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 Perfect Waffle and The Importance of Butter

The Importance of Butter and Buttermilk: Secret 2

The Importance Buttermilk: Secret 1

For weeks, I wondered what to say at Mima’s funeral. I truly thought about just reciting her Buttermilk Waffles recipe. But flying down on Friday, the stewardess gave me a free glass of white wine. Anni played a new Dinosaur game. And inspiration struck:

“The morning after Mima died, I was surprised how much harder her death hit me. I thought I’d feel more relieved. And then Hannah (my cousin) wrote a note to we girls that she wished she had a waffle maker and all of us together. I loved that. I think it speaks to the legacy of our incredible grandmother that thousands of miles apart, four granddaughters — now women — yearned to be together. And I’m betting we all flashed back to the sun-lit kitchen at Linda Ridge (their home) on Sunday morning. Because no matter how epic, talented, beautiful and strong our Mima was… She and Dida helmed one hell of a family. I think we Palmers are so collectively dynamic — each in our own ways — because of the strong, loving examples set for us by Mima and Dida.”

“I couldn’t decide what to say today. There was too much good stuff. Dancing the Charleston in our socks. Sailing to Catalina. Driving to the Ranch in Kansas. Collecting rocks. Learning to curtsy with books on our heads — I can still do this. Museums. Water aerobics. More Museums. Playing dress-up. Collecting ART. Sitting on her Dressing Room floor watching her get glamorous for a Night Out with Dida. Seeing her smile now on my little girl’s face.”

“But it all boils down to waffles on Sunday mornings. With a bunch of us gaggled around kitchen table in our pajamas. Breathing in the sleepy scent of syrup and Folgers Crystals. And love. Always lots and lots of love.”

We four Granddaughters of Mima

Mima’s four Granddaughters.

I wore a mid-century inspired dress in Jade green for Mima and my pearls. All of us girl cousins were wearing some semblance of this combination. Sara and I wore pearls. Hannah and Kate wore Jade necklaces. Mima loved to “look good.” She believed everyone could be beautiful. “It’s not what you’re born with but what you do with it.” And that each woman had her own style to find and cultivate.

Knowing when to Splurge: the Importance of Butter. Secret 1

Knowing when to Splurge: the Importance of Butter. Secret 3

But making Mima’s Waffles is more about Butter than a nipped waistline. Knowing when to splurge. The Joy cooked into family food. And buttermilk. Lots of Buttermilk. I think those flavors are part of our collective family DNA now.

As many Palmers as possible gathered to celebrate Dida's 100th Birthday on Sunday

As many Palmers as possible gathered to celebrate Dida’s 100th Birthday on Sunday.

 

BUTTERMILK WAFFLES RECIPE: Well…I was going to give you her exact recipe that we make most Sunday mornings but reconsidered. I think some family secrets should remain kept. But I will tell you this, no matter how you make your waffles — from scratch or with a mix (we love Bisquick) — Swapping in Buttermilk for regular milk is vital. This is Secret 1. Mix in one and a half to two times the called for amount. So the waffles are thinner, less doughy. Because waffles really are just a vehicle for butter and syrup.  Secret 2: Always give the first waffle to the dog. It takes you and your machine one test-run for subsequent waffles perfection.  Secret 3: Melt 1 stick of butter to every cup to cup and a half of pure maple syrup on your stove top, being careful not to boil too much or reduce.  When you waffle is ready, PING! Go whole-hog and enjoy.

I think families who share at least a handful of beloved dishes — and pass down their recipes to kids and grandkids — strengthen their inter-generational fabric with memories of deliciousness. Waffles is this dish for us. My grandmother may have gone to Army Cooking School in World War II and been a plain cook all her life but I like to think she intuitively knew the French secret that everything tastes better with Butter.  Especially on Sunday mornings.

Off to take Anni Swimming on this last day of our Family Reunion. And maybe some Water Aerobics. For old times sake.

Three Generations missing our Fourth.

Three Generations missing our Fourth.

Happy Memories! And Eating.