Weeknight Lasagna

Ready for easier, lighter fare that’s still delicious? Yep. Me too. Read on for LASAGNA: easy to make, potluck AND leave with your sitter on NYE! Photo by Sarah Deragon.

“SCREW IT. I’VE COOKED ENOUGH,” runs through my head this time of year…. But seriously, the holidays are winding down. You (and your Kitchen) likely need a break from nonstop baking, braising, and cooking.  Am I right? But you still need to eat. And celebrate our New Year!! So if you’re going out (or staying in) this is a great, quick recipe to make everyone happy.

Enter my simple, kind of a cheater’s guide to Lasagna. Great for every night but also perfect for family style New Year’s Dinner. Little and big eaters will ALL love it. (Trust me.)

I hadn’t thought to share it before (sorry about that) but after pow-wow-ing in Napa with some EPIC foodie talent (see below) thanks to hostess Teri Turner, I’m more than delighted to share as part of our #virtualpotluck. The idea is to share what our tables’ will boast on this most auspicious of annual celebrations. Then keep ’em coming!

Truly wonderful week of food talks, ideas, and development. I popped in & out depending on the kids and winery but to say the least, it was a wonderful experience for all of us. I whole heartedly hope you follow each one us here. From L-R: that’s me in Cheetah (straight from the streets of London), No Crumbs Left (Teri), Zach Attack, The Lemon Apron (Jen), The Cooks In Their Kitchens (Naomi), Husbands That Cook (Adam & Ryan (far right), Displaced Housewife (Rebecca), Bazaar Lazarr (Christi), Rainy Day Bites (Deborah), C.R.A.V.I.N.G.S. (Christine). Read more at this lovely write up by the Husbands! Only missing Food Fashion Party (beloved Asha), The Daley Plate (Dale) And Jam Lab (Amisha)!

Now in the midst of some seriously accomplished food talent, I realized my place wasn’t in perfection at the table, so to speak.  But in my perfectly imperfect family table and our demanding vineyard life.  And I quickly thought to share my go-to Lasagna for families of all kinds and sizes. Yes, this dish is delicious! But also, SO easy to make… Easy to potluck… Easy to serve… Everyone loves it… With Zero Leftovers. (Yay!)

Pantry Tip?  Watch for grocery sales and stock up. Keep at the ready boxes of dried pasta (we use DeCecco), jars/boxes of diced or strained Italian tomatoes like Pomi or Jovial brands, tomato paste, dried Italian herbs, and a few cloves of garlic. These will be the backbone for any quick sauce. The rest of the ingredients are more flexible and easily changed.  For example:

  • Swap in verdant green pesto for this red tomato sauce (just don’t cook pesto… Ever)
  • Change out Spinach with Broccolini (or chopped Kale)
  • Throw in those wilting Tomatoes (chopped up)
  • Use Shallots instead of Yellow Onion
  • No Ricotta? No worries, just add more Mozzarella
  • Add ground Lamb, Beef, or chunks of cooked Italian Sausage (mild or hot) for your Carnivores
  • Skip the Ricotta should you feel like whisking a Béchamel sauce

TIP: For large gatherings including little mouths, please keep in mind the ages of all your guests. Do all parents a solid and don’t use lasagna sheets. Use Rotelle pasta (those little wheels) or Farfalle, Macaroni or Gnocchi shells instead. So you/they aren’t bending over every four minutes to cut your kids’ dinner into little chewable pieces. Stand tall and sip wine instead…

Think “bite size” chopped greens. No stress, easy to eat. Photo by Sarah Deragon. Email me if you’d like to try our Sauvignon Blanc? It’s the best ever.

Abi’s Quick Lasagna:

Ingredient Suggestions (make yours to taste):

  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic (peeled)
  • 1 Carrot (peeled & quartered)
  • 1/4-1/2 Yellow Onion (Peeled & quartered)
  • 1 Stalk Celery (quartered)
  • 1 small jar Tomato Paste or Concentrate
  • 1 26-28oz. Jar/Box fine Italian Tomatoes (Diced or Pureed)
  • 2-3 Handfuls Spinach (Kale or 1 bunch Broccolini)
  • 5-10 Stalks Asparagus (course parts trimmed & removed)
  • 1/2-3/4 Box of Roselle or Farfalle Pasta (or 6 sheets dried Lasagna)
  • 1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
  • 1-1.5 cups shaved Parmesan
  • Dried Italian Herbs
  • Kosher Salt (or Fluer de Sel) and fresh cracked Pepper
  • Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it

Set large pot of water to boil.

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, in a food processor.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide bottom pan and sauté your mire poix mixture 3-4 minutes (careful to not burn garlic and onion). Stir in dash Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

If using chopped Asparagus and coarse chopped Spinach, add now and quickly stir. (Don’t overly wilt because your greens will cook fully while baking.) Next, add tomato paste and stir well 2-3 minutes. Let sauce alone now to “BROWN” (about 1 minute more). Stir in the whole jar/box of diced tomatoes with juices (and 2 leaves finely shredded fresh basil, if using).  Mix well. Remove from heat and let stand.

Step 1: Quick Sauce now cooling. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait until roiling. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (usually about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do NOT rinse with cold water!)

Here I didn’t have Rotelle pasta and used Farfalle… Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pastas. That said, this quick Lasagna is more of a “cheater’s guide” and my WASP-y go-to for a quick, very yummy dinner — and wonderful potluck addition when doubled.  Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Slick casserole dish bottom with olive oil or tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three lasagna sheets). Layer half of your tomato-vegetable sauce. Dollop large spoonfuls of half your Ricotta cheese.  Hand tear and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Then lightly layer half of your shredded mozzarella over everything and dust with shaved parmesan.

Lasagna in process: In this photo shoot with Sarah, I didn’t remember to add the veggies until later so you see them separated! But I like cooking them in the sauce for easier cleanup. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip the heavier Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Topped with herbs and ready for the oven. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!

Happy Eating!

The Road “Home” to Cooking.

My Road Home to Cooking looks like this. Photo by Sarah Deragon

My Road Home to Cooking.
Photo by Sarah Deragon

Sur La Table “Bigwig Cool Chef Man” Joel Gamoran (I’m pretty sure that’s his title) asked me “So Abi, how did you come to Cook?” I’d flown up to Seattle to tour Headquarters and talk shop. We wore sweaters and munched Cookies freshly baked by icon Dorie Greenspan as TV cameras cooled from her demo.

Dorie's "Jammer" Cookies are really good.

If Dorie wasn’t already lovely enough, her “Jammer” Cookies are really good.

The painter in me watched purpled, gray rain clouds roll in and my food-geek side wondered, how in the hell did I get here? I’m a stay at-home Mom. With two kids. And a fat, lazy dog.  Sure, I make a little wine and LOVE to cook. But trained, professional chef, I am not. (I stifled crazy-person laughter.)  For I am sure the hallowed halls of Sur La Table ought command more reverent reactions than idiotic giggles.

I’ve written my answer to Joel some nine times, happy with none. Tonight though, I poured myself a “local pour” of our Sauvignon Blanc and envisioned women and men like me, out there wielding spatulas and tongs. COOKING — alone or for family.  (Hopefully) Loving the very act of taking raw ingredients and creating something lovely.  Nourishing.  How carrots feel freshly peeled or how broccolini crisps up with solid amounts of salt. That duck confit is surprisingly easy to make.  And if you add green peas to anything starchy, kids love it.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

I looked back to how I learned to cook in my kitchen — this gorgeously old Victorian, farmhouse remodeled last sometime before 1939. First cooking with my now-husband and then alone with my cookbooks, pencil and post-it’s at hand. Now repopulated with toddlers under foot.  And gave renewed thanks to Sur La Table salespeople for helping me learn the ropes around my own kitchen.

Mixing Fine and Kids' Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Mixing Fine and Kids’ Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

*Big Side-note: Please know this piece is in no way sponsored, written only in appreciation from this home cook to a store that helped me answer my questions. And still does.*

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Grateful to cook every day here at home, Annadel Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley, California.

Readers of my column Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen know that I quit NASA after 10 years in public service, took about a 92% pay cut and embarked on new life as a “Cellar Rat” making wine. Trading high-heels for steel-toe Wolverines and a pallet jack. Committing myself whole hog to a healthier, seasonal, fully artistic life in Sonoma Valley (Oct. 2007). I literally could cook one thing then.

Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

Follow along on Instagram to see more winemaking and winery life: @abisfarmhousekitchen or Annadel Estate Winery on Facebook. Like Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

You laugh, but really, it was not even my recipe. My grandmother, Mima, made buttermilk Waffles every Sunday (recipe and tribute)…. Traditions we continue today, albeit with champagne vs. Folgers crystals instant coffee.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

It was Love that brought me “home” to Cooking once Dean and I met one summer night at the Farmers Market. I’d gone to town to buy flowers and instead, met the most handsome Man (ever). Tall. Strong. Wearing long shorts and a Stetson with just the right amount of sweat on the brim. Searing blue eyes……………… I stood there in wine-stained work boots. Smelling like Chardonnay lees. Remembering my deodorant failed hours before when cleaning barrels with a gamma jet.

It must be love. Still at it, nine year's later of harvesting estate grown grapes. "Punch Downs" Merlot and Cabernet, October 2016... We made wine here at Annadel for the first time in about 110 years this past Fall.

Still wearing those boots, years later harvesting estate grown grapes. “Punching Down” Merlot and Cabernet… Making wine at Annadel for the first time in 110+ years (Oct 2016) Photo from epic machinist and family friend Garage Metallica, Chrystiano Miranda.

Dean and I moved in four days later.

And started cooking.

First, I cooked to flirt. Food can be quite the passionate exercise, have you noticed?  But lust & love soon expanded into one powerful marriage, babies and circadian Life built near the cycles of our Vineyard.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division 1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. And he did it. Video here of Annadel and our Team Vino.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division #1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. Video of Annadel Estate &  Team Vino.

I really do consider myself a kitchen cook. A Mom and Wife, trying to keep up with the day. Mapping out my grocery list by quadrant, according to the market floor plan (that NASA side lives on). Nerding-out on Food, cooking away earnestly in our farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery. We literally live “Between Wars.” Our walls are horse-hair and plaster and my 1941 Occidental Automatic — we found in the Carriage House — we modernized to a 6 burner, 2 stove Wolf Range.

My oldest Sous Chef and little girl. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

At first, I cooked mostly Italian as Dean is 1st generation American-Italian, though I first stepped out when our daughter, Anni, was little to make Julia Child’s Cassoulet from scratch. It took me 28 hours. I fell asleep at the table.

Cooking.

Cooking. Shot by wonderful Sarah (again).

Then fellow home cook and neighbor a few vineyards down, Gail Ross, started working part time at Sur La Table and brought me Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. “Try it!” she said. “You’ll love it.” And I did.  Making “Roast Chicken for les Paresseux” (pg 200) most weeks still (+extra garlic and garden-cut herbs.)  More importantly, Dorie’s cookbook expanded my home-cooking-horizons. A beautiful gateway to French food. Which then led to Curries, Thai or Mexican, Japanese, Jams and Canning, Southern, and yes, Italian once or twice a week: Much new fare mixed in with Dean’s family heritage dishes.

Long running favorites. Dorie's French Table, Ruth Reichl, and turned on to Hugh Acheson thanks's to friend Deborah's Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Still in heavy rotation: Dorie’s French Table, Ruth Reichl, and Hugh Acheson thanks’s to friend Deborah’s Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

From my pre-War, ghost-winery Kitchen, I then started to write, first urged by TV food star Heather Christo who visited Annadel some years back. And more recently, by Indian Chef sensation Asha Shivakumar to really take up Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) Thanks to social media, and writing about food, food history, and Winemaking, I’ve connected with such wonderful food lovers, like Naomi’s The Cooks in the Kitchen series, or finding Susana best Carnitas recipe, Potato and leek soup at Jen’s Lemon Apron, and Malaysian style fish stew by Hazel plus many others. All sharing our loved, home-kitchens and earnest -cookery. I’m not talking “perfect shot” kind of bloggers but rather, warm-hearted, apron-clad souls similarly appreciating good living, wine, and home cooking. “Shaking hands” by proxy from our very agrarian spot in northern California’s wine country. Which is how I came to meet the wonderful directors at Sur la Table.

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Collecting herbs for a quick lasagna (see below) with Sarah Deragon

Sonoma County — really, the whole national Food Movement — is a return to basics. One giant step away from gridlock and desks and clocked-in/clocked-out days. A blue-skies return to the clean rhythms of seasons and harvests in grapes, vegetables, olives and food stuffs. Eating “close to the source” becoming increasingly a way of life. How we cook. Shop. Menu plan. Even potluck.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I've learned a thing or ten about Pastas. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pasta. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Through reading food (& art) history, I’ve also learned we American cooks did not pioneer this approach to cooking. I now research (&write short pieces on) how famous Artists curated their own tables, if you will. How their respective Art directly influenced their Food.

Read more of my Creatives and their Kitchens series: Frida was first. Monet second. O'Keeffe is next.

To Read more: Creatives and their Kitchens. Frida was first. Monet second. O’Keeffe is next.

As for me and our little family, good food, art, and real wine are proof of Love. For each other. Our Family. And Friends. And thanks to Sur la Table, I’m whisking proof that real food knowledge makes all the difference as a Mom once asking “timer questions” between blanched and oversmushed Asparagus. I was glad Julia’s words read warmly from the Test Kitchen walls. Making me feel like just another Cook talking shop, eating cookies. Global icons or not, all of us ardently still in love with Food. And our Kitchens.

“Learn how to cook — Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” ~ Julia Child

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. (12/1/16) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

 

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Easy, Weeknight Lasagna:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled) (We use 5)
1 carrot (peeled & quartered)
1/4 yellow onion (peeled & quartered)
1 stalk celery (quartered)
1 26-28oz jar/box of fine Italian diced tomato, or puree
1 bunch Broccolini (5-10 stalks) (Spinach or Kale)
1 bunch Asparagus (5-10 pieces trimmed)
2 handfuls dried pasta (shells) or five lasagna sheets
1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
2 balls fresh Mozzarella
Handful shaved Parmesan
Dried Italian herbs
Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it.

Fall foliage beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Fall beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Preheat oven to 350’F. And set pot of water to boil. (Do NOT salt it).

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté veggie mixture 3-4 minutes. Stir in dash of Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomato puree, stir well 2-3 minutes to “BROWN” sauce. Remove from heat.

Step 1: Quick Sauce

Step 1: Quick Sauce Photo by Sarah Deragon

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do not rinse with cold water!)

Think "bite size." No stress. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Think “bite size.” No stress chopping. There is no wrong size. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Finely Chop Spinach/Broccolini and Asparagus. Quick sauté in butter or olive oils until greens brighten but retain crunch.

Slick casserole dish with olive oil. Layer smear of your quick tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three of the lasagna sheets). Layer Half vegetables and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Lightly layer with half of your shredded mozzarella and dust with shaved parmesan. Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata can work too). Italians often skim fattening Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses for thickening.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip Béchamel sauces to focus on simple cheeses for thickening. Apron at Sur La Table (casserole too). Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating! Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!