Lasagna

On October 27, 2015, in Featured, Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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Growing up with an Italian mother, well 3/4 Italian and 1/4 French, made for some pretty amazing meals that a young boy never could truly appreciate. However, there was one dish my mom was famous for: Lasagna. It was a staple of the holidays at our home. She definitely took a lot of pride making it for family and guests and people lavished their praise.

As I grew older and as my own taste matured too, I came to appreciate what a great lasagna takes to perfect. Many restaurants and home cooks try to make this classic dish and fail.  There is too much sauce, they use sub-par ingredients or there are too many extras spinach, mushrooms and meats that it all becomes too complex and loses the perfection of a simple lasagna.

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Mine is different than my mother’s, not because I think less of her’s; rather, I wanted to do my own take on this dish.  For me it is all about using the best ingredients.  Since moving to Los Angeles, that hasn’t been too easy with some failures in finding the key ingredient – fresh ricotta cheese.  Fortunately, I finally found a rich and creamy ricotta that is sold by Laurent Bonjour’s Cheese Corner found Saturdays at the La Canada Farmers’ Market.

I also make a homemade pasta sauce that I lightly blend with a hand mixer. You can use two jars of your favorite pasta sauce. I recommend Mario Batali’s marinara if you do not have time to make your own.

The sauce, ricotta, and a quality Parmigiano-Reggiano have the most impact in my opinion. I haven’t found much difference when it comes to the pasta noodle or even with the mozzarella you choose.

Lasagna
Serves 4-6

1 lb lasagna noodles
4 cups basic red pasta sauce
1 lb fresh ricotta cheese
3/4 lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
2 Spicy Italian sausages, cooked and crumbled
or 1 bunch spinach, washed and rough chopped lightly sauteed)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Preheat oven at 35o degrees.

Cook the noodles for about 6 minutes in boiling  water. Do not overcook. You want the noodles to be soft but still firm. Drain and set aside.

In a bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Parmesan, parsley and the oregano.

Spread a layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 13 lasagna pan. Add a layer of noodles.  Spread ricotta cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle some crumbled cooked sausage (or chopped spinach) over ricotta cheese mixture. Add a thin layer of pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozzarella.  Repeat this process two more times. Finally add one last layer of noodles and then add a layer of pasta sauce and mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle top with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Cover the lasagna with foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove foil and cook uncovered for 15 minutes more. Finally remove from oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Cut and serve.

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Bean Succotash

On October 6, 2014, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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One of my favorite food shows of recent is PBS’ The Mind of a Chef.  Season Two is now on Netflix and I am working my way through the season which features Southern Chef Sean Brock. It’s been a great second season especially after an amazing Season One staring David Chang.

The first episode shows Brock and another chef making a variation on succotash that uses boiled peanuts and ends with a lemon ricotta the mixture is pilled on top of.  It looked amazing and I figured I’d do a version of it after I found some fresh lima beans at the South Pasadena Farmers Market last week. I had also picked up some bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes and a hatch chili pepper.

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Whole Foods also had some fried shelled peanuts I used instead of boiled.  Overall, I liked how the dish turned out and would definitely make it again.  I even had leftovers and brought just the bean mixture, without the ricotta, to the beach and had it with some crackers for lunch.

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Bean Succotash
Serves 4

2 cups fresh lima beans
1 15 oz can of white beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup shelled peanuts, fried or boiled
1 hatch chili or poblano, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons peanut oil
8 oz. fresh lemon ricotta cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Place the hatch chili, tomatoes and bell pepper along with the olive oil into the oven at 400 degrees and roast for 45 minutes turning occasionally to get char marks around the pepper and chili.  Remove and let cool.

Cook the fresh lima beans in boiling water for 3 minutes.  Remove and place into a mixing bowl to cool.  Shell the peanuts and drain the white beans. Add the beans to the bowl and add the peanuts, except 1 tablespoon.  Crush the tablespoon of peanuts and add to the bowl.

Dice the roasted tomatoes, bell pepper and chili and add to the mixing bowl.  Add the peanut oil and toss in the bowl to mix adding some salt and pepper to taste.

Plate the dish by spooning out a circle of ricotta cheese and spoon on the bean and vegetable mixture.

NOTE: If not using lemon ricotta, just squeeze the juice of one lemon and mix with the ricotta before platting. You must use fresh ricotta, not the container stuff that has no flavor.

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Finally Great Pizza at Home

On October 6, 2014, in Food, by Chris Baccus
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This is not a sponsored post.  Breville never reached out to me and sent me anything, not even a cup of flour to make the dough.  No, this is just pure, natural, organic love of a product I bought with my hard earned money.

It’s a pizza maker that has changed my experience with at home pizza making.  I tried pizza stones in the oven and even grilled pizzas.  They’re all okay, but nothing has been as revolutionary as the Breville Pizza Maker I bought at Williams-Sonoma this year.

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Yes a pizza oven installed in my backyard would be a more amazing way to make pizza at home, but as one fellow cooking classmate put at a recent cooking course, her husband had made two pizza thus far at a cost of $2,000+ per pizza. That’s what is most amazing about the Breville it is only $150, and I paid for mine with American Express points! You can now buy it in red too.

Basically it replicates pizza brick oven cooking by heating a stone to 660 degrees.  Sure it’s not the same as a real brick oven, but the results are pretty amazing. The trick is getting the pizza dough the right thickness. I like to have it around a 1/4″ thick so it isn’t too thin, the pizza rips and you get a huge mess when that happens.

I have found Mario Batali’s basic Pizza Dough recipe to be a perfect solution.

You can find it here:  http://www.mariobatali.com/recipes/pizza-dough/

It will make enough dough for 3 10-12″ pizzas.  I make one for our boys to split.  Then one for my wife, tonight she had bell pepper and pineapple.  Finally, I make one for me.  Tonight I cooked some Niman Ranch Bacon and crumbled that with some fresh ricotta and black olives.

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The only bad part is I need three of these to make all the pizzas at once so we can all eat together.  Good thing though is each pizza only takes 5-7 minutes to bake so they are quick.

All in all, it’s been a great purchase and one I highly recommend if you are struggling to make a great pizza at home.  Now you can for only $150 or for free with a bunch of American Express points.

 

 

 

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Pappardelle with Leeks, Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon

On May 8, 2012, in Recipes, by Chris Baccus
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Here is a simple, light spring pasta dish that is a departure from the typical heavy red or cream sauce.

The sauce here is pretty light that is if you consider a half a stick of butter light? It might be better to say it tastes light.  The lemon, sugar snap peas, and leeks do give it a great color everything adheres to the pappardelle noodles nicely. I’m sure you’ll find this a good option among your pasta recipes.

I know we’ll make a few more times throughout the coming summer.

Pappardelle with Leeks, Sugar Snap Peas and Lemon
Serves 4

Coarse salt and ground pepper
½ stick unsalted butter
2 medium leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into thin half-moons and rinsed well
2 lemons
½ pound sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut in half crosswise
1 pound dried pappardelle noodles
½ cup fresh ricotta cheese
¾ cup Pecorino Romano, grated

Heat a large pot of lightly salted water for the pasta.  While that is getting to a boil, melt butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and a small amount of salt, cooking the leeks until they soften for about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. Turn off heat and finely grate lemon zest into skillet and add ground pepper.

When water is boiling add the snap peas and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from water but do not dispose of water.  Now add your pasta to the boiling water and cook per package instructions. Usually about 5-7 minutes for Pappardelle noodles.  Transfer noodles to pan, reserving some pasta water for the sauce.  Add sugar snap peas, ricotta and Pecorino cheese.  Add a few splashes of the pasta water to give it more of a sauce and coat the pasta then serve adding some more Pecorino Romano to each dish.

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I will occasionally get an email from my wife requesting quote – You should make this – end quote. Well last week I received another email (in fact two) and finally got around to making a pasta dish from Martha Stewart’s website.

It’s a good thing I didn’t get this particular recipe sent to me a couple months back, because I still had yet to find a market with decent fresh ricotta cheese in Dallas. Fortunately, a few weeks ago while at Central Market I noticed they carry a couple fresh ricotta choices. This afternoon I made a stop over there and picked up fresh ricotta from the Mozzarella Company, a popular local homemade cheese shop located in Deep Ellum, a trendy artsy part of downtown Dallas.

The recipe also calls for some fresh tarragon, sugar snap peas, and peas. One of the best parts of the recipe is it’s all cooked in one pot; though, you really should test the pasta before adding the peas. The recipe asks to cook the pasta for 3 minutes before adding the sugar peas. I would check the pasta and maybe give it a good 3 more minutes before adding, unless you have just made fresh pasta. I was using fresh, but refrigerated pasta from Central Market and it need a few more minutes; though, not as long as dry pasta needs. So adjust accordingly.

Also, when I make this again I’m going to try two things. First add roasted pine nuts. It just needed something to intensify the flavor and pine nuts should bring out the flavors better. Second change is to still experiment with the ricotta cheese choice. The one from the Mozzarella Company was good, but I’ve had far better at good Italian Markets. Unfortunately, the only Italian Market I’ve found around Dallas is Jimmy’s Food Store and they don’t carry fresh ricotta.

Here is a link to the recipe: Two-Pea Pasta with Ricotta and Tarragon