Tag Archives: ricotta

April Fool’s Day Cupfakes

Ah, April Fool’s Day! The perfect occasion to show someone you love them by playing nasty tricks on them and guffawing as they stand, bewildered, trying to figure out what just happened.

Orrrr you could play a sweet (well, savory) trick instead! Cupfakes are adorable, savory treats masquerading as their sweet cousins. At one time or other, I’ve had people mistake each one of the dinnertime cupfakes below for dessert! In reality, though, Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes are fun Chicagoan deep dish pizzas topped with fluffy ricotta and a cherry tomato. Meatloaf Cupfakes are moist meatloaf with mashed potato “frosting” and colored salt sprinkles. Finally, my favorite: Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting are slightly sweet, cornbready dinner muffins full of goodies.

One warning: when people are expecting to bite into a sweet cupcake and it turns out to be a cupfake, their brains do a little backflip of revulsion no matter how good your treats taste. It’s probably best to reveal your trick right before they take a bite!

Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes

Meatloaf Cupfakes

Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting

P.S. Only 1 week left in my Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Bright, Fun Blackberry Trifle

I made a trifle! Otherwise known as a big bucket o’ fun!

Okay, no one calls them that except me. But they should! Look at this thing! Bright, fluffy, moist layers of cake, custardy cream, splushy berries, crunchy toasted almonds, and to top it all off, a smattering of sprinklessss!

Joyce served individual versions of this trifle after a delicious lunch of Cream of Mushroom Soup a couple of weeks ago, and as soon as I took a bite, I felt a little more jolly. I found myself craving the trifle’s cool, creamy brightness in the days following, and finally whipped one up for myself.

One of the things I loved most about Joyce’s trifle is that she used a Funfetti Cake. Do you remember Funfetti Cake? The boxed cake mix so many of us loved as a kid? My favorite was always the Funfetti Frosting, with inexplicably colorful beads of goodness mixed throughout. What were those things? Do I even want to know?!

Whatever they were, I loved them. And Food Blogger Confession #84: I kind of want to go to the store in my PJs right this minute, buy a tub of that frosting, and eat the entire thing with a spoon. In one sitting. While watching Supernanny.

But I digress — it’s easy to get distracted by trashy midnight snack fantasies. Can I dip Twinkies into my tub o’ Funfetti Frosting? Okay, I’ll stop. Ahem.

The story behind Joyce’s cake choice actually involves her son. When he was growing up, she’d always made him a homemade cake from scratch. One day, however, he visited a friend of hers and came home raving about an amazing cake he’d eaten. She decided to make it for his birthday that year and called up her friend to ask about it — only to find out it was a regular ol’ Funfetti Cake from a box! Since then, needless to say, she hasn’t bothered with a homemade cake when his birthday rolls around!

It just so happened my lunch date with Joyce was the day before her son’s birthday this year. She’d already been doing birthday baking, so she had Funfetti cake leftover to use in the trifle. If you have a favorite homemade cake you love, you can use it (a clementine cake, coconut cake, or lemon cake would be so good!), but I loved the blast from the past so much that I used a Funfetti cake in my trifle as well. Every polka dot of color made me happy.

Regardless of your cake choice, a trifle is a simple way to inject some fun into dessert. If you’re looking for something both casual and indulgent to welcome the coming spring, grab a cake and your favorite berries and start layering.

What food item is a “blast from the past” for you?

Bright, Fun Blackberry Trifle



Recipe by: Adapted from Phyllis Hoffman’s Celebrate Magazine
Yields: 8 servings

Ingredients:
4 cups berries of your choice (Joyce and I used blackberries)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 layers of Funfetti or other cake, prepared and cooled
1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
1 teaspoon lime zest (optional)
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups plain Greek yogurt
2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Whipped Cream Ingredients:
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3-4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar (to taste)

Directions:
Combine washed berries, sugar, orange juice, and lime zest. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix ricotta cheese, yogurt, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla until well combined. In a trifle dish, layer torn pieces of cake, cheese mixture, and berries. Repeat layers. Cover and chill overnight.

When ready to serve, whip cream and confectioners’ sugar together until you have soft peaks. Pile whipped cream on top of trifle and top with almonds. Serve with leftover whipped cream for topping individual portions.

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A Heartfelt Birthday Do-Over, Homemade Ravioli, and a Giveaway!

This weekend, I drove a total of 320 miles or 6 hours total for one magical road trip. It was inspired by a sweet gesture from Mike, and turned into a beautiful event for both of us. Let me tell you all about it.

I.  The Inspiration: A Childhood Dream Come True



Mike’s gift to me that inspired my road trip: a visit to the NC State Fair.

This weekend, Mike gave me a sweet gift: a do-over. He gave me the opportunity to revise a childhood memory from fifth grade.

My parents are going to kill me when they read this, because I’ve never told them anything about it. In fifth grade, my teacher scheduled a field trip to the State Fair in Raleigh, about 3 hours away. I’d never been to a fair, so I was thrilled to hear about the trip — until I heard the cost: $90. To my fifth grade brain, that might as well have been a million dollars.

I thought of my daddy going off to work third shift every night at the newspaper. I thought of my mom working late into the night to get her nursing paperwork completed. I thought of how we had to be careful to make ends meet each month despite all of their hard work.

I decided not to tell them about the field trip. I knew they would sacrifice to let me go, and I knew I’d rather stay home than let that happen. I sat at school while the other kids climbed aboard the bus to Raleigh. I’m sorry Mom and Dad — I know I should’ve given you the opportunity to send me! But my fifth grade mind was made up.

Imagine my surprise and delight when, a few weeks ago, Mike asked if I wanted to drive up and go to the State Fair. All of my fifth grade excitement came rushing back. Yes, I wanted a do-over! A second chance! A funnel cake!

In that spirit, this past weekend, Mike took me to my first fair. We ate copious amounts of fried food, petted fat billy goats, and definitely made up for lost time. It was better than it ever could’ve been in fifth grade, because Mike was by my side.


II.  Returning the Favor with a Road Trip: Mike’s Birthday Do-Over

I knew I wanted to do something special for Mike in return for what he’d done for me. Thankfully, Project Food Blog’s challenge for Round 6 was to pack up a meal and take a road trip (thank you so much for voting me through to this point). My road trip was designed to surprise Mike with his very own special do-over!



Mike’s surprise do-over.

On Mike’s birthday this past year, I really goofed. I made him handmade pumpkin ravioli — which probably sounds wonderful, except for the fact that he doesn’t like pumpkin and it tasted awful. This isn’t one of those “Oh, this could use more salt” things, y’all. It was gross.

For my road trip challenge, I decided to drive to Raleigh and throw Mike a heartfelt birthday do-over. Everything would be decorated in hearts and kisses and, most importantly, I’d make him a fantastic meal this time — one to drive all thoughts of pumpkin ravioli straight out of his mind.


The menu and decor. Note to PFB voters: the picnic basket was just for charm; all food was transported in my PFB cooler per challenge guidelines! Oh, and psst – you can enter to win this chalkboard below!

I chose to make the following dishes for our party:

-handmade, heart-shaped cheese ravioli in a meaty red sauce

-heart-shaped palmiers with goat cheese and homemade pesto

-red velvet cupcakes with heart cutouts

-giant red velvet kisses with special messages

-hot chocolate with homemade heart-shaped marshmallows


Cooler packed and ready to go!

Besides being delicious, some of the dishes had special significance. The red velvet cupcakes were planned to remind Mike of cupcakes I made for him one Valentine’s Day years ago, before I baked on a regular basis. He loved them so much that it inspired me to continue baking.

The hot chocolate represented sitting by the fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with him one December a couple of years ago. We hadn’t expected to have access to a fireplace on our trip, and for some reason, it made us so happy. We sat by it and sipped hot chocolate, loving every minute.




Handmade ravioli — now you see it, now you don’t.

I prepped and cooked for 3 days before hopping in my car and driving up the interstate. The venue I’d chosen for our birthday party picnic was Historic Yates Mill Park, and it turned out to be breathtaking. We spread a quilt under the shade of some gorgeous trees and ate while looking out over the mirror-like pond. Heart streamers danced in the wind beyond our picnic blanket, and a few industrious ants tried to join us for our meal. We brought books to read, but ended up having too much fun playing, talking, lounging, and walking around the mill.


Heart-shaped Pesto and Goat Cheese Palmiers.


I ❤ Dessert! A giant red velvet kiss, red velvet cupcakes with heart cut-outs, and hot chocolate with homemade marshmallows.

Mike was coaxed into putting on the gigantic birthday hat I bought him. We blew birthday horns, I sang happy birthday, and he blew out his candles — all just as it should have been on his real birthday. This time, there was no pumpkin disaster to overshadow the moment — just me, Mike, and our little feast.


Normal Mike, and Julie-Made-Me-Wear-This-Stupid-Hat Mike

When all the food was packed away into the car again, we spent hours dwindling about the grounds. All told, four hours slipped past us like silt along the creek bed beside the mill. We decided picnics need to be a regular event for us.



Around the Historic Yates Mill: heart streamers, beautiful trees, and the mill itself.

Between fried cheesecake, corndogs, historic mills, and heart-shaped meals, Mike and I have had an amazing weekend. Thank you to Project Food Blog for my awesome cooler, and for inspiring my birthday party do-over. Most of all, thank you, my amazing readers, for voting for me in the last 5 rounds. I’d so appreciate your votes again in round 6!

Would you like to win the aqua chalkboard showcased in this post? Posh Pilfer is giving it away to one lovely reader (deadline for entering: Thursday, 10/28 at 6pm EST; winner will be chosen via random.org). To enter, answer the following question in the comment section: What memory do you wish you could “do-over”? Think about what you could do right now to make your do-over happen — and go for it!

Want an extra entry? Follow Willow Bird Baking on Twitter, tweet this message, and leave an extra comment telling me that you’ve done so: I just entered to win a cute chalkboard from @julieruble of Willow Bird Baking: http://bit.ly/cz2iLB

Handmade Cheese Ravioli in Meaty Red Sauce



Recipe by: Adapted from Annie’s Eats (pasta and ravioli); Sauce adapted from Strawberry Hedgehog
Yield: enough pasta to serve about 2 people

Ravioli Pasta Ingredients:
2 large eggs
1/2 tablespoon water, plus more as needed (I ended up using several full tablespoons)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling Ingredients:
1/2 cup whole ricotta
1/4 cup goat cheese crumbles
fresh basil, chopped, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme, chopped, to taste
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper, to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
about 3 links of Italian sausage, crumbled and browned
2 16-oz. cans tomato sauce
4 6-oz. cans tomato paste
1 tablespoon dried oregano
chopped fresh basil to taste
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Make the pasta: In a food processor, combine the eggs, water, olive oil and flour. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are well mixed and a dough begins to form. If the mixture is not coming together, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time just until the dough is formed. Transfer the dough from the food processor to a work surface. Knead 1-2 minutes by hand. Cover with a clean towel and let rest for 20 minutes. Knead again for 1-2 minutes, or until dough starts to feel more supple and elastic. Let rest for another 20 minutes.

Divide the dough into two equal pieces. If you have a pasta machine, see instructions here for how to prepare the sheets of dough. If not, roll one piece of the dough out on a lightly floured surface, pressing hard and rolling diligently until the dough is very thin. Use a large heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out ravioli pieces. Let these rest while you mix your filling.

Mix filling: Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Taste and season accordingly.

Assemble ravioli: Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in the middle of half of the heart shapes, leaving a clear edge around the perimeter. Dip a finger in water and lightly brush around the edges of a heart topped with the filling. Place one of the remaining pasta hearts on top and press the edges of the pasta shapes together to seal around the filling, being careful to press out any excess air. Repeat with the remaining dough shapes.

Make sauce: While browning Italian sausage, mix all other ingredients together in a bowl. Add to sausage and cook until heated through. In the meantime, cook pasta: bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the ravioli until al dente, about 4-5 minutes. Drain well and add ravioli to the sauce, tossing to coat. Serve with a spring of basil and shaved Parmesan.


At one point, my “Check Airbags,” “Low Tire Pressure,” and gas light were all lit. Glad I was only 5 minutes from my destination at this point!

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Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins

I’m detecting a pattern here: something about cold weather makes me want a big, hot breakfast. Usually my breakfast is a small, rushed affair: a couple of turkey sausages and I’m on my way. This weekend, though, promised inches of snow and icy conditions in Charlotte. Breakfast had to stand up to the cold!

Thankfully, Smitten Kitchen had recently equipped me with a killer muffin recipe. Deb posted these fantastic-looking Ricotta Muffins last week. They were billed as a very slightly sweet, nutty muffin with a surprising hint of fennel. Very intriguing, but I fiddled with the idea a bit to produce more what I was craving. I ditched the fennel, sweetened these babies up a bit, and added in some fresh strawberries. The result is really a whole different beast: sweet, fruity, light, cheesy, nutty, hearty . . . a breakfast superstar!

…but a beast, nonetheless. These things are fussy. The ricotta and sour cream filling is runny (as Deb mentions in her post, perhaps it’d be different if you were to use fresh ricotta and crème fraiche), so the batter has to be piped on top of it, which is quite a mess.

The muffins are also very tender (what with the ricotta mixture in the middle, as well as strawberries breaking up the muffin, in my case) and so they can’t be scooped out of their wells. Instead, I had to let them cool in the pan for about 20 minutes before inverting them onto the cooling rack. They cooled with their cute little muffin bottoms in the air, and finally, they were firm enough to turn over and stick in the fridge. My kitchen was a disaster area — bowls, beaters, pans, cutting boards, berries — but I wouldn’t be writing this if they weren’t worth it.

Like so many fruity baked goods, these were amazing after being refrigerated overnight. Wonderful news, because you probably don’t want to spend the time and effort required to make these first thing in the morning. I popped them into the microwave for 30 seconds before Mike and I managed to devour, oh, 11 of them. Full disclosure! The two of us ate ELEVEN MUFFINS! I told you they were worth the trouble. The ricotta makes for a fluffy, moist, gooey muffin, and the strawberries were lovely with the tang from the yogurt and sour cream. They weren’t too sweet — perfect for breakfast (though who am I kidding . . . I can definitely do dessert for breakfast on occasion).

Muffins freeze well, too, so why not make a double batch and freeze up a few for later? I actually intended to do just that (my double batch made 27 muffins), but at the rate Mike and I are going . . . yeah, we’ll see how many of these make it to the freezer! I hope you’re enjoying some hearty, warm breakfasts of your own this winter (and for all my friends enjoying summer across the globe right now, run through a sprinkler or two for me!)

Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins



Recipe by: Pastries from La Brea Bakery (adapted by Smitten Kitchen, and then by Willow Bird Baking)
Yields: 12-14 muffins

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (2 ounces) walnuts (can substitute pecans)
3 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup (4 ounces) ricotta cheese
6 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 1/4 cup chopped strawberries
Kosher salt, to taste

Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 1/2-cup capacity muffin tin (I used Cake Release. Butter and flouring the tin will also work. Make sure that when you invert the pans, these babies are going to come out!)

Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven until lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shake the pan halfway through to ensure that the nuts toast evenly. Cool, chop finely and set aside. Turn the oven up to 350°F.

In a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, baking powder and baking soda together to combine. Make a large well in the center and pour in the yogurt and oil. Whisk together the liquids and gradually draw in the the dry ingredients, mixing until incorporated. Fold in chopped strawberries.

To prepare the filling: Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and, if stiff, break it up wtih a rubber spatula to loosen. Stir in the sour cream or crème fraîche, confectioners’ sugar, and a pinch of salt.

Using a pastry or plastic bag with the corner cut off, fill each muffin tin one-third of the way with batter. Place one tablespoon of the ricotta filling into the center of each muffin. Pipe the remaining batter into the cups, filling them to just below the rim (resist the urge to overfill). Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the nuts over the top of each muffin.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until lightly brown and firm to the touch. Let cool in pan for about 15-20 minutes before inverting over a cooling rack. Let cool upside down. When completely cool, refrigerate in an airtight container until it’s time to eat! Heat for a few seconds in the microwave before eating.


Mixing up the batter and some overfilled muffins fresh from the oven.


Cooling off upside down, and then getting packed up for the fridge.


See that snow in the background? Brrr!


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Plum and Cream Mini Tortes

I was reading over the William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say,” again this weekend after a sweet reader made my Blueberry Lemon Cheesecake Cupcakes and thoughtfully sent me a picture. Those blueberry gems were the first entry on Willow Bird Baking, and I still remember the ice cold blueberries; the cool, dense crumb; the frigid frosting . . . all that cool deliciousness is what led me to paste Williams’ poem into the entry. What was really lovely about reading the poem again is the word that jumped out at me this time around.

This Is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

PLUMS. Ice cold plums. Purple orbs bursting with juice, beaded with water, basking in my colander. Bulging indigo skins covering deep orange-red flesh, plucked up to the cutting board and sliced with a splush. Plush, perfect, plump plums perforated between my . . . teeth. If only there were a p-word for teeth! But you get the idea, alliterated or not. I began fantasizing about performing great culinary feats with those delicious spheres.

A friend told me about an Original Plum Torte recipe she has fond childhood memories of. The recipe sounded delicious: cinnamon and sugar sprinkled over roasted plums inside a spongy cake. The recipe also sounded gorgeous: I love the look of naked plum halves baked until they bubble with fruity sugar. It’s a lovely presentation. I was sold.

To add to the charm, I decided to turn the torte into rustic mini-tortes in parchment paper liners, topped with a dollop of Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting and a dusting of cinnamon. I wanted to hand each person their own rich, juicy little plum, surrounded by cake and wrapped like a present in crisp paper.

The Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is just something I whipped up today. I wanted a creamy component to slather on like clotted cream on a scone. I decided to use ricotta because I love the texture and flavor, especially with fruit, and I wanted to give the mini tortes a rustic Italian feel. I was sorry more of the ricotta flavor didn’t come through — it’s just so mild, and perhaps I shouldn’t have added vanilla — but the cheese did add a rich facet to the flavor and mellow the sugar. This ensured that the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness for this hearty dessert.

I say all this like it was a given that these were going to be amazing. But really, I was nervous. I bought big plums; what if the torte didn’t rise around them enough? What if they simply fell apart when unwrapped (some were a little messy)? What if Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting is disgusting? My lovely friend Katie can attest to my uncertainty — today at an amazing Beth Moore simulcast, we caught up after not seeing each other in over a year! While chatting about our lives (by the way, Katie bakes, so expect some joint baking endeavors! Yay!), I mentioned these mini tortes only to immediately disclaim: they could be kitchen failures, I hadn’t tried them yet, they looked wonky, and so on and so forth.

Thankfully, my fears have now been allayed. Every beautiful, splushy Plum and Cream Mini Torte I bit into (I won’t bother telling you how many I ate . . . ahem) resulted in mmmms and ahhhhs. Sometimes it’s hard to read between the lines on a food blog and decide if a given dish was really fantastic or just good. In the interest of clearing up confusion: these are fantastic, and perhaps one of my favorite desserts of all time. And since the recipe is so simple (so glad my friend shared it), you should definitely give them a try. Hope you love them!

Plum and Cream Mini Tortes


Recipe By:

The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine (plum torte, adapted by me)
-Me (frosting)

Yields: About 12-15

Mini Torte Ingredients:
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup plus 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
6-8 halves small, pitted Italian (prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon cinnamon or more, to taste

Ricotta Cream Cheese Frosting Ingredients:
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Directions:
1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners or parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter and the 3/4 cup of sugar. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Spoon about a tablespoon of batter into each well. Resist the urge to overfill — the batter will rise! Gently press a plum, skin side down, into each well. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for about 18-20 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake part comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool; refrigerate or freeze if desired. (If not adding frosting, serve as follows: let the torte return to room temperature and reheat at 300 degrees until warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.)

4. Make the frosting: mix all ingredients together until fluffy. Pipe or dollop frosting onto the center of each plum mini torte.

Notes: Try to buy small plums and cut them about 1/4 inch away from the center or a little more. You want small rounds to fit in the center of your mini-tortes without making the cake spread too much. If the cake spreads too much, it won’t snuggle around the plum as it rises and may fall apart when you peel off the paper.


Making my parchment paper liners and readying my mini tortes for the oven.



Baking and fresh out of the oven.


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Baking to Freeze: Classic Italian Lasagna

Classic Italian Lasagna is the second recipe in my “baking to freeze” series (see the introduction post here, if you missed it!)

This recipe could quite literally take you all day to make, but if you’re like me and you love a culinary challenge, go for it! If you’d rather cut out a bit of the labor, you can substitute a jarred spaghetti sauce of your choice for the tomato sauce.

Pay special attention that you season each part of the lasagna well (the pasta, the sauce, the meat, the ricotta mixture).




Cooling off in the fridge before freezing! My first real lasagna!




Baking to Freeze Recipe #2: Classic Lasagna


Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis, with tomato sauce by Tina
Yields: About 6-8 servings

Ingredients:

Quick Tomato Sauce:
olive oil
1 onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping teaspoon diced shallots
1 large can tomato puree
1-2 teaspoons sugar (to taste)
1-2 teaspoons basil (to taste)
Pinch of oregano
Pinch of thyme
Salt and pepper

Béchamel Sauce:
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 2 tablespoons for the lasagna
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce, recipe follows (I would add more for a bolder tomato flavor)
Salt and white pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground chuck beef
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 pound lasagna sheets, cooked al dente
2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
3 cups shredded mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Directions:
Make quick tomato sauce: Sautee onion, garlic, and shallots in olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Add a large can of tomato puree and all spices and herbs. Let sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.

Make béchamel sauce: In a 2-quart pot, melt 5 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. When butter has completely melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent any lumps from forming. Continue to simmer and whisk over medium heat until the sauce is thick, smooth and creamy, about 10 minutes. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of wooden spoon. Remove from heat and add the nutmeg and tomato sauce. Stir until well combined and check for seasoning. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a saute pan, heat extra-virgin olive oil. When almost smoking, add the ground beef and season with salt and pepper. Brown meat, breaking any large lumps, until it is no longer pink. Remove from heat and drain any excess fat. Set aside and allow to cool completely.

In a medium sized bowl, thoroughly mix the ricotta and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Into the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch baking dish (disposable oven-proof baking dishes are wonderful for freezing in), spread 1/3 of the béchamel sauce (NOTE: if you’re freezing the lasagna but don’t have a disposable baking dish, line a glass baking dish with foil and leave the ends hanging over the dish. Assemble your lasagna in the dish and bake. Then, after you’ve cooled, you can freeze the casserole, pull it out using the ends of the foil, and store it in a large ziplock bag. When you’re ready to thaw and bake, you can use the original dish). Arrange the pasta sheets side by side, covering the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly spread a layer of all the ricotta mixture and then a layer of all the spinach. Arrange another layer of pasta sheets and spread all the ground beef on top. Sprinkle 1/2 the mozzarella cheese on top of the beef. Spread another 1/3 of the béchamel sauce. Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets and top with remaining béchamel, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Cut the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter into 1/4-inch cubes and top lasagna.

Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place lasagna dish on top, cover and put on the middle rack of the oven and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake for about 15 minutes. (If freezing, bake for 30 minutes covered, remove cover and bake for 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and wrap well — double up layers of plastic wrap. Store in freezer for up to 3 months).

Thawing Instructions: Thaw overnight in refrigerator. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook 20-30 minutes or until lasagna is heated through and bubbly.

Pictures of the process:


Béchamel sauce with tomato sauce mixed in.




Lasagna assembling about to begin.




Lasagnas ready for the oven (and an interested Byrd in the background).




Yeah . . . that’s my usually tidy kitchen after a full day of lasagnaing (during which I think I used almost every dish and utensil I own — and most of my roommate’s as well). And I’m a clean-as-you-go person, too, but what can I say?




All packaged and ready!




A nice plate of lasagna and cheesy garlic bread after reheating!

Click here to download thawing/baking instruction labels and recipe card to include with this dish.

Preview:

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