Friday Recipe Exchange: Revisiting Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Things are not slowing down here. I put a bid in on a cute little Victorian house, only to face 15 other bids this past week. I did not realize house hunting was going to turn into a full-time job that feels like an episode of the Bachelor, where I go home without the rose each week. Between that and raising a rambunctious 10-month old Great Dane, the weeks are slipping by. Speaking of the Beast, I had to clean out the freezer to make room for his frozen apples halves (apples were on sale, so I stocked up) and his giant beef bones (again, on sale, so I stocked up and boiled a good two week supply). Deep in the freezer, behind the pumpkin, cranberries and leftovers, was a pint of ricotta.

Decided I needed to use it up, so I dug into the archives looking for my vegetarian meatball recipe. That became tonight’s featured recipe, and I pulled up the previous recipe exchange where it was featured and said, “hey, that looks good.” In other words, tonight is a repeat. Next week, though, I’m planning on sharing some fun recipes I’ve been playing with this week.

To start tonight, how about homemade ricotta? JeffreyW has made it and if you 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 and photos 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).

A quick Skillet Lasagna (recipe here) is great for weeknights and a breeze to make.

And a yummy dessert from JeffreyW, a beautiful Cannoli recipe, pictured above and found here.

Finally, for the pet lovers, a Bixby update from the pup himself. If you click here, be prepared, he’s a Beast, standing at his full height on his hind legs.

What’s on your menu for the weekend? Anyone else house hunting? Have you started your gardens in earnest yet?

Now on to the featured recipe. These are very simple to make and are delicious. It’s a great vegetarian alternative for your pasta dishes. They’re light and once you get the technique down, you can play with the flavors and customize them to your palate.

Veggie Meatballs

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. My second round of these, I added 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

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  • 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.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

That’s it for this week. Have a great weekend – TaMara

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Dinner Menu: Linguine w/Peppers and Italian Asparagus

It’s the time of year that I begin to crave fresh, light dinners. I’ve tired of stews, hearty soups and the other staples of the mid-winter gloom. As I start to believe spring will arrive again, I want meals that reflect that belief. Lots of fresh veggies, fresh fruits, light sauces and simple, full flavors.

This menu includes items that are plentiful at my local grocery this week. All the peppers are on sale right now, so I use red, yellow. orange and green. Lots of fresh berries, too. And asparagus is everywhere.

On the board tonight:

  1. Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers
  2. Italian Asparagus
  3. Mixed berries & whipped cream

Linguine w/Garlic & Peppers

  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp crushed garlic
  • ¼ to ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-Parmesan cheese
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine

saucepan and skillet

In skillet heat oil, add garlic, red pepper flakes, green & red peppers and sauté for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add fresh basil, tomatoes, salt & pepper let simmer while pasta cooks. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain well. Toss with pepper mixture & cheese.

* you can use fresh tomatoes, probably 2 large, but I couldn’t find any decent ones this time of year.

Italian Asparagus

  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp oregano, crushed
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan

saucepan & steamer

Gently scrub asparagus, cut in half and place in steamer. Add enough water to saucepan to come in the bottom of the steamer. Steam for 5 to 8 minutes, until the stalks are tender. Remove and toss with oil, oregano, salt, pepper & cheese.

Shopping List:

  • 1 green pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 red pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 2 oz fresh basil leaves
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes*
  • 4 oz shredded Romano-parmesan cheese**
  • 9 oz pkg. fresh linguine
  • 1 bunch (approx. 16 oz) fresh asparagus spears
  • 2 oz shredded Romano/Parmesan
  • 16 oz mixed berries
  • Whipped Cream

Also: oregano, olive oil, salt, pepper, crushed garlic, crushed red pepper flakes

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Friday Recipe Exchange: Fun with Ricotta

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

Yummy Cannoli by JeffreyW

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.

Veggie Meatballs

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.

Serve them with your favorite pasta and sauce. If you need sauce ideas, click here for Garden Fresh Sauce and click here for Awesome Sauce.

============================================

Pizza Night

Mrs J assembled her favorite toppings:  Ham, pickled pepper rings, and mozzarella.  We slid it onto a pizza stone in a 450 oven for five minutes, then turned the broiler on to toast the top.  I gave it a spritz of olive oil to help brown the crust.It turned out pretty well.  The crust was relatively thick, bread like on the outer edges.I used ham on mine as well as some tiny pepperoni and some hard salami.  No veggies except for the cherry tomatoes in the sauce.  It got a garnish of thin sliced fresh basil and some grated asiago to go with the red pepper flakes.  These were good pies.  Sauteed cherry tomatoes and fresh basil make a killer sauce.  I like the thicker crusts, and so do the pups, all the more for them!

Pasta challenge!

Mrs J tossed out a few ideas for using the new cherry tomato crop.  I mentioned that we had a surplus of Italian beef that we should work into the menu.  Mrs J was pretty sure she could put together something.Turned out she hasn’t lost her touch in the kitchen, even after all these years!  It’s something of a noodle bake:  Spaghetti pasta with a quart or so of cherry tomatoes, a few green peas for the color, and a goodly pile of mozzarella went into the oven for a quick bake.  Served with a ladle of the Italian beef and a sprinkle of fresh Asiago cheese this impromptu dish had me spooning out seconds and the pups pacing the floor, drooling, waiting for their share.  They hate it when we eat first.

Mmm… sauteed cherry tomatoes

This is a most excellent way to use up those proliferating cherry tomatoes.  I cooked these down in some olive oil with minced garlic, a chopped Vidalia onion, and plenty of fresh basil.  Bowties work fine – any pasta will do.  So easy to make:  Halve the tomatoes and chop the onion, pour a fair measure of olive oil into a big skillet and warm it up.  Toss the veggies in and cook them down, adding some tomato paste towards the end.  If the sauce is too thick just ladle some water from the pasta you have a-boil.  I add thin sliced fresh basil as it cooks and save some for garnish at the table.  Use lots!  Dump your drained pasta into the sauce and stir to combine, plate and serve immediately.  I grated some Asiago cheese on the pasta tonight.  Mmm… cheese!

Time for another white pizza

Because the last one was so good.  Minor tweaks to the recipe, different cheeses, a few more veggies – I had some leftovers from the nachos yesterday.I think there is some Swiss cheese in there too.  I was combining several partial bags of shredded cheese I found in the freezer.  The pizza edges are stuffed with mozzarella string cheese.  Lots of garlic in the white sauce.We used 3-1/2 cups of flour for this 14″ pizza, and the crust was huge.  And tasty!

Meatball soup

I pretty much backed into this recipe.  While at a grocer with a fancy deli meat counter I noticed some ground meat with an Italian sounding name and picked the package up to read the ingredients.  Pork, beef, parmesan, tomato paste, garlic powder, onion powder and a few more.

Ah, here it is:  Salsiccia, appears to be your standard fresh Italian sausage.  No smoke, not cured,  just the basic stuff.  Anyway, without any further additions I rolled the mixture into small meatballs and started them cooking in a bit of olive oil.  I browned them all then set them aside on a paper towel.

I was wondering how to use them and had a vague idea about meatball soup.  Teh Google soon found many such recipes.  Right at the top of the list was this one from the Pioneer Woman.  I enjoy reading her recipes and she takes very many nice pictures so I clicked on her link and read it to get an idea about how to proceed.  I ignored her meatball directions (all the while wishing I had held off on cooking mine) and went straight to the rest of the soup.  I was pleased to see that all the ingredients she listed I had.  I followed in her footsteps with just a wee addition here and there.

Her bundle of herbs called for parsley, black peppercorns, and bay leaves.  To my bundle I also added sprigs of thyme and rosemary.  Not bundled with the rest – a good handful of chopped fresh basil that went in towards the end.   Our veggie list is identical, I added some ditalini pasta-short, small diameter tubes.

One final difference–I grated asiago on the top instead of parmesan.

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