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Vegetable lasagna with no pasta

Meatless meals. I love them, my husband, not so much. Well that’s really an understatement. He hates them. But this one, he loved.

Really.

I keep calling this a lasagna, yet I don’t know why, because there’s no pasta in it. But it does have layered things and mozzarella and Pecorino Romano cheese. Maybe it should be called a clean eggplant parmigiano because the eggplant is neither breaded nor fried and there’s very little olive oil in it. No matter, this is really, really good. It’s fresh and bright tasting and the zucchini was still a little crisp with the crunchy goodness of the bread crumbs – this is my kind of dish!Vegetable lasagna with a side of pasta on a white Wedgewood plate.
Perhaps you could suggest some names for me?

So I made this a week ago last Wednesday. I really try to do one meatless meal a week and two fish nights and then chicken, pork or lamb. We rarely eat beef. How about you – what’s your meal make-up?

When I made this, I made a huge portion as you can see in the video – but that turned out to be a great benefit. Steve and I had it for dinner the night I made it and then I carefully saved the rest, lifting it out of the pan, keeping the breadcrumbs on top. We had one other portion as a side vegetable one night for another dinner and then I served it as a first course for dinner with our friends Margaret and Wayne, last Saturday. It was perfect, warmed up in the oven, flash broiled again to crisp up the breadcrumbs. It received rave reviews!! Really. (and they had no idea it was a leftover)

Here’s the recipe:

VEGETABLE LASAGNA WITH NO PASTA
- serves 6 as a main course or 8 – 10 as a starter

Peanut oil
Olive oil
3 small striped eggplants, washed, dried, sliced into 1/4″ – 3/8” rounds
2 zucchinis, washed, dried, sliced into 1/8″ rounds
1 lb. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
2 – 2.5 lbs. of fresh plum tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” rounds
7 cloves of garlic, minced
A handful of ramps, if you can find them or 1.5 tbs. of fresh thyme leaves or whatever herb you like, chopped
Salt
Pepper
1 scant cup of bread crumbs
3 tbs. chopped parsley
3 tbs. fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1.5 tbs. olive oil

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Pour a little bit of peanut oil on a paper towel and wipe a rimmed baking sheet with it. Lay eggplant slices on top and season with fine grind sea salt and pepper. Roast on the bottom rack of your oven for 20 minutes. When done, remove slices with a thin metal spatula so the browned parts stay on the eggplant and not on the pan. Reduce oven heat to 350 – 375 degrees.

Meanwhile prepare the zucchinis, tomatoes, garlic and ramps or thyme. TIP: Slice your cheese while it’s cold as it’s easier that way. Then leave out to get to room temperature.

Slick a tiny bit of olive oil in the bottom and sides of a 9” x 13” Pyrex glass pan. Put in a layer of sliced tomatoes, Then a layer of roasted eggplant, then the minced garlic, mozzarella cheese and then zucchini. Grind some pepper on top. Drizzle on top 1 – 1.5 tbs of olive oil, then the ramps or thyme, and then the final layer of tomatoes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 – 375 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, until liquid is bubbly and the zucchini are fork tender.

Meanwhile, mix 2 tbs. olive oil with the breadcrumbs, parsley and grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Toss to combine in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Remove the aluminum foil and turn your broiler on. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the whole dish. Broil the dish to get the breadcrumbs crispy, about 2 – 3 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn’t burn!

Let rest for 10 – 15 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!! I served this with a side of pasta with some garlic and parsley. Delish!!

Vegetable lasagna with a side of pasta on a white Wedgewood plate, overhead shot.

Zucchini, fennel, red pepper and mint torta

A serving of zucchini fennel and red pepper torta with mint on a plate.
Several of you asked for this recipe from our “Birthday Linner”. The truth is that my older son made it up, on the spot, based on vegetables that I had in the apartment, plus some herbs from our grocery store downstairs, which does not have a broad selection, particularly on a Sunday. He originally wanted some basil but they had none. He came back with a beautiful bunch of fresh mint instead. And, I just learned last night from my fellow cooking friend, Margaret, that mint is a relative of basil, so that was a very good choice indeed.

He meant to put in fresh grated Parmesan, but forgot. But as a dish in the middle of this many-course celebration, it did not need Parmesan. The clean tasting vegetables were a welcome interlude between the pasta with spinach and Pecorino Romano cheese and the very rich and super delicious short ribs with polenta.

This son is a big cook – he just gets in there and does things! Fearless and big, that’s what I call him. He says, “Thank you!”

Here’s a stab at his recipe.

ZUCCHINI, FENNEL, RED PEPPER AND MINT TORTA
3 zucchinis
1 and 1/2 fennel bulbs
2 large red peppers
3 – 4 tbs. olive oil
Salt
Pepper
½ bunch of fresh mint leaves

Broil red peppers, checking and turning until all skin is blackened. Using tongs, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap until cool. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice zucchini and fennel on a mandoline, somewhere between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick. Using 1 or 2 tbs. of olive oil for each vegetable, toss separately in a bowl, with salt and pepper (test and taste for proper seasoning) and lay out each on separate baking sheets. Roast zucchini and fennel until crisp tender. Check in 20 minutes. The fennel will most likely take a little longer. This is why you keep them on separate baking sheets.

Peel the red pepper, core, remove the seeds and cut into 1 inch wide strips.
Layer the zucchini, fennel, red pepper and mint leaves in 10 inch round dish, repeating again until all is used up. Place a plate on top and weight it down to press ingredients together. We used a 28 oz. can of tomatoes with a large heavy mason jar of honey on top of the plate. Press for an hour or two. Then carefully slide the torta out, top side up, on a large round cake plate. Cut into pie wedge serving pieces and enjoy!

We used only two red peppers but three might be better. You could also add a layer of grated Parmesan cheese. We talked about that and then forget to do it.
Vegetable torta in a blue Dansk pan.cutting the vegetable torta on a crystal cake plate.

The birthday linner

The birthday cook-a-thon celebration for my husband was a huge success and just so much fun. We started cooking at noon and ate from 2:45 to 6:45 just in time to put Zach on a 7:10 train back to New Haven. So what do you call a leisurely meal like this that encompasses lunch and dinner? Linner!

While every dish was great, what was even more terrific was the time spent together, planning, chopping, sharing pots, debating, arguing, laughing and agreeing. My oldest son was upset at first with the look of the short ribs. He said they weren’t going to look pretty enough. Being a designer, that made me feel good – at least he learned something from me! We played games in between while watching football. And since one person did not have responsibility for the whole meal, there was time off for everyone. It was really a wonderful day of just being together.

Now for the food! Here’s the photo essay.

Birthday making torta– Making a zucchini, red pepper and fennel torta

Onions sauteing in a Le Creuset pot.

Onions sauteing for the short ribs

Browned short ribs in a Le Creuset dish

The short ribs, browned

Mozzeralla, tomato, baby arugula and olive oil salads on a burgandy rimmed plate from Pottery Barn.

The salads – mozzarella, tomato, baby arugula and olive oil

Linguine with olive oil, garlic and spinach topped with broiled breadcrumbs in a bowl, recipe from Union Square Cafe.

Linguine with olive oil, garlic and spinach topped with broiled breadcrumbs

The beautiful zucchini, red pepper, fennel and mint  torta on a crystal platter

The beautiful zucchini, red pepper, fennel and mint torta

The  torta with red bell pepper, zucchini, fennel and mint.

The torta serving – so pretty!

Delicious short ribs with creamy polenta squares on an antique Wedgewood plate.

The main course – delicious short ribs with creamy polenta squares

The birthday dessert - beautiful warm, chocolate-filled pastries.

The birthday dessert – beautiful warm, chocolate-filled pastries made by Agata, so yummy!

Super quick and delicious!

I would like to share with you our dinner last night. Soft shell crabs, (an earlier recipe here), the corn on the cob highlighted in our new newsletter (to sign up, go to the upper right hand side of this blog), roasted zucchini with chives and some wedges of Jersey tomatoes. All delicious and quick and easy to do! Recipe for fettuccine will come tomorrow. Happy eating!
Soft shell crabs, corn on the cob, zucchini, and tomatoes on a white plate.

Zach’s quinoa vegetable dish

Quinoa vegetable dish.
This was the dish my youngest made for me as part of my Mother’s Day dinner. I figured I’d better get this to you before Father’s Day!

While I loved their meal, what I love most is watching the two boys cook. They discuss, they gossip, they argue, and then they break into a dance. They are so funny. They planned the meal together and then each was responsible for certain dishes, as opposed to one being the chef and the other being the sous chef. This dish Zach made up while the older one was a Mark Bittman devotee that night.

I hope you enjoy it!

ZACH’S QUINOA VEGETABLE DISH
5 cups of chicken stock (preferably homemade)
3 zucchinis
3 large carrots, peeled
1 onion
Olive oil
2 cups of quinoa
salt and pepper to taste

Prepare the zucchini and carrots, slicing them thinly, and set them aside. Chop the onion fine as well.

In a large pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add the onions, and cover. Let them simmer, break down and become sweet. While those are cooking, put 4 cups of chicken broth in a saucepan, and bring to a boil. When that boils add the 2 cups of quinoa, turn down the heat, stir and cover; let simmer on low heat for about 12-14 minutes. But don’t forget to stir your onions and check on them!
When your onions look good, add the carrots and final cup of broth. Turn up the heat and let the carrots cook in the boiling broth uncovered. After much of the broth is gone, turn down the heat to a simmer, add the zucchini, and cover the pan. When the zucchini is cooked down, after about 5-7 minutes, add your cooked quinoa and stir. Salt and pepper to taste, but be careful, some store-bought chicken stocks can be salty!

My new skillet!

Broccoli rabe in a Le Creuset skillet.Zucchini and onions in a Le Creuset skillet.

We had to be in Boston on Monday and on the way back to NYC, I suggested we plan to stop at Clinton Corners in CT. There’s a discount Le Creuset store there and that’s pretty much heaven to me!

I bought a new skillet and even new orange (my favorite color) hot pads. I’m telling you, I’m so happy, I feel like I have a whole new kitchen. It doesn’t take a whole lot to get me excited. I’m a cheap date.

Le Creuset is one of my favorite cookware manufacturers. I have a huge covered French oven that I just adore. Food cooked in it actually tastes better! It’s enamel coated cast iron and very easy to clean. The one drawback is that it is very heavy. But hey, it’s building the biceps!

I once cooked a huge party size serving of meatballs and had to split the recipe. Half of them simmered in my Le Creuset and the other half simmered in a copper bottomed stainless steel stew pot. (my mother’s from the ‘60’s) The Le Creuset pot was infinitely better!! Really. The meatballs and tomato sauce had deeper, richer flavors. It’s true and I’m not even paid to say this! I think the cast iron distributes the heat more evenly and this pot with the enamel coating locks in the moisture to create super tender morsels of meat and incredibly flavorful vegetables. It’s perfect for beef bourguignon, chilis and stews of any kind.

Blue Le Creuset pot.

Now Le Creuset has come out with an industrial strength non-stick coated 3-ply stainless steel line and that’s the skillet I just bought. It’s lighter with deep sides and fantastic! I cut my tendon in my left hand some years ago while cutting ribs (don’t ask) and while I totally regained the bendability of my middle finger, I never really regained the strength in that hand, so lighter is better.

Once again the heat distribution and browning capabilities are terrific! Check out that zucchini in the photo.

If you have a favorite skillet or cookware line, please tell me about it.