine, and super moist and delicious.  Easy too!

The hardest part is butterflying the loin, but I will add a link with detailed instructions!

So here’s what you’re going to need:

Serves 6

1 kg pork loin

3 sprigs of Rosemary

3 tbsp butter, softened

3 tbsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, sliced

400 g frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and strained of all the water

100 g portobello mushrooms, finely diced

1 small package of ricotta cheese

Salt and Pepper to Taste

Preheat the oven to 190 C.  Meanwhile, in a large sauté pan, add the olive oil and the garlic, cook over medium heat until fragrant.  Add the spinach and mushrooms and raise the heat and cook until the mushrooms are softened, about 5 minutes.  Take off heat and mix with the ricotta, salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Now, butterfly your pork loin.  You can see the technique here.    Salt and pepper the loin, and spread a thin layer of the spinach mixture.  Don’t worry if you have left over, you can keep this in the fridge and re-use it for empanadas, lasagna, cannelloni etc.

Now tie your loin, and place in a baking dish fatty side up.  Rub generously with the butter, sprinkle on the salt, pepper and the rosemary.  Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 145 F.  It will continue to cook when you take it out of the oven, so it will reach 150 F.

Let rest 15 minutes before slicing.  Enjoy!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla

 

 

Tunisian Egg Brik with Sauteed Spinach, Mushrooms and Tomatoes

I was in Tunisia many, many moons ago.  I don’t remember much of Tunisian food, since I was staying with a Korean American family.  Actually, on that trip I learned how to make some amazing scrambled eggs from my friend Alexi Weden’s dad, and her gorgeous mother made me a Kimchee addict.  I remember seeing lots of goat carcasses hanging from hooks in the butcher stands on the side of the road, and one memorable dinner at Chez Nous, in Tunis.  I know for sure I did not have a brik, of any kind.

If you are not familiar with Brik, it kind of looks like a crepe, but it is crispier and lends itself to frying and baking quite easily.  The proper term for it is Malsouqa, but Brik is the tunisian derivative of the Turkish word Borek, which is basically a savory stuffed pastry.  Whichever way you decide to call it, it’s delicious.

A few nights ago at work, we did a dish using Brik pastry.  So, I thought, I have never, ever had Brik with egg.  And you know how I feel about eggs now.  So, I marched myself to the store and got a package of Brik, and today for lunch, made Brik a L’oeuf.  It is really really simple to make, and you can use whatever fillings you want.  I wanted a filling reminiscent of my Turkish/Egyptian/Syrian background, so I chose spinach and then a couple of spices that I brought back from Turkey on my last visit.  I looooooved my brik.  I think it will absolutely be a hit at the next dinner party, and with the spinach, mushrooms and fresh tomato, it gives you a vitamin packed punch, too.

So here is what you’re going to need for one person:

1 sheet of Brik pastry

1 egg, plus one egg yolk (if you don’t want a lot of yolk, just use one egg)

Egg white from one egg, lightly beaten

1 cup fresh spinach, chopped

2 cremini mushrooms, halved and sliced

1/4 tomato, chopped

1 shallot, sliced

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tbsp olive oil, plus 1/4 cup for frying

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp aleppo pepper

1 tsp sumac

salt and pepper to taste

squeeze of lemon juice

In a medium saute pan over medium, add your 2 tbsp of olive oil.  Saute for 5 minutes, raise heat to high, and add your mushrooms.  Don’t worry if your shallot starts to brown.  Saute for about 5 minutes, or until your mushrooms are golden brown, then add your spinach and saute until wilted.  If you need to add a little bit more olive oil, by all means do.  Take off heat and add your spices, salt, pepper and squeeze of lemon.  Place into a bowl and let cool slightly.  In the meantime, in a large skillet, pour in your 1/4 cup oil and start heating it up over medium high heat.

Take your sheet of Brik and place on a clean work surface.

Place your spinach mixture in the center, spreading it out a little and make a well in the center for your egg.

Now add your whole egg plus the egg yolk.

Now start folding up the sides, and brush each side with your beaten egg yolk and press to seal.

Once it is all folded up and sealed, your oil should be hot enough.  Carefully lift with a wide spatula and place in the hot oil, and fry for about 3 minutes.

With another spatula, carefully flip it over, and fry on the other side, for another 3 minutes.  If you want your eggs less runny, then fry for 5 minutes, and so on and so forth.  When it is done, place on a plate with paper towels to soak up the excess oil.  Serve immediately.  Oh!  Don’t forget your bread to sop up all that delicious yolk.

Bon Appetit!

From my kitchen to yours,

Carla