Posts Tagged "cheese"

Pasta with Cauliflower and Mascarpone Cheese


This is my go-to pasta when I want something creamy, but I don’t want a heavy cream sauce. It’s versatile and can be done with numerous pasta shapes (I usually use whole wheat) and many different types of veggies. There are two things that make this pasta special: 1) mascarpone cheese and 2) pasta water. Yes, pasta water. You know, the leftover water after you cook your pasta. Most people dump this. Don’t! It’s salty and starchy and helps your sauce adhere to the pasta.

The method:

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 an onion, finely chopped.

Next add 4 small carrots, chopped and half a head of cauliflower, chopped. (Mix it up. Use whichever veggies you have on hand!)

Season with salt and pepper.

Add 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated.

In the meantime, cook the pasta according to the package. Keep it al dante. Don’t dump the pasta water when the pasta is done!

Once the veggies are tender, remove the pan from the heat and add one small container of mascarpone cheese and one small ladle of the hot pasta water.  Stir until the mascarpone has melted down.

Add about 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese.

Add the cooked pasta and stir to combine. Add more pasta water if necessary.

Transfer it to a large pasta bowl, top with fresh parsley, a little more parmesan cheese, and enjoy!



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How to Make a Basic Risotto


Risotto is one of my favorite comfort foods. It’s a cooking method that I think every home cook should know how to do, and once you get the basic method down, you can go crazy and experiment with different ingredients.

The secret to a good risotto is simplicity. I don’t recommend adding more than two or three ingredients (two is really the ideal), and always cook the vegetables/protein first. The only things that should be added into a risotto raw are fresh herbs and perhaps something like lemon zest.

Though there’s an endless combination of vegetables you can use during each season of the year, in this basic recipe I used mushrooms and peas, which I think are a wonderful risotto combination. And any mushrooms will do. I happened to have some shiitake mushrooms on hand from Swainway Urban Farm at the Worthington Farmers’ Market. Shiitake mushrooms certainly aren’t traditional in a risotto, but they tasted wonderful.

And so, the method:

Heat 5-6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock on the stove. The stock must be hot before it can be added to the risotto. Homemade is best, because the stock is the best source of flavor for the rice.

In a heavy bottom pot, heat olive oil or 1 tablespoon of butter. 

Saute your vegetables (in my case, my mushrooms.) Remove from the pot once cooked.

Add more olive oil or another couple tablespoons of butter to the same pot, add 1 small onion, finely chopped. Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft. 

Add 2 cups of Aborio rice.* Let the rice cook for a minute or two.

Add 1 cup of white wine. Cook and stir the rice until all of the wine is absorbed.

Now comes the time for the stock. Add about two small ladles of the hot stock at a time. It should be just enough stock to cover the rice. Cook and stir, constantly, until all of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this step until all or most of the stock has been used and the rice is cooked. It takes about 30-40 minutes.

Once the rice is done, add 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese and any cooked vegetables or herbs that you are using. (In my case, my mushooms and frozen peas, defrosted). Add a little more stock, if needed. Taste and add salt and pepper, if necessary. When serving, I like to add a little more parmesan cheese on top and a few grinds of black pepper.

And that’s it. Once you get the basic method down, you can experiment and create endless meals with each season’s produce.

*Aborio rice is the most traditional rice used. For a more nutritious risotto, try using farro. It makes the dish heartier and gives it a much chewier texture. Just note that if you’re using farro, it will take more stock and a slightly longer cooking time.



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Pea Shoots


I’m always on the lookout for new things to try at the farmers’ market. Currently Ohio is between seasons, and there are few, if any, vegetables available at my local markets, so I was really excited to see something green on a farmer’s table. Turns out they were pea shoots. I had never tried them before, but the lady behind me in line said how much she loved them and that even her daughter (who looked to be around 7) liked snacking on them at school. I, of course, had to try them.

So what are pea shoots? They are the soft leaves and tendrils of a pea plant. They taste just like peas, which seems weird at first since they look nothing like a pea. Plus the are nutritious and full of antioxidants. They are wonderful raw, but, as shown in the photo above, I decided to try them in a grilled cheese sandwich. I called it an old fashioned grill cheese sandwich. My mom informed me that an old fashioned grill cheese wouldn’t have goat cheese and pea shoots in it. I suppose she is right, but it was excellent on my homemade rye bread.

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Roasted Red Pepper and Olive Lasagna

I come from an Italian family. When I was growing up, lasagna was made with a large 32 oz (or more) container of ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and sometimes even provolone. Each layer was then covered with a hearty sauce made with ground beef and, more often than not, there was Italian sausage on top. It was rich, heavy, hearty, and delicious.

When I gave up beef, though, I had to find a new lasagna recipe, for giving up lasagna was not an option. Over the past few years I’ve experimented with adding different vegetables to lasagna and have discovered that I love veggie lasagna so much more than the meaty one I grew up with. The beauty of a veggie lasagna is that there are so many possibilities. When you pull beef out of the picture and use whatever vegetables you have on hand instead, lasagna is never boring.

The recipe I show below is, by far, my favorite combination of ingredients. Plus it’s light and full of so much more flavor than the more traditional lasagna. This is more complicated than most of my recipes, simply because there are so many steps. It’s a good day-off recipe, and it’s wonderful to do with kids. I loved helping my mom build lasagna when I was growing up.

Here’s what you need to prepare before you build the lasagna:

A ricotta mixture which is: 

  • A small container of ricotta cheese (about 15 oz). 
  • A couple cups of fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
  • One clove of fresh garlic
  • One egg (this helps bind the mixture, but I sometimes forget to add it and it comes out fine)
  • Fresh basil, if available, or any fresh or dried Italian herbs
  • Salt and Pepper

Roasted bell peppers or any other seasonal vegetable roasted

  • 2 large or 3 small bell peppers roasted in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

My favorite olive mixture

  • I use about 8 oz of kalamata olives (pitted) and about 6 or 7 pepperdews from an antipasto bar. Pulse in a food processor until finely chopped. Make extra. It’s wonderful leftover on bread, pastas and salads. 

Cremini or Baby Bello Mushrooms or a mixture of both

  • I use a couple small containers. I sauté them first with olive oil until they are nice and brown (mushroom tip: don’t add salt and pepper until they start to brown. Also cook them in a large pan and in small batches if you don’t want them to be soggy.) 

A marina sauce of your choice

  • I use my family’s favorite, simple recipe, which I will post at another date. 

You favorite hard Italian cheese

  • For this recipe, I used a combination of Parmesan and Asiago, simply because those were what I had on hand.  

I also use no boil whole wheat lasagna noodles. I know. My Italian great grandmother would have a heart attack if she knew such a thing existed. I didn’t believe they would bake properly at first, either, but it actually works.  I also use a pan that’s around 12×9, but any pan around that size would work.

To build the lasagna:  First, I pour just enough marina sauce along the bottom of the pan to slightly coat it.  Then I add my first single layer of noodles. Now it’s time for the first layer. I do:

  • one layer of the ricotta mixture
  • all of the roasted peppers
  • a few large ladles of sauce, to slightly coat

I don’t have a photo of this layer. Granted, I took a photo, but only after I started the next layer did I realize that I didn’t have a memory card in my camera. Did Ansel Adams ever forget to put film in his camera? I do hope so.

Next layer:

  • top the previous layer with a single layer of noodles 
  • one layer of the ricotta cheese mixture
  • spread the olive mixture on top of the cheese
  • add a few ladles of sauce, to slightly coat

olive layer-5


Next layer:

  • Another layer of noodles
  • ricotta cheese (if any left)
  • marina sauce
  • all of the mushrooms
  • sprinkle your choice of cheese on top


Now top it with the rest of the noodles (one layer), pour lots of marina sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese.



Cover it and bake in a 350 degree over for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

Finished product:



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