Quick Italian Something

After spending most of the day in the kitchen, cutting vegetables and cooking sauces, the last thing I wanted to do was make an elaborate dinner.  But, I wanted a meaningful and heartfelt meal to end the day.  Since I still had fresh tomatoes and basil on the kitchen counter, I decided to make something Italian-ish. 

Most of the time, when dinner time rolls around, I don’t have anything planned, and this was no exception.  So I did what I normally would do.  I stared at the contents of my refrigerator and started grabbing things that would go well together.  Some ground beef, some cheese and oh, the little tub of ricotta that I kept overlooking.  I considered making spaghetti but I thought it might be a little boring so, I opted for a the partial bag of wide egg noodles in my pantry that looked particularly lonely. 

I had just finished cleaning a bunch of dishes, bowls and pots and pans and I didn’t want to do a lot of clean-up after dinner so I made the entire dish with one large ovenproof skillet and two bowls. 

Ingredients:

If preparing homemade marina:  2 cups cut, fresh tomatoes, ½ tsp garlic powder, ¼ tsp dried oregano, ¼ tsp dried rosemary, pinch of red chili flake, pinch of salt

2 cups marinara sauce (store-bought or homemade)

8 oz egg noodles

1 Tbs olive oil

¼ cup diced onion

1 lb ground beef

3 oz mozzarella

3 oz parmesan cheese

15 oz ricotta cheese (almost forgot, even though it was the reason I made this)

Directions for the marinara sauce:

Core and remove the seeds from 5 or 6 medium sized tomatoes.  Cut the tomatoes into 1” pieces.  Cook tomatoes in a skillet over medium heat.  Add garlic powder, oregano, rosemary, chili flake and salt.  Mash the tomatoes every so often and reduce to about half, or until the tomatoes are completely softened and the sauce has thickened.

“Reduce the sauce and add spices to make the marinara”

While the sauce reduces, cut the mozzarella into bite-sized chunks and shave the parmesan.  Cut the basil in thin strips (chiffonade).  Set aside.

Pour the finished sauce into a bowl and set aside. 

Directions for preparing the Italian Something:

Fill a skillet with water, about half way.  Bring the water to a boil and add the noodles.  They will cook quickly…maybe 8 to 10 minutes.  Strain the cooked noodles and put them in a bowl and set the bowl aside. 

Heat the oven to 350°.

Return the skillet to the stove and add heat the olive oil.  Add the onions and soften the onions for a few minutes.  Add the ground beef and sauté until the meat has browned. 

Add the marinara and noodles to the beef, in the skillet and mix.  Top with mozzarella and parmesan.  Bake in the oven at 350° for about 15 minutes, until mozzarella has melted.

Now here’s the interesting, and somewhat embarrassing part.  One of the main reasons I made this dish was to get rid of the ricotta cheese that had just recently passed its “Best if Used By” date.  I couldn’t stand for that so, I pulled the skillet from the oven and plopped the ricotta cheese on top and gently swirled it with a spatula.   

In case anyone might be concerned, such as the people who ate this dish, the “Best if Used By” date is not the same as an “Expiration” date.  “Best if Used By” means that the food might have lost some of its freshness, aroma or taste.  If it has passed its expiration date, don’t use it. 

Either way, I unsealed the ricotta and, after checking the aroma, I deemed it worthy!

Return the skillet to the oven for another 5 or 10 minutes.  Remove , top with basil and serve in the skillet. 

Serve with a glass of nice red wine.  You deserve it!

If I make this again, I will probably introduce the ricotta during the last few minutes again because it allowed the ricotta to stay slightly firm, instead of dissolving into the sauce.

¡Salsa Picante!

My garden is at its zenith.  This summer has provided a rare, but welcomed, balance of sunshine, heat  and rain.  I haven’t watered the garden in over two months and I haven’t used any pesticides or fertilizer.  Nature has been kind to me, this season!

This week’s harvest provided four gallons of tomatoes and lots of different varieties of peppers.  That means it’s time to make salsa!   This recipe will make 4 quarts of salsa and, now that I have made it, I wish I would have doubled or tripled the batch.  This is not a quick process…be prepared to spend a more than a couple of hours prepping the vegetables and cooking sauces.  The end result is definitely worth the work.  I plan on giving one or two quarts away to friends and keeping the others for my family.  I don’t know why I even bother canning the stuff, since my family and I can gobble down a quart in a day or two.  But, I will try to hide a quart and bring it out as a surprise, long after summer has gone. 

Aside from the optional habanero and tabasco chiles, I consider this to be a basic salsa.  The proportions listed in the recipe should produce a “medium” heat salsa.  If you want to tweak this recipe, I suggest roasting or smoking one or more of the items.  For example, you could put the jalapeños on the grill and smoke with some mesquite wood, or you could char the onion and tomato over hot coals, or wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes.  Any of these things will add a new, distinct profile to your salsa. 

I stared at the habaneros and tabascos for a long time and finally decided to pass on them.  I would love to include them but I believe the end result would have been too spicy for some folks.  I will dice them and sauté them in a little tomato sauce and add it to my private reserve!

For this recipe, I made the tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes.  If you don’t have access to fresh tomatoes, canned tomato sauce will work just fine. 

Ingredients:

1 gallon diced tomatoes

2 cups diced onion

2 cups diced bell pepper

1 ½ cups diced jalapeño

Juice of 2 limes

1 head of garlic (about ¼ cup) minced garlic

3 habanero chiles (optional)

8 tabasco chiles peppers (optional)

½ gallon tomato sauce

2 cups vegetable stock (reduced to sauce)

Directions:

See my previous post to make the vegetable stock reduction: https://toothpicktales.com/2019/08/11/a-conversation-on-conservation-and-consideration/

Heat the tomato sauce in a large uncovered pot on the stove.  If you are using the vegetable stock, add it now.  Simmer at low heat while vegetables are prepared.

Chop vegetables into small pieces.  Tomatoes should be about ½” pieces and the onions and chiles should be cut into ¼” pieces.  Strain the juice from the tomatoes and set aside. 

Add all ingredients to the sauce.  Cook uncovered for one hour.  Turn the heat off and add the lime juice and stir to incorporate. 

I have to confess, I did not cook the salsa long enough and I forgot to add the lime juice when I made this.  Within a day after canning, juice started creeping out of the jars.  When I unscrewed the ring the lid popped off, from the pressure inside.  I dumped the salsa back into a pot and cooked it at a low boil for 30 minutes and then added the lime juice.  I have canned it again and I hope that does the trick.  If not, I will come clean and relay the sordid details!

Sanitize canning jars.  I use a bleach and water solution.  The bleach to water ratio should be 2 teaspoons of bleach to 1 gallon of water.

Lay empty canning jars, lids and rings in the kitchen sink, after plugging the drain.  Fill the sink with 3 gallons of boiling water.  Add 6 teaspoons of liquid bleach.  Remove the jars after two minutes and allow them to air dry. 

Fill the jars with salsa and leave about ½” air space at the top.  Cover the jar with the lid and secure by gently tightening the ring with your fingertips. 

Immerse the jars in boiling water and pull them out after 15 minutes and allow them to cool on a cooling rack.