I know it’s grilling season, but we’ll have all summer to talk about grilling recipes. This week I wanted to try out a recipe that has been tucked away and waiting for me to put my spin on it.
A while back, I asked you guys for a vegetarian meatball recipe, and you came through with some great ideas. Once I had the general concept down, I thought it was time to flavor it up a bit more. So tonight’s featured recipe is a vegetarian spinach ricotta meatball. With that in mind, the recipe theme came into focus. The versatility of ricotta cheese, from main course to desserts.
To start, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has done it and you can click here and he’ll take you step by step through the process.
He then puts his homemade ricotta to good use with Stuffed Shells, as pretty to look at as they are delicious. (recipe here)
I have a great alternative to regular gnocchi, a lighter, easier version using ricotta cheese and a fire roasted sauce to make a simple, quick Baked Gnocchi. (recipe here)
Moving on to dessert, a friend of mine has what feels like weekly potlucks at work and she often takes Apple Lasagna, recipe here, that is always a hit.
And finally from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above that can be found here.
Now that you have a bunch of ideas for that tub of ricotta, let’s switch things up before we get to the featured recipe. I’d like to know if you’ve ever made your own wine, beer or hard ciders. I’d like to know details, where did you get your ingredients and how did it all turn out? Besides that, what’s on your menu for the weekend?
Now on to the featured recipe. These a so simple to make and taste so good, it’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re very light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.
Most of the recipes I looked at used Italian Breadcrumbs. But I really feel these need fresh breadcrumbs, so I’ve included instructions for making your own. I didn’t season mine because I didn’t want them to overpower the delicate flavors of the cheeses. Fresh breadcrumbs absorb flavors and moisture more than packaged ones, so I thought it gave the whole meatball a better, lighter texture. I added a bit of garlic powder (fresh garlic did not work with this, it was overpowering and a touch bitter), basil, oregano and fennel. The fennel really took it up a notch. I think next time I might add a bit of red pepper flake.
Spinach and Ricotta Vegetarian Meatballs
- 1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (instructions below)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese mix
- 1-1/2 cups fresh spinach, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh oregano or 2 tsp dried oregano, crushed
- 2 tsp fresh basil or 1/2 tsp dried basil, crushed
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder (not salt)
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- Salt and pepper
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan, asiago, romano cheese
- Olive oil
Breadcrumbs: this took a full 1-lb loaf of day-old Italian or French bread. I bought it from the day-old rack for cheap. I tore it into small pieces, spread out on a baking sheet and dried it in a 200 degree F oven for about 30 minutes. I didn’t want them toasted or seasoned because I thought it would overpower the delicate flavors of these meatballs. Once they were dried, I ran them through the blender. I reserved 1/4 cup for rolling the balls in before cooking.
Meatballs: Mix together ricotta, grated cheeses, spinach and spices. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup at a time. You want it to come together to form soft balls, but you don’t want it to be dry. Once you can form a soft ball with some structure, you don’t need to add more breadcrumbs.
Scoop up a heaping tablespoon (I used my cookie dough scoop) and roll the mixture into balls.
Mix together 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and 1/4 cup grated cheeses in a bowl and roll each meatball in the mixture, coating on all sides.
You can bake or pan fry these. I chose to pan fry, it used a bit of oil, but it gave them a nice flavor. Baking them would be my option if I was doubling the recipe.
To fry: heat olive oil in a skillet on medium and add the meatballs, leaving enough space between them to easily turn them. They are soft, so it’s a delicate process. The good news is, if you really want them round (instead of kind of flattened) you can reshape them after they come out of the pan. Turn them until they are golden brown on all sides.
To bake: place them on a well oiled baking sheet or use parchment paper. Brush them with a bit of oil if desired. Leave space around each one so they brown evenly and bake at 375 degrees F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown. You can turn them halfway through if desired.
I think because winter moved back into the neighborhood (seriously, Tuesday’s forecast was for honest to goodness ‘ice pellets’, can ‘raining frogs’ be far behind?) I am finding myself in a berry and citrus mood. I bought 3 lbs of strawberries over the weekend and they are gone. I stocked up on oranges yesterday and I’ll have to do it again by the weekend.
I was going to do a sirloin roast tonight. I had made a really nice one last week, but didn’t get around to photographing it, so I was going repeat it yesterday. But when it came down to it, I just didn’t feel like roast. Instead I grabbed a bunch of lemons and some chicken breasts and decided on Chicken Piccata, tonight’s featured recipe. I like the tangy sauce with the crispy, moist chicken and the herb noodles are a nice side to accompany it.
If spring ever arrives, what do you look forward to most in the produce aisle? Do you crave certain foods by season? Hit the comments and complain about the weather and share your favorite spring foods.
Of course, once I found my recipe, I went hunting to see what JeffreyW might have in the way of lemons and chicken and found a Chicken with Lemon Curd, that sounded yummy. You can see it here, along with a nice slideshow of the prep and final dish.
Now, tonight’s recipe:
Chicken Piccata with Herb Noodles:
- 1 cup Italian breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp basil, crushed
- 1 tbsp lemon zest
- 1/8 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp crushed garlic
- ½ tbsp olive oil
- 4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded flat
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 lemon, sliced into very thin slices*
- ½ cup water
- 2 tbsp fresh snipped parsley
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
Combine breadcrumbs, basil, zest, and pepper in bowl. Mix ½ tbsp oil and garlic together. Coat both sides of chicken with oil/garlic and dredge in breadcrumbs. Over medium-high heat 1 tbsp ea. of butter and oil in skillet, add chicken and cook 4-5 minutes on each side. Remove chicken – keep warm – add lemon slices to pan, sauté 30 seconds, add water, parsley and juice, boil for 1 minute, spoon over chicken.
*Scrub well before slicing.
- 12 oz egg noodles
- 2 tbsp butter
- ½ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp basil, crushed
- ½ tsp oregano, crushed
- ½ tsp rosemary, finely crushed
- ¼ tsp crushed garlic
- Sesame seeds, opt
saucepan, serving dish
Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain well. Melt butter in saucepan, add spices, mixing well. Toss with noodles. For an extra touch you can add 1 tbsp of sesame seeds.
A bit of snow today, so I thought soup sounded like a good plan. Add some garlic bread and you’re all set for dinner.
Originally published January 2003 (our very first recipe here):
Beef & Pasta Soup
1 lb stew beef or beef chuck, cubed
1 onion, diced
2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves (remove before serving)
2 tsp basil, crushed
1 tsp oregano, crushed
1 tsp thyme
14 oz can diced tomatoes
8 oz sliced carrots (frozen or fresh)
8 cups water
12 oz bowtie or rigatoni pasta
Cookware: slowcooker and saucepan
Combine all ingredients, except pasta, in slowcooker. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions (usually on low for 8-10 hours). 30 minutes before serving, in saucepan cook pasta according to package directions, until it’s al dente (firm and still a bit chewy). Drain and add to the soup, let simmer 10-15 minutes (the pasta will continue to cook and absorb flavors from the soup).
TIPS: when using dry spices, crush them between your fingers before using, to bring out the flavors. For added flavor, marinate beef in 1/2 cup red wine for 1 hour (or overnight in the refrigerator).
Prep time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 8 to 10 hours
Making your own pizzas can be pretty quick and definitely much cheaper than ordering out as long as you plan ahead a bit. Things to keep on hand for the weekly Friday night pizza: shredded mozzarella, grated Parmesan, tomato sauce, and some type of crust, which I’ll address below. Then you can top with your favorite things. Let your imagination run wild.
My idea of pizza is a good crust, spicy sauce and cheese. Pepperoni is a plus. Nothing more.
What’s a good crust varies by personal preference. I’m as happy with a Chicago-style flaky crust as I am a thin New York-style.
Pizza seems like a good place to have a lively discussion. I bet everyone has a favorite they’d argue for, what’s yours? Is pizza a treat or a weekly item on the menu?
JeffreyW seems to have one for every occasion. For your viewing pleasure: JeffreyW Pizza Gallery.
Now let’s run through a few ingredients.
Sauce is pretty easy, you can use leftover spaghetti sauce – I always make a double batch and freeze half (recipe here).
Or try some of JeffreyW’s Awesome Sauce™ (recipe here)
A simple sauce of one 15-oz can tomato sauce, and 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic and dried oregano, with a dash of dried basil will deliver a nice pizza. Skip the dried basil if you’re going to use fresh basil as one of your toppings. Always crush the dried spices between your fingers to release the flavor. You can keep a jar of pizza seasoning if that’s easier. Oregano is the key to restaurant style pizza, that’s the signature flavor of a traditional pizza.
So for a quick pizza crust, this one from my Men Who Cook Series works really well:
Todd D’s Pizza Crust
(enough for two large cookie sheets)
- 2 c. whole wheat flour
- 2 c. white flour
- 2 c. warm water
- 2 pkg yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- ¼ c olive oil
Mix together and knead. Add enough flour so that it’s not sticky. The dough should be elastic.
Roll out and place on greased cookie sheets. Top with chopped tomatoes, pizza seasoning and parmesan cheese. Then add your favorite toppings and cheeses.
Bake 25 minutes at 400.
Instead of using a baking sheet, how about using a cast iron skillet. It worked great (see here)
Or try JeffreyW’s (photos of the process here):
I’ve been adding stuff to my pizza dough lately. It may be overkill, given that the sauces and toppings are what a pizza is all about, but if I have fun doing it-why not?
Tonight’s dough got thyme, red pepper flakes, granulated garlic, and fennel seeds. The candidates for inclusion are limited only by whether they might taste good on a pizza. The dough recipe isn’t anything special or “to die for”. You can find hundreds of “the best dough ever” recipes-just pick one and go with it. I put this one together on the fly, some sourdough starter, perhaps a half cup, then a tablespoon of sugar and one of yeast, about a cup of water, four cups of flour, a half tablespoon of salt, a generous drizzle of olive oil, and the additions mentioned above. Mix in the stand mixer for ten minutes, then a turn in a greased bowl for a first rise. After the first doubling, divide into eight portions, form them roughly into balls, and let them rise again, covered, on a tray.
I roll them out on a plastic mat. Let them rest for a few minutes after a first roll to relax a bit, then finish rolling. I manage to get them to about ten inches in diameter. Poke holes all over with a fork or they may balloon out like pocket bread.
I “par bake” them on a stone in a 375 oven for about two minutes a side. You don’t really want them to brown, they will finish cooking when you use them for a pizza. I let the first one tonight get too brown, I had the oven a bit high, and left it a wee bit too long.
They are ready to use right away-freeze what you don’t use for a quick pizza anytime!
You don’t have to make your own crust, you can do what friends of mine do, and keep frozen, store-bought crust dough in the freezer, or you can use pita bread, which JeffreyW does frequently, use refrigerator tube dough, or make french bread pizzas with loaves from the grocery. Now why would you order out? But if you do, you’ll probably find your best pies with a small, local vendor instead of a chain.
I decided that we’d do stuffed peppers tonight and when I went trolling around the blog, found we’ve done a few variations on them over the years. Tonight’s featured recipe is from my cousin Scott. He mentions in the original post that we’re a family who loves to cook and I couldn’t agree more. On his side of my family, I think everyone has the gift in the kitchen. I have memories of my grandparents’ farm and the great food we’d have there. My Grandma Lois made the best fried eggs in the world that I have never been able to duplicate. They were crisp on the bottom (a treatment my family always called “shoe leather” –though that does not do that crust justice), perfectly medium on top and covered in so much pepper you’d sneezed just looking at them. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to come close to those eggs. I asked my mom a few years ago what I was missing and she replied, “lard”. And I’m sure it was previously used lard at that. Grandma Lois kept a can on the stove. It’s probably why her fried chicken was so amazing, too.
Anyway that story has nothing to do with tonight’s recipes. Stuffed peppers. We have several takes on them:
JeffreyW does a traditional Stuffed Peppers with homemade tomato soup (recipe here).
I have a pretty easy stuffed Red Pepper recipe – though you can use green peppers, no problem (recipe here).
And our featured recipe, below, from my Men Who Cook series, is a vegetarian treat.
How about you, any favorite memories of foods from childhood you can’t recreate? Do you have a different take on stuffed peppers that you like to use? Hit the comments and share.
Now for tonight’s featured recipe:
This comes from my cousin Scott Adams. Scottie follows in the footsteps of many in my family – the love of cooking (click here for the full story). These peppers are practically gourmet!
Scottie’s Stuffed Pepper’s
- 1/2 pound short whole wheat pasta
- 4 large red bell peppers, tops cut off and reserved, seeded
- Black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO), plus more for drizzling
- 4 jarred roasted red peppers
- 1 small red onion, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 small portobello mushroom caps, chopped
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 sprigs rosemary, stems discarded and leaves chopped
- One 28-ounce can fire-roasted crushed or diced tomatoes
- 2 cups arugula or baby spinach (a few generous handfuls)
- 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
- 1 cup grated pecorino-romano cheese
- 1 tablespoon of Oregano
- 1 teaspoon of Dill
Preheat the oven to 425°. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it, add the pasta and cook until al dente.
Trim the bottoms of the bell peppers, without cutting a hole, so that they stand. Season inside with salt and black pepper. Turn the peppers bottom side up in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, set the tops alongside and drizzle with EVOO. Roast for 20 minutes.
Using a food processor, puree the roasted red peppers. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons EVOO, 2 turns of the pan, over medium heat. Add the red onion, garlic, mushrooms, crushed red pepper and rosemary and cook until softened, 7 minutes. Stir in the pureed peppers and the fire-roasted tomatoes; season with salt and black pepper. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the pasta and toss. Add the arugula and basil and cook until wilted.
Preheat the broiler. Turn the peppers upright; fill with pasta. Top with the cheese and broil until melted, 2 minutes. Cover with the tops and serve with any extra pasta.
Cross-posted at Balloon-Juice sometime this evening.
Tags: arugula, basil, cheese, dill, fire-roasted tomatoes, food, fried eggs, garlic, green peppers, menu, mushrooms, olive oil, onion, oregano, pecorino, portobello, recipe, red peppers, roasted red peppers, romano, rosemary, spinach, stuffed peppers, thursday recipe exchange