Saturday, January 25, 2014

Winter Vegetable Lasagna

My birthday's coming up this Saturday [today!] and my parents (and little sister) came up to visit and celebrate this past weekend. I thought it might be fun to celebrate by showing off a little: cooking something seasonal and fun. Not mention challenging. So I cast my net out for something I could create with the limited choices available in January. Winter vegetable lasagna answered the call.

I love making lasagna. If I could make only one dish to sum up the kinds of food I love to cook, lasagna would probably be it. I think that's why this dish spoke to me. It added my favorite winter squash, with my favorite starch (interesting enough in my favorite color, which is usual for it), with a new green that I have always wanted to try. All in my favorite sauce and cheese of course.

Lasagna is not an easy dish. Nor is it one for the impatient. Still, this delightful little number was perfect for our winter celebration.

Winter Vegetable Lasagna

[What you need]
1 butternut squash
1 bunch swiss chard
3-5 blue potatoes (amount depends on size of potato. You also don't have to use blue, but they're pretty and very good for you!)
1/2 lb chorizo or Italian sausage
lasagna noodles
tomato sauce
~8 oz ricotta cheese
~8 oz mozzarella cheese
sage to taste

[What to do]

  1. Cube squash and potatoes; Devein the chard and cut into strips.
  2. Precook veggies and meat. I sauteed the chard, boiled the squash and potatoes in the microwave, and browned the meat on the stove. I'm certain your choice method will work just as well here.
  3. Combine the veggies, meat, and a generous helping of sage.
  4. Grease a 9x13 pan (Lasagna sticks. My sister buys disposable pans to make her lasagna it can get that bad.), arrange the noodles and layer tomato sauce, both cheeses, and filling mix.
  5. Repeat until you have reached the top of your pan. Add one final open layer to the top. It looks pretty that way.
  6. Cover and bake at 350*F for 50-60 minutes

[I find that I am slowly turning into my bisnonna as I write this recipes. I have a tendency to want to give you a list of ingredients and say "now go for it!". I'm resisting, of course.]

Monday, January 13, 2014

Beet Greens and Gorgonzola Spaghetti

I would say this dish is part of my Polish-Italian fusion repertoire. Beets, much like cabbage, are an important Eastern European food and goodness are they good for you! For many years, I've been enjoying them on my salads, but as one of my New Year's challenges is to learn how to prepare and use at least 5 new ingredients in my dishes, figured the lovely betaine rich beet would be a great place to start.

There are jars of beets pickling on my canning shelf right now, but that's not the only thing you can do with beets.

I was intrigued to learn that not only the roots of beets are edible. The tops are too. They're interesting. I was expecting a bitter flavor, like radish tops, but they have a unexpected natural saltiness that really intrigues me.

This recipe is quick and simple; easy enough to whip up on a busy weeknight.

Beet Greens and Gorgonzola Spaghetti

[What you need]
Spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
Beet Greens chopped from one bunch of beets
Gorgonzola cheese
Tomato sauce
A spoonful of Italian breadcrumbs
Olive Oil

[What to do]
  1. Put on water and start spaghetti
  2. In the meantime, rinse the beet greens and saute them briefly in olive oil
  3. When the spaghetti is ready, stir in the cheese and greens
  4. Top with a small amount of tomato sauce and bread crumbs to serve

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Luckiest Dinner of All: Pork, Sauerkraut, and...Black Eyed Peas?

I was considering holding this one until next year so because the whole point of this recipe is to make it for New Year's Day. Still, I figure by the the time New Year's 2015 rolls around, I'll just have to dredge this post up from the archives (and maybe add some better pictures).  Anyway, without further adieu:

"In the nineteenth century, sauerkraut was a cold-weather food. Sauerkraut with fresh pork was a fall dish. Sauerkraut with turkey was a Christmas dish. And sauerkraut with pork was eaten for good luck on New Year's Day, because, as the [Pennsylvania] Dutch say, "the pig roots forward." Thus rooting forward into the new year, the Dutch ate sauerkraut with salt pork in the late winter, and finally, sauerkraut with fish in early spring."
---Sauerkraut Yankees, William Woys Weaver [University of Pennsylvania Press:Philadelphia] 1983 (p. 176)
Eating Sauerkraut on New Year's Eve is a long-standing tradition in Germany. It is believed that eating Sauerkraut will bring blessings and wealth for the new year. Before the meal, those seated at the table wish each other as much goodness and money as the number of shreds of cabbage in the pot of Sauerkraut. - 

Growing up the traditional meal in my family (and in my region in general) was pork and sauerkraut. Though I do have German (Alsatian, really, but let's not split hairs yet) and Polish background, this little number is from -all- over in my family. From looking around the internet, it somehow has become a "Midwest" thing, which I find interesting. (Hopefully, I won't ever find myself explaining to people that it didn't start in the Midwest like I have to do annually with pączki.)

I've been making pork and sauerkraut every year on New Year's for as long as I can remember. I'm personally a little superstitious about it. One year, I ate a whole plate of sauerkraut at midnight because the year before had been particularly bad. So it goes without saying that this year I was going to make pork and sauerkraut. I could do it in my sleep too: Salt the pork roast and pop it in the slow cooker with a recipe of sauerkraut (I have yet to make my own, but one day I dream to), a cup of brown sugar, and about an inch of chicken broth.

Usually, the side dishes to this meal are corn and mashed potatoes, two foods I hold dear; however, I didn't make them this year. My boyfriend being a southerner (ish), I went out on a limb and explored another New Year's tradition: Black Eyed Peas. I found a wide variety of reasons for these tasty legumes being lucky all over the internet, but I'm not sure if any one reason was definitive yet. I'll leave the floor open for debate.

There are many delicious Black Eyed Pea recipes. I did mine simply since it was my first go: soaked over night, boiled for 45 minutes and then toasted with hot chilies.

All in all, I think I managed to double my luck for 2014 *knock on wood*. 

Happy belated New Year to all of you!