Posts Tagged ‘cheese’

Cooler fall weather always gets us craving for comfort foods, and this is one we discovered on a trip to Spain in 2014. Croquettes are the Spanish equivalent of chicken nuggets: they’re found on every kids’ menu…and my daughter ordered them just about everywhere we went! So it’s no surprise that I “got the order” to make a batch of croquettes this weekend!

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I found a great recipe for croquettes in Saveur magazine, and decided to try it out. I was a bit clumsy at making them at first–they do need a bit of finesse–but by the end of the batch, I got the hang of it. And to make them gluten-free, I simply substituted GF flour and breadcrumbs for the all-purpose flour and Panko.

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2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz. ham, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour like Cup4Cup)
2 eggs
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free breadcrumbs)
avocado oil for frying

 

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Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1″ cubes and boil them in salted water until tender. Drain and set them aside.

Melt the butter in the same pot the potatoes were in, then add the onions and saute until translucent. Put the potatoes back in the pot and add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth. Add more cream, if needed, but be careful not to make it mushy.

Add the cheese and mix until it has melted in. Add the ham and mix again. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the contents of the pot into a metal bowl and place it in the freezer to cool, stirring every 10 minutes until the mashed potato mix is cold, but not frozen.

Line up three bowls: flour (or GF flour) in the first bowl, eggs (scrambled) in the second bowl, Panko (or GF breadcrumbs) in the third.

Remove the mashed potato mix from the freezer, and with floured hands, grab enough to gently roll a small meatball in your hands. (I’ve found that starting with a round shape makes it easier to work with.)

Roll the ball in the flour, then the egg, then drop in the Panko and roll again. With the ball in your hand, gently squeeze into a tubular shape, and then place it on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Continue with the rest of the potato mixture. (You may need to add another egg or two if you run out.)

Once you’ve rolled all the croquettes, place the sheet pan in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up.

Heat a pan with 2″ of oil to 350 degrees. Remove the croquettes from the freezer, and working in small batches, fry them until golden brown. Place on paper towels, and quickly season lightly with salt while hot, if desired.

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The croquettes freeze really well, so this batch goes a long way. Once they’ve been fried, let them cool completely to room temp. Place them in Ziploc freezer bags and store in the freezer. When it’s time to cook them, let them thaw for about 15 minutes, then place in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for another 15 minutes.

 

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It’s National Pizza Day and National Bagel Day. But since I don’t have a pizza bagel recipe–yet–I’ll stick with pizza.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written an earlier blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Whole Foods has fresh mozarella from Maplebrook Farms in Vermont, and it is excellent.

The toppings…

A matter of choice. I wrote a while ago about how I make my own guanciale, a cured meat that comes from pork cheeks. Chopped and fried, that is one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings.

But my signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year-long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

Recently, I’ve also started cooking pizzas on my barbecue grill (using a special stone for the grill) to add a smoky component. The grill gets hotter than my home oven, which is great, but it’s obviously a more work to set-up and clean.

 

My favorite pizza?

There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, it’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s a small, rustic pizza margherita using mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is the fact that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in deep fryer with olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on and quickly bake it in a very hot oven. The result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had. If you’re in New York, go to Pizzarte on W. 55th. Great montanara and other Italian dishes.

I’ve actually had some great success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing this giant piece of dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So, yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be.

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The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or at Amazon. It makes a crustier and more flavorful dough. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

3 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon dry yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

Combine the flour, salt and yeast dry in the bowl of a stand mixer. Fill a Pyrex container to the 1-cup mark with cold, clean water and then nuke it on high in the microwave for 20 seconds. Turn the mixer on, and slowly add the water to the dry ingredients as it mixes. You might need to add a little more water, but you want the dough to pull from the side of the bowl cleanly. If it’s mushy, just add a little flour to the mix. After the ingredients are well mixed, remove it to a floured board, and knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball. Squirt a little olive oil into a stainless steel or glass bowl, and drop the dough ball into it, coating it with the oil on all sides. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place for at least 3 hours. When the dough gets light and puffy, punch it down, re-roll it into a ball, and drop it back into the bowl and cover with plastic to let it rise at least another 2 hours.

The sauce…

For me, San Marzano tomatoes make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so full of rich natural flavor, so all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo), but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Fresh mozzarella from local sources (like Maplebrook Farms in Vermont in our area) is a good way to go.

The toppings…

A matter of choice. I cure my own guanciale, a delicacy that comes from pork jowls, or cheeks. Chopped and fried, it’s one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings. But prosciutto, pancetta, bacon, or sausages are all great choices, too.

My signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is a marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven. It’s really important to let it heat up thoroughly before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking, so I’ll let it heat for at least 30 minutes.

Because I don’t have a really hot oven, my pizza needs to be cooked in 2 stages. First, I sprinkle a little semolina flour on the pizza peel to keep things from sticking. I stretch my pizza dough out (tossing in the air is optional!) and lay it on the peel. I spoon out my tomato sauce and spread it evenly on the dough, leaving the outside edges clean to form a crust. I slide the pizza into the oven and let it cook for a few minutes.

After a few minutes, I pull the pizza out of the oven and add my toppings: more sauce (if desired), cheese, meats, veggies, etc, topping it all off with a sprinkling of dried oregano. Back into the oven it goes for stage 2, cooking until the cheese has melted and the crust is a crispy golden brown.

I also cook pizzas on my barbecue grill, using a special stone made specifically for open flames. (A regular pizza stone would crack on the grill.) the grill. The hardwood fire adds great flavor, but it’s a lot more work to set up and clean up after.

 

My favorite pizza away from home

There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, the best I’ve ever had is at PizzArte on West 55th Street. (www.pizzarteny.com) Pizza montanara is a small, rustic pizza margherita using smoked mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on it and quickly bake it in a very hot wood oven. The result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had. (I always ask them to use non-smoked mozzarella. I think it tastes better.)

I’ve actually had some success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing this giant piece of dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!

Yesterday was National Cheeseburger Day!

My inside-out burger is not a very complex idea. I just put the stuff that’s usually on the outside, on the inside of my burgers. Why? Why not?

Instead of dealing with a package of bacon and a package of cheese and a stack of burgers, I’ve got all the ingredients conveniently inside the patties. And as the burgers cook, the fat from the bacon and the gooey cheese melt and combine with the burger meat to make a really tasty and moist burger.

I cook these on the grill, but the cast-iron skillet method, described below, works really well,  too.

I make 2 lbs. of burgers at a time, using humanely-raised local grass-fed beef, from my friends at Simmons Organic Farm in Middletown, RI.  Support your local farmers when you can!

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2 lbs. ground grass-fed beef
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and crumbled
garlic salt
avocado oil or pork fat

 

In a bowl, combine the beef, the cheese and the bacon, mixing well so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Form the beef into 1/4 lb. patties or larger. Refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook to firm them up.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add a drop of oil or pork fat. Place the burgers in the hot skillet to sear and sprinkle with the garlic salt. When browned, flip the burgers and place the skillet in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking.

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I came up with this crunchy tasty appetizer a few years ago, when I needed a tasty bite for one of our famous summer parties. I wanted something fresh that highlighted the veggies of the season, so when I spotted these baby bell peppers in the supermarket, I came up with this tasty, crunchy appetizer. I get requests for the recipe every year. (I  grow my own baby bell peppers, but when we’re talking about feeding a large party, it’s time to go to the supermarket! )

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Baby bell peppers
6 ears fresh corn, removed from the cob…or organic frozen corn
1/2 Vidalia onion, peeled, quartered, grilled, chopped
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot)
6 oz. feta cheese or Queso Fresco, crumbled
Juice of 1 lime
Pinch of white pepper
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

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Cut corn from ears, and saute very briefly in a little olive oil. Place in a bowl and let cool.

Peel and quarter the Vidalia onion, and throw it on a hot grill with a little olive oil to get some nice grill marks on it, leaving the onion still crispy, not soft. If indoors, throw the quartered onion in a hot pan with a little olive oil, and cook until you get some brown marks on it. Remove, let cool, then place in a food processor and pulse until the onion is chopped into small bits, just smaller than the corn kernels. Add onions to corn.

In a separate small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and Frank’s Red Hot. Pour in the crumbled cheese and mix well. Pour this into the corn and onion bowl and mix well.

Add the lime juice, white pepper and parsley to the bowl and mix well again.

Cut the baby bell peppers in half lengthwise, and remove the seeds and membrane. Stuff the peppers with the corn mixture and garnish with cilantro or parsley.

 

If you’r preparing this ahead of time, refrigerate the stuffed peppers until you’re ready to eat, but allow some time for them to warm up to a cool, not cold temperature.

 

Not a very complex idea. I just put the stuff that’s usually on the outside, on the inside of my burgers. Why? Why not?

Instead of dealing with a package of bacon and a package of cheese and a stack of burgers, I’ve got all the ingredients conveniently inside the patties. And as the burgers cook, the fat from the bacon and the gooey cheese melt and combine with the burger meat to make a really tasty and moist burger.

I cook these on the grill, but the cast-iron skillet method, described below, works really well,  too.

I make 2 lbs. of burgers at a time, using humanely-raised local grass-fed beef, from my friends at Simmons Organic Farm in Middletown, RI.  Support your local farmers when you can!

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2 lbs. ground grass-fed beef
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 lb. bacon, cooked crisp, cooled and crumbled
garlic salt
avocado oil or pork fat

 

In a bowl, combine the beef, the cheese and the bacon, mixing well so that all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.

Form the beef into 1/4 lb. patties or larger. Refrigerate them until you’re ready to cook to firm them up.

Heat a cast iron skillet and add a drop of oil or pork fat. Place the burgers in the hot skillet to sear and sprinkle with the garlic salt. When browned, flip the burgers and place the skillet in a 350-degree oven to finish cooking.

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On our trip to Spain in 2014, croquettes were served in just about every restaurant we went to. My daughter fell in love with them, and they became the “chicken nugget” of our trip: the go-to kid food we knew we’d always rely on.

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Once we got home, I could only find them on-line, not in stores. And since they ship frozen, it required a large purchase.

Luckily, I found a great recipe in Saveur magazine, and decided to try it out. I was a bit clumsy at making them at first–they do need a bit of finesse–but by the end of the batch, I got the hang of it. And to make them gluten-free, I simply substituted GF flour and breadcrumbs for the all-purpose flour and Panko.

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2 lbs. potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
6 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
6 oz. ham, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour like Cup4Cup)
2 eggs
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs (or gluten-free breadcrumbs)
avocado oil for frying

 

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Peel the potatoes, cut them into 1″ cubes and boil them in salted water until tender. Drain and set them aside.

Melt the butter in the same pot the potatoes were in, then add the onions and saute until translucent. Put the potatoes back in the pot and add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until smooth. Add more cream, if needed.

Add the cheese and mix until it has melted in. Add the ham and mix again. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour the contents of the pot into a metal bowl and place in the freezer to cool, stirring every 10 minutes until the mashed potato mix is cold, but not frozen.

Line up three bowls: flour (or GF flour) in the first bowl, eggs (scrambled) in the second bowl, Panko (or GF breadcrumbs) in the third.

Remove the mashed potato mix from the freezer, and with floured hands, grab enough to gently roll a small meatball in your hands. (I’ve found that starting with a round shape makes it easier to work with.)

Roll the ball in the flour, then the egg, then drop in the Panko and roll again. With the ball in your hand, gently squeeze into a tubular shape, and then place it on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Continue with the rest of the potato mixture. (You may need to add another egg or two if you run out.)

Once you’ve rolled all the croquettes, place them back in the freezer for 20 minutes to firm up. (I use a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil.)

Heat a pan with 2″ of oil to 350 degrees. Remove the croquettes from the freezer, and working in small batches, fry them until golden brown. Place on paper towels, and quickly season lightly with salt while hot, if desired.

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The croquettes freeze really well, so this batch goes a long way. Once they’ve been fried, let them cool completely to room temp. Place them in Ziploc freezer bags and store in the freezer. When it’s time to cook them, let them thaw for about 15 minutes, then place in a pre-heated 325 degree oven for another 15 minutes.

 

It’s National Pizza Day and National Bagel Day. But since I don’t have a pizza bagel recipe–yet–I’ll stick with pizza.

There are few foods that people take as personally as pizza. Tell someone that your pizza place is better than their pizza place, and chances are you’ll start a fight. Well, my pizza place is better than your pizza place, because I make it at home. Besides, I can run faster than you.

I’m not going to say that much of the pizza that I’ve tried here in Rhode Island is mediocre, but I will say that I was born in Brooklyn and grew up working in many New York pizza places in my youth. So yes, I do have a very strong opinion on what I think makes a good or bad pizza. And, alas, I’ve tried, but a good gluten-free pizza is not yet within reach. The frozen ones you get in stores are passable, but making one at home has been nothing short of a disaster.

My homemade pizza is all about the basics. The better quality my original ingredients are, the better my pizza will be:

 

The dough…

The key ingredient is 00 flour, and it can be found in specialty stores,  or online. Ratios for this recipe depend on the humidity in my kitchen on any given day, but my basic pizza dough recipe is as follows:

4–5 cups 00 flour
1 cup tepid water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 packet Italian pizza yeast
a squirt of extra virgin olive oil

I mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer, then slowly add the water as it mixes. After the ingredients are well mixed, and the dough pulls from the side of the bowl, I remove it to a floured board, where I knead the dough by hand for another 5 minutes, until it is smooth and elastic, shaping it into a ball. I rub a little olive oil over the ball of dough, place it in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, and let it rise for 2 hours, punching it down after that, and letting it rise another 2 hours again.

The sauce…

I’ve written a previous blog about real and fake cans of San Marzano tomatoes. I feel that San Marzanos make the best sauce, but not all cans of San Marzanos are created equal. The only way you can be guaranteed you have a real can of these beauties, grown in volcanic Italian soil in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius, is by the D.O.P. designation on the can. (D.O.P. stands for “Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,” and signifies that it’s the real deal.) Anything else that says San Marzano may not be.

San Marzanos are so amazing, that all I do is puree them in a food processor, pour the sauce into a pan, and let it reduce until it has thickened. No spices or additions of any kind.

The cheese…

I don’t need to go super-fancy with mozzarella di bufala (cheese made from the milk of the water buffalo) …but I don’t use the mass-produced supermarket stuff, either. Whole Foods has fresh mozarella from Maplebrook Farms in Vermont, and it is excellent.

The toppings…

A matter of choice. I wrote a while ago about how I make my own guanciale, a cured meat that comes from pork cheeks. Chopped and fried, that is one of my daughter’s favorite pizza toppings.

But my signature pizza that wows my dinner guests is my marinated beef tenderloin and fried chive blossom pizza. I marinate and grill a piece of beef tenderloin, slicing it thin. And in the springtime, when my chive plants are budding like crazy, I snip the blossoms before they open and place them in Ziploc freezer bags to use all year long. When it’s time, I grab a handful of the blossoms and fry them in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and sprinkle them over the top of the beef tenderloin pizza. A touch of Fleur de Sel on top seals the deal.

My signature marinated beef tenderloin and chive blossom pizza.

The oven…

Many professional pizza ovens reach a temperature of 1000 degrees. My home oven only reaches 500, but it does the trick. I do use a pizza stone, and place it on the center rack of the oven, and let it heat up thoroughly before sliding a pizza onto it for cooking.

Recently, I’ve also started cooking pizzas on my barbecue grill (using a special stone for the grill) to add a smoky component. The grill gets hotter than my home oven, which is great, but it’s obviously a more work to set-up and clean.

 

My favorite pizza?

There are only a few pizzerias that I know of—all in NYC–that make pizza montanara, and for my money, it’s the best I’ve ever had. It’s a small, rustic pizza margherita using mozzarella di bufala and simple tomato sauce, garnished with a basil leaf. What makes it magical is the fact that after they stretch the dough–but before they put the toppings on it–they fry the dough in deep fryer with olive oil for just a minute. It puffs up like a pillow. Then they put the toppings on and quickly bake it in a very hot oven. The end result is a non-greasy, absolutely heavenly pizza cloud…the most delicious I’ve ever had. If you’re in New York, go to Pizzarte on W. 55th. Great montanara and other Italian dishes.

I’ve actually had some great success recreating this pizza at home, frying the dough in a very large skillet of olive oil. The challenge is removing this giant piece of dough out of the skillet and into a pizza pan without dripping olive oil all over my stove and setting my house on fire! So far, so good!

My interest in food and cooking goes back to my first restaurant job as a teenager, at an Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in my hometown of Plainview, NY.  (There was also an original Pizza City on Crossbay Blvd. in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was there that I learned how to open clams by the bushel, how to make the perfect cappucino, and how to use basic restaurant kitchen equipment like the convection oven and the fryer. I peeled thousands of shrimp for scampi, washed barrels of lettuce for salads, and grated hundreds of pounds of mozzarella for pizza.

I also made baked ziti by the barrelful. It was much easier to make in large quantities than lasagna, and it basically contained all the same ingredients. No worries about making perfect layers. No pasta sheets sticking together. Just put all the ingredients in an oven-proof baking pan, mix them around and throw them in the oven. And it tasted great.

Now I make baked ziti, or shells, or elbows–whatever pasta I have on hand–at home, using gluten-free ingredients.

To make the perfect baked ziti, it's important to have a good helper.

To make the perfect baked ziti, it’s important to have a good helper.

I substitute whole milk for the usual bechamel sauce used in many lasagna recipes. Since this dish is gluten-free, I can’t use the flour required to thicken bechamel sauce, and gluten-free flour doesn’t work here.

1 lb. regular or gluten-free pasta
2 lbs. (32 oz.) ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
12 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 cup whole milk
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley

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In a bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, half of the mozzarella, and the milk.

Pour  the contents of the tomato can in a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the bowl and combine.

Add the granulated garlic, salt, oregano, basil, and parsley to the bowl and combine again.

Cook the pasta until just before al dente. You want it to be chewy because it will still bake in the oven. Drain the pasta and place it in an ovenproof baking dish.

Add the contents of the cheese and milk blend bowl to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. It’s going to be mushy.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°.

Top the baking dish with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a little oregano on top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the cheese on top has melted and it’s bubbling hot.

Let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Baked elbows, this time with meatballs.

Baked elbows. This time, I added meatballs.

When asparagus is in season, it’s time to gorge. I’ve got it growing in my yard, and the patch gets bigger and happier every year with minimal maintenance…definitely one of those veggies every lazy gardener should grow.

I love it raw, chopped into salads, pickled, oven-roasted, and in pasta dishes. This is a great side dish with any main course slab of meat.

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
salt and pepper

 

The easy way to trim asparagus spears is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. Toss the bottoms into your compost pile.

Heat the butter and oil in a pan and then add the asparagus spears. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. You don’t want them mushy.

While the asparagus is still in the pan, sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. Season with salt and pepper.

I ate this batch right out of the pan!