Italian Flag Lasagna: It’s Worth Saluting!

Italian Flag Lasagna

Italian Flag Lasagna

When one walks around with a surname like ‘Antonini’, there’s a certain expectation of Italian-ness. It probably comes from all the vowels. Even though there’s actually not a drop of Italian blood coursing through my veins (I married into the name), I have adopted some of the mannerisms:  talking with my hands, being emotional, and cooking lots of pasta.

The latter (cooking pasta) is what caused me to say, “hmmmm!” when I spied my friend Rose’s Facebook photo of the Italian Flag Lasagna she made. Rose is a fabulous cook so I always pay attention when she talks food.  Her dish had 6 layers:  green, white, red….green, white, red.

As cooks the world over know, we always feel obligated to tweak recipes and make them our own. So, of course, when I decided to pay homage to my husband’s people by making my version of Italian Flag Lasagna, that’s what I did with Rose’s recipe.

The first change was making the lasagna 3 thick layers of green, white, and red – so it’s more flag-like. Then I bulked up the green filling with broccoli and the red with fake ground beef, so the layers wouldn’t collapse. The white layer of ricotta, egg, and Romano cheese would be fine on it’s own.

By now you may know that I’m a wee bit picky (some might say ‘neurotic’) about what I feed my family.  I like to make as much from scratch as I can so I know what’s in our food. I’m also on the frugal side (some might say ‘cheap’) so cooking from scratch saves me money. Always a bonus!

That being said, doing everything yourself takes time. For my Italian Flag Lasagna, I made the pasta, pesto, marinara sauce, and bought fresh spinach that I washed, de-stemmed, and chopped in the food processor. Not gonna lie: it was work. But if you choose, you don’t have to do any of that. You can purchase lasagna noodles, pesto, frozen chopped spinach, and marinara sauce. While it’s probably tastier to make the spinach/pesto and marinara layers from scratch, the main feature of this recipe is that it looks like the Italian Flag – and you can still get the ‘wow’ factor from store-bought ingredients.

As the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, next time I prepare Italian Flag Lasagna, I’m going to make several batches of both the spinach/pesto and marinara fillings, then freeze them in portion sized containers. That way in future, all I’ll have to do is make the noodles and ricotta filling.

THIS IS IMPORTANT (you can tell because I used all caps):  For best results, make Italian Flag Lasagna the day before serving. After baking, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The layers will then solidify. To serve, slice into serving sizes, and microwave until warm. If you don’t do this, the layers won’t be as pert, and you’ll lose the flag effect.

ITALIAN FLAG LASAGNA – makes a 10″ x 7″ x 2″ lasagna

Spinach/Pesto Filling

  • 9 cups packed fresh spinach (or 1¼ cups frozen chopped spinach)
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1¾ cups broccoli, chopped and blanched
  • 2/3 cup pesto (recipe below)

Chop spinach in a food processor by pulsing several times, or use kitchen scissors.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add in spinach, salt, and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and liquid is extracted. Turn off burner and tilt skillet, pushing the solids uphill so the liquid can drain. Mix together the drained spinach, broccoli, and pesto.

– Pesto – makes 2 cups (freeze what you don’t need!)

  • 5 cups fresh basil, pack down the basil when you measure
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 cup + 2 T Romano cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup + 2 T pine nuts, toasted
  • Put all ingredients in a blender.  Depending on your blender, you will probably have to start and stop quite often in order to reposition the ingredients. Be very careful not to press down with an implement (such as a wooden spoon) while the blender is running. As tempting as it is, I’ve had to throw out a few batches of pesto when the wooden spoon went too far down and got caught in the blades. Wood chips in pesto = not good!

Ricotta Filling

  • 15 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1 egg

Beat egg in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the ricotta and Romano.

Marinara Sauce

  • 4 cups Roma tomatoes, drained and chopped (I used canned, removing the stem end and any flaws)
  • ½ T olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1¼ cups fake ground beef (I use Morningstar Griller Crumbles)

In a skillet heat olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent.  Add in the tomatoes, oregano, and wine.  Bring to boil, then lower flame and simmer sauce uncovered until it thickens (about 20 minutes). Stir in the imitation ground beef and simmer another 5 minutes.

Cheeses

  • 1 cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Noodles

NOTE:  If purchasing lasagna noodles, you’ll need 11 noodles.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ T olive oil
  • water, as needed

Into a food processor put the eggs, flour, and olive oil. Blend until most of the flour is incorporated. Add water one tablespoon at a time until you can form a ball with your hands, but dough is not wet. Roll dough into 8 balls, 2 of them should be about 2″ in diameter. Let rest in covered food processor 30 minutes.

Start boiling the water to cook the pasta. Run the two large dough balls through the pasta machine working your way to #5 setting.  They should be about 5″ wide and VERY long.  These pieces will form the bottom layer and will run up the sides.  The extra length is to wrap around the lasagna to form the top layer.

Assembly

Grease the sides of the lasagna pan. Spoon some of the liquid part of the marinara sauce onto the bottom of the pan and spread to cover. Boil one of the long pasta strips about 1 minute. Remove and drop into bowl of cold water. Put the other long strip into the boiling water. While that’s cooking, take the cooled strip and cover one side and half the bottom of the pan. Remove the other strip, put in cold water, and lay that one on the other side.

Spread the spinach/pesto filling evenly on the pasta. Top with ½ cup shredded Romano.

Prepare 2 more pasta balls. Roll them to #5, making them 3″ wide. Boil them together 1 minute, drop into cold water, and layer them on the spinach/pesto filling.

Spread the ricotta filling evenly on top.

Prepare 2 more pasta balls as above. Layer on top of ricotta filling.

Spread the marinara filling evenly on top. Top with the remaining ½ cup Romano.

If the bottom pasta strips are long enough that they can fully cover the marinara layer, you don’t need to use the last 2 pasta balls. Prepare them, if needed. Wrap the bottom strips around the marinara filling.

Sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese, cover with foil (making sure it doesn’t touch the cheese). Bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beer And “Sausage” Sliders = HOME RUN!!!

BEER & 'SAUSAGE' SLIDERS

BEER & ‘SAUSAGE’ SLIDERS

It’s that time of the year again! The BIG GAME is coming up and the gang is getting together to watch.

You may be wondering to which game I’m referring. Sport’s Widows the world over know: no matter where you are or what time of year it is, there is ALWAYS a Big Game.

Snacks are a must. I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of rule that when you watch a sporting event, you must eat.  Just watch the commercials before a championship game – enthusiastic friends cheering their team on, as they consume vast quantities of food and drink.

Just as sports and food are a natural combination, so are beer and sausage. So I created a slider using beer bread as the bun, and imitation sausage patties as the insides.  (This IS a vegetarian cooking blog, after all!) I also throw in some jalapeño jack cheese for good measure.

These sliders are so tasty even my carnivorous brother raved about them. I decided not to enlighten him about the sausage being fake – why rock the boat! One thing I really like about these sliders is the beer bread, sausage, and cheese bond together as they bake, so you don’t have to worry about them falling apart.  This feature makes them perfect for grab-and-go eating.

If you’d like to see my video on how to make these, click on  BEER & “SAUSAGE” SLIDERS.

NOTE:  Beer & “Sausage” Sliders freeze well, so make extra!

BEER & “SAUSAGE SLIDERS – makes 12 sliders

  • 1 bottle beer at room temperature (any kind is fine, just make sure you like the flavor since it will be prominent)
  • 3 T sugar
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 12 imitation sausage patties (I LOVE Morningstar brand!)
  • optional:  12 cheese squares (1″ x  1″ x ¼”) (I use jalapeño jack, but you can use any kind)

Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

Bake the sausage patties for a total of 15 minutes, flipping them after 7 minutes. This can be done ahead of time.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and sugar. Pour in the beer and stir until the flour is incorporated. No need to knead. (Yes, pun intended!)

Put a rounded tablespoon of the batter on the bottom of each greased muffin cup. Add the cheese squares, if using, and smoosh them into the batter to spread it out. Layer on the cooked “sausage” (reminder: quotation marks = fake). Then top with the rest of the batter. There’s exactly enough batter for 12 sliders, so divvy it up accordingly.

Pop them in the already heated 375º Fahrenheit oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Remove from pan and serve!

These Beer & “Sausage” Sliders are not only great for snacking, but for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, too!  You’re welcome.

The Ultimate Comfort Food: Mac and Cheese!

Homemade MACARONI & CHEESE, served with steamed broccoli and roasted carrots.

Homemade MACARONI & CHEESE, served with steamed broccoli and roasted carrots.

Much to my children’s amazement, I was once a child myself.  So I know first-hand that kids are creatures of habit. Example: If you give a child a cookie after dinner as a treat “just this once”, they will translate that to mean they will get a cookie after dinner “forever”. The battling will begin, and logic will never prevail because in their minds, they ALWAYS get a cookie after dinner.

When I embarked on motherhood I was determined to make it as easy on myself as possible. So I made everything from scratch – baby food, bread, pasta, yogurt, soups, and macaroni & cheese.

What’s that you say? Cooking from scratch doesn’t sound easy to you? First of all, it’s easier than you think – it just takes practice. Second of all, I would rather spend a few extra minutes preparing healthy food so my kids (aka, creatures of habit)  were used to what ‘the real thing’ tastes like. I knew in time they’d eat packaged and fast foods, but I was hoping that by then they would find those foods (laden with sugar, salt, preservatives, and additives) abhorrent.

I wish I could report that things went according to plan. Well, you can’t fight city hall, nor the big food companies.  These people know what they’re doing. My children loved all the junk foods the minute they tried them. And what’s not to like? The sole purpose of these foods is to taste good, thereby ensuring repeat business. (Walking down the chips aisle in the supermarket is the ultimate test of my will-power.)

Macaroni and cheese is standard fare to serve children.  Sadly, most kids only know the boxed kind, with its fake, orange colored cheese.  That’s all I knew growing up – my mother gravitated like a magnet to boxed, canned, and frozen foods. While she enjoyed good food, preparing it held little interest to her.

If your history with macaroni and cheese is with the boxed kind, you may feel like homemade is missing something…and it is. Check out the ingredients list on the package and you’ll see what – and they’re all unpronounceable. Stick with it and you’ll learn to appreciate homemade macaroni and cheese.  To cop the slogan from the old Coke commercial:  it’s the real thing!

NOTE: You can toss in cashews, cauliflower, peas, chopped spinach, etc.  This is a great (sneaky) way to add vegetables to the little ones’ diets. Also, change the cheese to suit your taste.  Try a jalapeño jack to spice things up. Or use up those odd bits of cheese you have in the fridge that you can’t bear to throw out because they’re still perfectly good. (Waste not, want not!!!)

MACARONI AND CHEESE

  • 6 oz dried elbow macaroni pasta (I use the large size)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp dry mustard
  • 1 T water
  • 1 cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 3½ cups cheese, shredded (I use medium cheddar)
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 egg, beaten

Boil the pasta until it’s almost soft – it will continue to cook in the oven with the other ingredients.

While the pasta is cooking put all but ½ cup of the shredded cheese in a bowl.  Stir the water, salt, and dry mustard together in a small bowl, then pour over cheese. Add in the milk and stir together. (I ‘rinse’ the mustard liquid bowl with the milk into the cheese so I can get every bit.)

When pasta is done, drain and return it to the cooking pot.  Blend in the butter and egg – do this on a cool surface (you don’t want to cook the egg). Transfer the pasta into a buttered 8″ x 8″ baking dish. Pour the milky cheese over the pasta, then sprinkle the reserved ½ cup cheese on top.

Bake uncovered at 350º Fahrenheit for 45 minutes, until browned.