This is an awesome lasagna. I’m not kidding, it’s really, really good. Unless you don’t like mushrooms, of course, in which case I can’t help you. This is all about the mushrooms. And the cheese.
I got the idea for this lasagna from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, but I embellished it a bit with extra cheese and a generous amount of sausage, because I tend to feel that sausage makes everything better. One technique of hers that I think is really key here is adding the porcini soaking liquid to the bechamel. It gives the creamy sauce an earthy perfume that I find irresistible.
One of the real perks of living in Ellensburg, as we did many years ago, was proximity to the town of Cle Elum, home of Glondo’s Sausages. Recently recovered from a serious bout of vegetarianism, we were ready to take advantage of Glondo’s wonderful products, and this recipe is what we invariably made when we were feeling festive. Now that we’re an inconvenient 140 miles from Glondo’s, we have to make do with the sausages from our local grocery, but the pasta is still very tasty.
My original plan for Halloween dinner was to try a recipe for sweet potato gnocchi from the penultimate issue of Gourmet (sigh), but the little sugar pie pumpkin that I bought at Gordon’s was looking at me reproachfully. Right. I put off the gnocchi in favor of a sort-of repeat of last year’s pumpkin ravioli. Why did I think it would be less painful this time?
Unlike my husband, I did not grow up with kugel. I may have heard of it, but I can’t even swear to that. I finally tasted it at a gathering in Kansas City sometime after I married into the family, but wasn’t quite sure what I thought. For him, though, it’s a major flavor from his childhood – one of those atavistic pleasures.
For those not in the know, a kugel is a traditional Jewish dish. Baked casserole-style, it’s a carb- and fat-bomb usually made from egg noodles, cottage cheese, butter and sugar, with any number of additional ingredients, including but certainly not limited to: sultanas, cherry pie filling, apple pie filling, corn flakes, apricots, nuts, carrots, pineapple…you name it. Despite being quite sweet in most of its incarnations, it’s often served as a side dish with meat. The sweet-savory blend is reminiscent of old Middle Ages recipes, and it’s surprisingly addictive.
I recently made kugel myself for the very first time, and the first thing I did was consult the family recipe books. Jon’s mother used to make kugel, but we didn’t have her recipe. We did have Jon’s grandmother’s recipe, which inexplicably leaves out the noodles (her brisket recipe leaves out the brisket, so go figure). There was also a “chiffon” kugel recipe that used beaten egg whites to lighten the custard. In the end, I committed familial heresy and used a recipe from the food blog Smitten Kitchen. I did, however, cut it in half to avoid eating kugel for a solid month. And I left out any and all fruit that might have tried to creep in.
One of my personal rituals is to always, always make macaroni and cheese for myself on my birthday. It’s never quite the same from year to year, though: last year I used multi-colored vegetable shell noodles and a creamy sharp cheddar sauce. This year I decided to try a new approach, inspired by a recipe on Food52, posted by my friend Jen of the blog Last Night’s Dinner (featured in this week’s New York Times dining section, check it out!). Her original recipe is here; I failed to follow it exactly (surprise!) but I think I managed to capture the spirit of the dish.
This recipe differs from my usual approach in several ways: it uses several different kinds of cheese, it has herbs, mustard powder and hot sauce for added flavor, and it’s baked with a breadcrumb topping. Much to my surprise, it was quite possibly the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life. Instead of the hard cheese crust I’ve come to associate with baked macaroni and cheese, this had a delicate buttery crunch giving way to creamy, rich noodles.
After a trip to the farmer’s market our first morning home, we found ourselves in possession of some fine beet greens and a bag of shiitake mushrooms. I thought of one of our regular “light” meals, buckwheat soba stirfried with beet greens, and reinvented it as a cold noodle salad with baked tofu. It worked so well, I might even like it better than the hot version. And it’s a perfect dish for this ridiculously hot weather we’re having right now, especially if you do all the cooking early in the day.
In the morning, I boiled the soba and tossed it with some soy sauce and plenty of rice vinegar, then put the noodles in the fridge to chill. Jon sliced up a block of firm tofu and got it marinating in a mixture of soy sauce and sesame oil. Later in the day he spread the tofu out on a sheet and baked it at 300° for about an hour and a half, turning the pieces once, until it gained a leathery texture with a slightly crisp edge (one of the easiest and best ways to cook tofu, in my opinion). He also stirfried the mushrooms and greens with some ginger, then let everything chill.
Shortly before dinnertime, we combined the noodles and vegetables, added a bunch of chopped scallion, sprinkled the tofu on top, and dripped a little sambal oelek over it all. It was earthy and spicy, but still deeply refreshing, and just what we wanted. Leftovers kept well for several days.
Perhaps you remember the lamb pizza I posted about way back when? How good it is when you’ve rolled it up with a mint leaf and dipped it in a bowl of garlic-laced yogurt? This dish is just like that, only on noodles. Oh my god it was so good. Heading straight into the repertoire, this one is.
I found this recipe in the book Olives and Oranges, which is a wildly attractive cookbook and full of the kinds of things I like best to eat. The recipe is really straightforward and simple, and takes hardly any time to prepare – about as long as it takes the pasta water to boil. The resulting pasta is a thick tangle of noodles drenched in tart yogurt sauce, studded with lamb and pine nuts and the occasional spark of hot chile or raw garlic.
This would be great with a tossed green salad or cooked greens, but we ate it with cold grilled eggpant and it was beyond sublime. Add a bottle of good red wine and you, like us, will be happy.
This was, in fact, an incredibly simple dinner based on an inexplicable, but very precise, craving I had for whole wheat noodles with cheese and greens. It ended up consisting of an entire head of curly kale, a quantity of ricotta cheese, and a package of loose hot Italian sausage.
I cooked the sausage and the kale together until the greens were very soft, then added the cheese, mooshed it all up together with some pasta cooking water and tossed it with Barilla whole grain rotini. It was quite excellent, very earthy and comforting. Also very filling.
I would definitely make this again, but I’d also like to try it more like my original idea, which was going to have bits of stinky cheese instead of the ricotta, no meat, and possibly a sprinkle of pine nuts.
What would you add to whole wheat pasta with greens?
Now here’s some real food: pasta tossed with anchovies, garlic, hot red pepper and breadcrumbs. Man, this stuff is good. I got the idea from one of John Thorne’s old newsletters that’s been floating around the kitchen. I suppose you might not like it if you don’t like anchovies, but why would you not like anchovies? Honestly.
This would, of course, be good with any number of variations, including adding cheese, but the breadcrumbs really do a great job of standing in for grated hard cheese, adding a charming nutty crunch. We ate the pasta with a few tender lamb rib chops, just salted and seared, and a bit of fresh spinach tossed in a hot wok. Leftovers reheated quite splendidly, tossed in a nonstick skillet, with an egg fried alongside. Yum. Continue reading
I’m feeling somewhat at a loss for what to post about. What have we been eating, anyway? Lentil soup, a roast chicken, lamb pizza, a hamburger down at the pub, and a very odd evening at the new Japanese place (how many birthday parties were going on in there, anyway?) where I forgot to take any pictures. Hmph.
In the absence of anything more exciting, let me tell you about this bowl of noodles I put together for myself a couple of weeks ago. I had a rare day at home alone, and no leftovers in the house to eat, so I made do: buckwheat noodles, boiled just to al dente, a perfectly soft boiled egg, a handful of grated carrot, and a heaping spoonful of chile-black bean sauce stirred into a small pan of chicken stock, all piled together into a bowl and slurped up hot.
This sort of thing doesn’t feel like cooking to me, it’s just combining whatever’s lying around. But cooking or not, it was so good, I’d like to eat it again. Now, please.