Italian Cuisine.

Olive Garden Style Vegetable Lasagna

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Olive Garden`s Lasagna Classico is a very popular dish for kids and adults alike. As a id all celebrations, birthdays and get togethers with family or friends are always at Olive Garden. This is a vegetarian version inspired by various versions online as well as my own adaptation of this dish. Although it seems to have a lot of ingredients, its simply a matter of adding them together to create this dish, Both the tomato sauce and the cheese sauce can be prepared ahead and the Lasgagna assembled on the day its required. A great party dish for kids or an excellent addition to a potluck. This preparation contains around 7-8 servings and can be stored frozen, in a container covered with cling film.

Ingredients:

Lasagna Sheets ( I used no bake)

Prepared Tomato Sauce

Prepared Ricotta Mix

1.5 Cups Mozzarella

Cooking Spray

Tomato Sauce:

2  28 Oz  Can Crushed Tomatoes

3 Tbsp Onion

1 Onion

2-3 Garlic Pods

2 Zucchini diced fine.

1 Yellow Squash diced fine.

1/4 Tsp Dry oregano

1/4 Tsp Dry Basil

Salt + Pepper to taste

Cheese Sauce:

2 Pounds Ricotta Cheese

1 Cup Mozzarella

1/2 Cup Romano

1 Tbsp Fresh Parsley leaves

1 Tbsp Fresh basil leaves

1 Tbsp Oregano Leaaves.

1 Egg Beaten (Optional)

Salt + Pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

  • In a large pan, add the 3 Tbsp Oil and then the garlic and the diced onions. Allow them to saute and sweat until translucent.
  • Add diced zucchini and yellow squash and allow to saute.
  • Pour in the 2 cans of crushed tomato, dry oregano, basil, salt and pepper.
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer and let it simmer for 20 mins.
  • Hearty Tomato Sauce is ready.

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  • In another bowl add 2 pounds of whole milk ricotta cheese, 1 Cup Mozarella Cheese, 1/2 Cup Romano Cheese and fold them together.
  • Now add 1 beaten egg, all the fresh herbs (substitute with dried, but fresh leaves really makes all the difference), salt and pepper and combine.
  • Set aside. Now both Tomato Sauce and Cheese Sauce are ready. Make sure they both are at room temperature.

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  • Preheat the oven to 350 F(Boiled Lasagna Sheets) and 425F (No boil lasagna Sheets).
  • Line your baking dish with oil or cooking spray.
  • Pour 1 Cup of Tomato Sauce on the base of the dish as the first layer and spread.
  • Lay your lasagna sheets (No boil or Boiled) in a single layer to completely cover the tomato sauce layer.
  • Spread a cup of cheese sauce over the lasagna sheets. Spread thinly without ripping the sheets.
  • Now add 1 cup of tomato sauce covering the cheese sauce completely.
  • Layer lasagna sheets and cheese sauce and repeat the process alternatively until all the sheets are exhausted.

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  • Finish the top layer with tomato sauce and sprinkle a generous 1 to 1.5 cups of mozzarella cheese on the top.
  • Coat the inner side of an aluminium foil with oil spray and use it to completely cover the baking dish.
  • The foil keeps the top layer from getting over cooked while the middle layers complete cooking.
  • Bake for 50 – 55 mins and when done turn off the heat.
  • Keep the lasagna as is in the oven with  the oven door slightly open.
  • Remove from oven and make uniform square cuts to the lasagna.
  • They will be well set and firm but well cooked and delicious.
  • Makes 16-20 pieces depending on pan size.

 

Easy LunchBox Series. · Italian Cuisine.

Spaghetti in Basil Kale Pesto.

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Spaghetti has always always been a favored dinner entree in our home teamed always with plain marinara. There is something very comforting about a plate of spaghetti dunked in hot marinara sauce and topped with melted parmesan. No additions, nothing. The simpler, the better. On cold winter nights, the kids find it as comforting as a pot of Rasam and Alu Fry. This summer I had valiantly decided to grow a herb garden and bought Thai Basil, Sweet  basil and mint. The herbs were lovingly tended and spoken to and watered and it was amazing to see them grow and flourish. I had pruned the herbs and decided to make Pesto with the basil. I have a whole mason jar of pesto stacked away for the winter! This recipe is forgiving as you can substitute kale with spinach, collards etc.

INGREDIENTS:

1 Bunch Kale cleaned and roughly chopped.

1 Bunch Fresh Basil.

1/4 Cup Pine Nuts.

1/4 Cup Almonds.

3 Cloves Garlic.

1/3 Cup Parmesan.

Zest & Juice of one lemon.

Himalayan Pink Salt.

1/4 Cup Olive Oil.

Spaghetti Pasta/ Angel Hair/ Any pasta of your choice.

2 Zucchini sliced in to half moons/ rolled in to pasta form with a spiralizer.

One Carrot sliced in to half moons/ circles.

PREPARATION:

  • Add the nuts, salt, half the kale, all of the basil and the remaining ingredients in to a food processor and blend with 2-3 Tbsp  of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  • Add the remaining kale and blend again until almost smooth.
  • Store the Pesto in an airtight glass jar and you can use this for up to 3 weeks.

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  • Cook the pasta as per directions with a tsp of salt. Drain but reserve a little of the hot pasta water.
  • In a wok, add a spoon of extra virgin olive oil, and slip in the sliced veggies.
  • Toss, season with salt and pepper and then add all the pasta.
  • Top with as much pesto as necessary and  little of the hot pasta water to bring it all together.
  • Serve hot topped with grated cheese.

HINT:

  1. The Olive Oil in the pesto serves as a natural preservant. When refrigerated it stays fresh for about 2-3 weeks.
  2. Use this pesto as a spread on Sandwich Bread.
  3. Add a spoon of basil kale pesto to 1/4 Cup Greek yoghurt to make a cooling dip for Bruschetta.
  4. No Kale? Thats fine too! Just toss in a bunch of baby spinach leaves or collard greens.
Italian Cuisine.

Lasagna Roll Ups filled with creamy spinach, peas & corn and baked in a creamier mint, spinach cilantro pesto.

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Lasagna Rolls Ups have been on my to do list for a very long time as it serves as a super quick dinner option, without requiring layers of lasagna to be filled with roasted vegetables and allowing them to get cooked in the sauce. Roll Ups allow the versatility of using available vegetables, and they can be quickly filled and rolled up tightly and placed in a cookie sheet with a sauce of your liking. When Padmajha suggested using Mint and Pasta together in a dish for the Shhh cooking, I immediately decided to use this opportunity to make Lasagna Roll Ups for the same.

 INGREDIENTS:

Ingredients for the Lasagna Filling:

1/2 Bunch cleaned and chopped spinach.

1/2 Cup Peas.

1/2 Cup Corn.

3 Tbsp Cream Cheese / Ricotta Cheese.

1/4 Cup Shredded Mozzarella.

Salt to taste.

1/2 Tsp Pepper Powder.

1/2 Tsp Onion Powder / Garlic Powder.

1 Packet Lasagna Sheets.

Ingredients for the Creamy Cilantro Mint Pesto:

3 Tbsp Butter.

4 Tbsp All Purpose Flour.

1 1/2 Cup Milk.

1/2 Cup Half & Half or Heavy Cream.

Salt to taste.

1/2 Bunch Spinach.

1 Bunch Mint.

1/2 Bunch Cilantro.

1 Green Chilli.

2 Garlic Cloves.

PREPARATION:

  •  Take a large flat bottomed vessel and fill it up with 3/4`th water. Add a couple spoonfuls of salt and a few drops of olive oil, and let it boil. Add the lasagna sheets and cook as per direction.
  • Remove from the water and allow to sit on a greased aluminum foil. Each sheet should be kept separately, to avoid them from sticking to each other, and they co-operate with you better later on.
  • Prepare the filling by taking all the required ingredients – Spinach, corn, peas, ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and the required spices like salt, onion powder, pepper powder etc and mix well.
  • Set aside.
  • To make the creamy sauce, take a wide sauce pan and add the 3 tbsp butter. When melted, add the all purpose flour and quickly whisk it in on a medium low flame. When the flour is cooked in the butter, add the milk and the half and half/ heavy cream and whisk it slowly until well incorporated.
  • Grind the spinach, cilantro, chilli, garlic cloves and mint and give it a quick pulse until smooth. Add this to the roux that’s on the stove.
  • Add salt, and black pepper and mix in for desired taste.

lasagna roll up

Assembling the roll ups :

Take the cookie sheet and pour a couple ladlefuls of cilantro mint pesto on to it.

Take the lasagna sheets and fill with a spoonful of the lasagna filling. Roll them up tightly and arrange tightly next to each other on to the cookie sheet.

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Pour more of the creamy mint pesto sauce on to the lasagna roll ups and garnish with more shredded mozarella .

At this point, you could throw it in the freezer for use later on. Store them in little loaf pans and seal them with the cling wrap and freeze them for use

later on.

Else you could preheat the oven to about 375F and bake them for about 20 minutes until soft and bubbly.

Remove from oven and serve hot with roasted veggies.

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Italian Cuisine. · Mexican Cuisine.

Green Goddess Dressing – Zingy Creamy Dressing / Dip.

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The Green Goddess Dressing originated in the west coast of the United States, before the advent of the now famous creamy “Ranch” dressing. In its original version it`s base was mayonnaise, sour cream, parsley, anchovies , chives, lemon juice and pepper and everything else thats nice and creamy but its a very forgiving recipe. It allows so many different modifications – I drew inspiration from the Taco Bells Cantina Bowl, retained the creaminess by substituting mayo for fresh thick curd. I am guessing its alright to do with Greek Yogurt too, hashed in the cilantro and the chilies and added an avocado for added silkiness! This forms the base of the Cantina Bowl and I think its a very fresh delectable dressing/dip. A great do ahead party dip that serves as a side for Pita chips, or even cut veggies. Rehash it with dill, parsley or mint for some extremely gratifying results..I told you so..

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 Cup Sour Cream.(Substitute Mayo / Greek Yogurt  if sour cream not available.)

1/3 Cup Fresh Yogurt.

2 Garlic Cloves. or 1 Tsp Fresh Garlic Paste – Please do not use store bought versions!

1 Ripe Hass Avocado.

1 Bunch of Cilantro Leaves.

1 Tbsp Fresh Parsley Leaves.(Optional).

1 Jalapeno.

A few inches of spring onion leaves or chives if available.

1 Lemon`s Juice.

1 Tsp Salt.

1 Tsp Tarragon.( The recipe calls for this herb but I did not have it)

PREPARATION:

  • Add the ingredients in the order mentioned in a food processor or blender and pulse it to get a creamy mint green goddess dressing.
  • Transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid and store for over a week.
  • Slather the dressing on toast for a zingy breakfast.
  • Use it as a creamy dip for pita chips or tortilla chips.
  • Is a great salad dressing without the carbs from the ranch.
  • Can be used instead of Aioli in burgers and sadwiches.
  • The Green Goddess Dressing ties together my favourite Taco Bell`s Cantina Bowl.

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Italian Cuisine. · Kid Friendly Recipes.

Lemony Dill Pesto.

Dill has been a relatively new herb to me as I have never tasted it growing up. There are certain fruits and vegetable that we have always kept away, never knowing why. I am guessing dill was one such herb. I do remember seeing bunches here and there in Chennai, some years back, but I have never tried to cook with it!  In the US, dill is pretty much a common addition to dips and sauces. Last year when I went to India, my sister made this amazing Dill Dhal, and I was a sucker for it. When I came back I pretty much started finding ways to add it to my weekly grocery shopping. When I had to decide on a lunch menu for my 9 year old, I decided to make a pesto with the dill, almost similar to the one we make with basil. Well, and why not?  I didnt have pine nuts and I was always looking for excuses to sneak in walnuts in my little one food, so I decided to use the walnuts instead. ..Yes, you could never make out! The pesto was aromatic, flavourful, lemony, garlicky and yummy!  I used cheese ravioli as the base and dressed it pretty with the green pesto! Go on and try it!

INGREDIENTS:

2 Cups Dill.

12 Almond Pieces/Walnut Pieces.

1/4 Cup Olive Oil.

6 Garlic Pods.

Salt to taste.

1/2 Lemon Juice.

1 Tsp Lemon Zest.

PREPARATION:

  • Take a food processor jar and pop all the walnuts/almonds and the garlic pods in to the jar. Give it a quick pulse.
  • Now add the chopped dill, salt, lemon zest and pulse again.
  • Continue pulsing until roughly chopped and slowly add the olive oil until the desired consistency is reached.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 weeks.

TO USE LEMON DILL PESTO AS A SAUCE:

  • Cook the desired pasta until its al-dente and save a little of the salted pasta water.
  • In a wok, add some extra virgin olive oil, herbs de provence, and then the dill pesto.
  • After a light saute, add the cooked pasta and the pasta water.
  • Swirl in and toss.
  • Serve hot with a garnish of your favourite shredded cheese.

TO USE LEMON DILL PESTO AS A DIP:

  • Combine lemon dill pesto with a spoon of cream cheese/ mascarpone cheese and some sour cream/hung curd.
  • Adjust salt to suit your taste.
  • lemon Dill Pesto makes an earthy  dip filled with tons of flavour and zest.
Italian Cuisine.

Mushroom Rotini in Fragrant Bechamel Sauce.

Every time I see Bechamel Sauce or white sauce, I always rememeber my favourite restaurant, Eden in Besant Nagar,  Chennai. I loved two of their dishes…One was the Corn Florentine, which was simply beds of flavoured sweet corn languished in bechamel sauce, choked with cheese and sprinkled with a little pepper as I remember it…The other all time favorite dish was called “Vegetable Risotto” which was a small mound of rice pilaf flavored with mild spices,  with  steamed veggies spotted with crushed pepper powder, bathed in warm flavorful bechamel sauce in the center of this mound. You had to dig in to the rice, and it would slice out that little heaven of veggies in the white sauce from within and present itself to be sampled. I have never tried to recreate this dish as I am sure, I can never actually get it right…Although I often wonder why it was called Risotto, which is a small grained rice which is extremely sticky and starchy!!! My love for this bechamel sauce started right then and there and I wanted to capture its essence in this beautiful pasta dish, which is a twist on Giada`s!!!

INGREDIENTS:

2 Pounds Fresh Mushrooms  ( I used a combination of cremini, baby bella and white button ).

1 Medium Red/White Onion.

3 Garlic Cloves.

1 Tsp Fresh/Dried Rosemary.

1 Tsp Fresh/ Dried Thyme.

1 Tsp All Spice.

1 Tsp Pepper.

Salt to taste

Pinch of Nutmeg.

1/2 Cup Smoked/Plain Mozarella.

1/3 Cup Sharp  Cheddar/ Smoked Cheddar.

Parmesan Cheese to sprinkle.

Pinch of Paprika.

1 Pound of Multi Coloured/Plain Fusili Pasta. (Any pasta of your choice).

Bechamel Sauce.

2 Tbsp  Cup Margarine.

2 Tbsp Butter.

1/3 cup All Purpose Flour.

3 Cups 2% Milk.

Pinch of Nutmeg.

PREPARATION:

  • Wipe down each mushroom with a clean kitchen towel. Chop it in to 4 quarters. Set aside.
  • Chop the onions and garlic in to fine pieces.
  • In a skillet add a spoon on extra virgin olive oil and allow to heat a little. Add the diced onions and allow to sweat a little. Flavour with salt and pepper.
  • Add the diced garlic over the onions to prevent them from burning. When you smell the aroma of the garlic, its time to pop in the diced mushrooms.
  • Flavour with thyme, rosemary, paprika  and a little more salt.

  • When the mushrooms sweat in a few minutes, switch off the flame.
  • In a large pot filled with water, add salt and a little oil before adding the pasta. Cook al dente and switch off the flame. Drain the water after saving half cup of the water in which the pasta was cooked.

Bechamel Sauce:

  • Take a pan and add butter and then the flour. Using a whisk move it briskly to bring it to a thick gravy like consistency.
  • Now slowly add the milk and with the flame under medium, whisk the pot to allow the sauce to thicken.
  • Simmer and stir continuously over medium heat and do not allow the roux to boil as this might cause it to  thicken way beyond the desired consistency.
  • After 6 minutes or so, you will see the sauce slowy thickening and coming together.
  • Add a pinch or so of nutmeg and stir in well.
  • When you dip a ladle in to the roux and you see a creamy coating, then its time to switch off the flame.
  • Add the grated smoked mozarella and smoked cheddar and watch the cheeses slowly melting in to the sauce and thickening more.

ASSEMBLY:

  • Preheat the oven to 350F.
  • In a rectangular greased baking pan, add the cooked pasta, bechamel sauce and the sauteed mushrooms. Stir in well and if you feel its a little thick, add some of the salted water in which the pasta was cooked.
  • Top the pan with a spattering of grated mozarella cheese and cook for about 10 – 12 minutes or until the cheeses get bubbly.
  • When cooled slice in to the pan, for some heaven and sit back and enjoy!!!

Italian Cuisine. · Snacks & Tiffin Items

Bruschetta topped with Roasted veggies,Arugula and Pecorino & Parmesan cheese – Super Healthy & Yum!!!

I have always loved ciabatta bread in any form as I simply adore rustic variations of bread and bread alone! Every time I peek in to Trader joes my favourite store in the neighbourhood, I never fail to pick a Ciabatta and my favourite Pizza Dough made with whole wheat.

Ciabatta is an Italian white bread  made with wheat flour and yeast. The loaf is somewhat elongated, broad and flattish. It’s name is the Italian for slipper. There are many variations of ciabatta. Like many artisan breads, ciabatta bread tastes best when it is fresh. People should try and purchase it freshly baked on the day they intend to use it, although wrapping it in plastic can help it to last longer. However, plastic wrapping will tend to make the bread slightly soggy, which can be an undesirable or unacceptable trade-off. To refresh ciabatta bread which is slightly stale or soggy, it can be sprinkled with water and toasted in an oven immediately before serving. Otherwise, stale ciabbata bread can be allowed to go truly stale and turned into croutons. I simply love the lightness of this bread when toasted because of its airy texture. Ciabatta in its grilled form can also be used to make sandwiches / Paninis.

INGREDIENTS:

Half Loaf Ciabatta Bread.

1 Medium Red Onion diced thin and long.

1/4 Cup chopped Cremini Mushrooms.

1/4 cup chopped chinese eggplant.

1/4 cup chopped red peppers.

1/4 cup diced olives.

1/4 Cup Tangy Arkansas Tomatoes or Hierloom Tomatoes/ Tomatillos.

Bunch of Arugula Leaves. (Substitute with baby spinach leaves)

Handful of shredded Fontina cheese.

Handful of shredded Pecorino Romano Cheese.

Marinate Ingredients:

3-4 Cloves of Garlic.

1/3 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

1 Tsp Fresh/ Dried Basil.

Pinch of salt.

Fresh Cracked Pepper as per taste.

Chopped Cilantro Leaves.

PREPARATION:

  • Chop the veggies, mushrooms,cut the olives in to halves and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, add the ingredients for marination and toss it over the veggies. Allow to marinate for half hour at least.
  • Pour on to a baking tray and spread all the veggies all over the tray with your hands. This coats all the ingredients with the oil perfumed with the spices.
  • Roast in the oven preheated to 350 F for about 7-10 minutes or until the veggies are nicely roasted. Set aside.
  • Cut the Ciabatta bread lengthwise in to thin long strips. Line a tray with parchment and arrange all the slices on the tray.
  • Sprinkle each bread with salt and pepper and brush with extra virgin olive oil.

  • Bake at 400F for 7-10 minutes until almost crisp. Set aside to cool.
  • Peel a garlic clove and rub it all over the slightly roughened surface of the bruschetta bread. This perfumes the freshly baked bread with the garlic and gives it an extra flavour to the brischetta.
  • Now, place all the bruschetta slices on a baking tray. Line each of their surface with a spoon of marinara sauce. If not available, line with simple Tomato ketchup. This helps the topping to stick to the bread.
  • Now neatly place the roasted veggies over the bread smeared with marinara sauce.

  • Top the veggies with fresh arugula and finally sprinkle pecorino romano and delicious parmesan cheese.
  • Pop in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts and holds all the veggeis firmly.
  • Enjoy delicious Bruschetta topped with roasted veggies, arugula and cheeses with a bowl of your favourite Tomato Soup.
  • Sweet Heaven!!!