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Posts Tagged ‘lasagna’

I use this basic tomato sauce for many dishes including as a dipping sauce for mozzarella sticks, fried calamari, for meat or eggplant lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, penne all’arrabiatta, vodka sauce, pizza sauce, soups and Mom’s one-pot-spaghetti among others.  It is very simple and versatile, just use your imagination.

Enjoy!

Basic Tomato Sauce

(yields 3 cups)

Ingredients

2  14 1/2 ounce cans of diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried oregano or italian seasoning herb mix

1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (up to 2 tsp if you want)

Procedure

1.  Puree tomatoes in blender or with hand blender. Add to a small saucepan and simmer for about 15 minutes in med-low heat with herbs and salt. for a spicy sauce add a generous pinch of peperoncini or red pepper flakes.

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In many cultures around the world it is said that to get to a man’s heart you first have to get to his stomach, so when I got married 12 years ago I set a goal for myself to learn to cook cuban food like a cuban. My husband Emilio is the son of cuban immigrants that moved to Puerto Rico in the late 1960’s.  Puerto Rican and Cuban food have many similarities since they are both a fusion of mainly Spanish and African influences along with the ingredients the tropical climate of the Caribbean region has to offer.  However, the cuban staple dish of white rice (long grain), black beans, breaded beefsteak (carne empanada) and yuca al mojo (boiled yuca with a dressing made of garlic, onions, oil and lime juice) is different form the Puerto Rican staple dish of white rice (medium grain), red beans, sauted beefsteak with onions and tostones (fried green plantains).  Probably these differences come from availability of the products or varying tastes from immigrants from different regions, but in order to impress my husband with the food he grew up with I had to give it try.

Of course, the first step was getting a cuban cooking cookbook.  My mother in law, Doña Martha gave me Nitza Villapol’s Cocina Criolla (not to be confused with Puerto Rico’s Mrs. Carmen Valdejully Cocina Criolla).  In this book, which has no pictures and is printed in old fashioned type writer font, I have found all of the recipes that are trademarks of cuban cuisine and more.  This book along with cooking tips from dear cuban family and friends like Doña Martha, Nene, Lilly, and of course Emilio, have been the wind beneath my wings to discover the pleasures and savour of cuban cuisine.  Arroz con leche, frijoles negros, yuca al mojo, arroz con pollo, maduros, ropa vieja, picadillo, carne empanada, mojito, congri and cafe batido have become part of my recipe repertoire and in my family’s dinner table for many years.  I must mention  there is another version of cuban picadillo which has raisins and or cubed potatoes if you like it.  It is also delicious!

Picadillo, which means to cut or mince in spanish, is the best way to make ground beef in my opinion.  As I have mentioned before in other blog posts, I don’t eat a lot of meat but I like to make Picadillo with organic ground beef and use as a filling for tacos, burritos, empanadillas, empanada gallega, relleno de papa (potato fritters filled with ground beef), pastelón, lasagna, alcapurrias, ravioli, Bolognese Sauce or just as a side dish with white rice.  Some people like to add Bijol powder or annato oil to give it more color but I don’t think its necessary. This recipe makes a large amount because it is generous enough to make a meat lasagna but if I only need half of it I have the option of freezing it or using it as a filling for argentinian oven empanadillas (which can also be frozen once assembled) or whatever dish comes to my mind.  I also use it for my mother’s recipe of one-pot-spaghetti in which the pasta is cooked in the meat sauce. Super delicious!  Here is my version of Picadillo.

Buen provecho!

Picadillo (cuban style ground beef)

Ingredients

1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil

1 cup of yellow onion finely chopped

1/2 cup of green cubanel pepper (pimiento de cocinar)

3 cloves of garlic minced

2 pounds approximately of organic ground beef (lean)

8 oz. tomato sauce

2 tsp fine sea salt

1  tsp homemade adobo (if you don’t have then use salt with a pinch of cumin)

1/4 tsp pepper

1/4 tsp dried thyme

2 recaito “ice cubes” = 3 tbsps

4 dried bay leaves

3 tbsp “alcaparrado” (mixture of capers and manzanilla olives)  or just manzanilla olives

1/4  cup dry white wine

Procedure

1.  In a heavy bottom sauce pan heat oil (med or med-low depending on your stove) and add onions, cubanel pepper and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes until transluscent (not browned or burned).

2.  Add rest of ingredients, except ground beef, and let simmer to make “sofrito”.  Stir occasionally.

3.  Add ground beef.  Mix well and cook uncovered for approximately 20 minutes stirring frequently so that the beef doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  Take out excess fat with spoon.

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This vegetable lasagna is sometimes called Lasagna Fiorentina or Florentine.   My version does not have tomato sauce, it only has Bechamel Sauce.  I must tell you, the fresh basil fills the kitchen with an inviting and delicious aroma while the lasagna is baking in the oven.   It is important that you use fresh spinach and fresh vegetables to make the filling.  I like to bake it as soon as possible but you may freeze the lasagna for a later occasion, just make sure the lid is tightly closed to prevent freezer burn. My friend Linda is a pro at this technique in which she wraps the lasagna in plastic wrap first and then three times with foil paper before freezing.  Make sure you completely thaw the lasagna before you put in the oven. Great alternative for boat trips or no hassle family gatherings.   I consider this a complete meal but you can accompany with garlic bread, more veggies, steak, salad or rice.

Buon Appetito!

Vegetable Lasagna

Ingredients

filling

drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

1 pound fresh spinach

2 carrots peeled and thinly sliced

1/4 cup onions finely chopped

1/4 cup of red bell pepper finely chopped

10 crimini (baby bella) mushrooms sliced

3 garlic cloves minced

1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce

1/2  tsp dried oregano

1 tsp salt

pepper to taste

Béchamel Sauce (see recipe under sauces)

15 ounces ricotta cheese

2 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella

9 leaves of fresh basil

12 lasagna strips (boiled or oven ready)

12 1/2 x 8 1/2 (approx.) glass or clay baking pan

Procedure


1.  Sauté fresh spinach in a large sauce pan with drizzle of olive oil until it has wilted, stirring constantly (medium heat). At the beginning it will seem like a lot but, as it wilts you will end up with about a fifth of its original volume.

2.  Immediately, add vegetables, worcestershire sauce, oregano and salt and pepper.  Continue to sauté for about 7 minutes stirring continously.  You will end up with about 3 cups of veggies. Include the liquids. Set aside.

3.  Prepare Béchamel Sauce.

4.  Start assembling the layers of the lasagna by placing pasta (cooked or oven ready) in the bottom and spreading about 5 ounces of ricotta cheese with bottom of a spoon.

5.  Scoop one cup of cooked veggies and spread evenly with spatula or back of a large spoon.

6.  Pour 1/4 of Béchamel Sauce evenly over veggies and sprinkle about 1/3 of a cup of shredded mozzarella.

7.  Repeat steps 4, 5 and 6 two more times.

8.  For final layer spread place top lasagna strips and spread remaining Béchamel, basil and mozzarella cheese (in that order).  Cover with foil paper (not too tightly so that too much cheese doesn’t stick to it), or if you are using a clay/ceramic  pot with lid use the lid, and cook for approximately 30 minutes (or if the lasagna strips are oven ready, bake according to manufacturer instructions).  Remove foil paper and broil until cheese is golden brown.

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