Mushroom Lasagna


My father-in-law visited us last weekend and we had his absolute favorite meal at our house, mushroom lasagna.  He always asks, “What do you call this thing?” when we’re eating it, which I think is funny.  I think he has a hard time calling something “lasagna” which looks totally different from the classic towering colossus of meat, cheese and red sauce that most people associate with the term.  The presentation of this lasagna is elegant, but the mushrooms provide plenty of meatiness to serve it as an entrée.  This is an Ina Garten recipe, but I’ve made some adjustments; I add more mushrooms and use the Barilla no cook noodles, which I soak in warm water before assembling the lasagna.  I’ve also toyed with the cheese mixture.  I’ve added a little fontina, which melts nicely and when I make this for my family, I add chopped spinach.*

– Catherine

* I might toy with the recipe, but not the ritual.  I always drink a Miller Lite while I assemble it, as evidenced in the photo below.

Mushroom Lasagna (adapted from Ina Garten’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagna, Barefoot Contessa at Home)

2 lbs baby portobello mushrooms, stems removed, sliced about 1/4 inch thick

4 cups whole milk

12 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/2 cup flour

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 1/2 cup parmesean cheese

7 ounces Barilla Lasagna noodles (the “No Boiling Required” flat ones)

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large glass measuring cup, heat the milk in the microwave until hot, but not boiling.  In a medium saucepan, melt 1 stick (8 Tbsp) of the butter.  Add the flour and cook over low heat for about a minute, stirring constantly.  Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and whisk until thick, about 5 minutes.  Add the nutmeg, 1/2 Tbsp salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Heat 2 Tbsp of butter and 2 Tbsp of olive oil in a large sauté pan (I use my huge 13″ French skillet for this).  Add the sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper and sauté until the mushrooms release some of their juices and become just browed on the edges.

Prior to assembling the lasagna, lay the dry lasagna noodles in a rimmed plate and add hot tap water.  Let the noodles soften for about 10 minutes.

To assemble, layer a ladle-full of the white sauce in a baking dish, ensuring the bottom is completely covered.  Then layer noodles, sauce, mushrooms and a heaping 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese, repeating at least twice.  Finish with a layer of noodles and more parmesan.  Dot the top with 3-4 small pieces of butter and bake for 45 minutes.  Let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.



You get what you pay for.  This is true at the fish counter, beef counter and plastic surgeon’s office.  All places where a two for one deal won’t save you anything in the long run.   It’s scary to find out that we can’t trust the labels on our food.  What we think is grouper might actually be landshark.  Or that our meatball was the last place finisher at the Kentucky Derby.   If you haven’t read about DNA testing for fish in the supermarket, read this article.

We eat a lot of seafood but I am very careful about what I buy.   I try to stick with fish labeled  “wild” and “produced in the USA”.  I try to stay away from anything that has been processed and frozen in a half a dozen plants in three different countries.  Staples in our house are wild Sockeye salmon and the frozen scallops from Costco.  I also check Fresh Market for local seafood specials each week but price is a driver for me.  There is a fine line to walk between not overpaying for seafood and getting what you pay for.

Our Fresh Market often has  South Carolina shrimp for $12.99 a pound.  That’s not a steal but if you serve it with a pound of pasta and a salad, it works out to about $25 to feed a family of four.   I love this recipe for shrimp and pericatelli with a lemon cream sauce.   Pericatelli is thick hollow tube of pasta normally used in casseroles.   It’s a great way to stretch one and a half pounds of shrimp.  This recipe comes together really quickly but feels very luxurious.    Be sure to pass crushed red pepper at the table.              -Andra

Pericatelli with Shrimp and Lemon Cream Sauce  

3 tablespoons butter

4 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1 cup dry white wine

Juice of 2 lemons

1 clove of garlic, crushed

1 cup heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped

1 pound pericatelli

1 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padana

1 1/2 pounds of medium shrimp, peeled and deveined

extra-virgin olive oil, best quality, for serving

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat to boil.

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the pasta.  While the pasta cooks, assemble the sauce.

Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat.  Add the lemon zest and stir until it is fragrant but don’t let it brown.  Turn up the heat and add the wine.  Let the wine reduce for a few minutes and then add the lemon juice and garlic and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Add the cream and simmer for 3-4 minutes more before adding shrimp and cooking until the shrimp are cooked through, about 5-6 minutes.

When the pasta has finished, add it to the sauce and stir to coat the pasta.   Serve and top each portion with chopped fresh basil, grated cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.



I love Bolognese sauce and have made the authentic version a couple of times; I’ve used the requisite combination of beef, pork and veal and chopped, sautéed, reduced, braised and simmered the sauce over the course of a few hours to achieve silky, meaty perfection.  But, despite what my parents think, I’m NOT convinced everything needs to be done the long, hard, character-building way.  Driving home on Saturday from errands at 2 pm in the freezing snow, I decided to make a quick version of Bolognese.  What’s Italian for Sacré bleu?

To speed up the prep and cooking time, I used a mini-food processor to very finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and garlic. It resembled confetti when it hit the hot oil and butter mixture and cooked faster than it would have if I had finely chopped the vegetables by hand.



I didn’t skip the traditional steps of reducing the wine and the milk separately, but I did speed those up a little by adding a little less of each than a “real Bolognese” recipe would call for and using my widest pot (and probably a higher heat setting) to speed up the reduction process.  I think the wine and milk reduction steps are to tenderize the meat, so they seemed too critical to skip entirely.


I also used only ground beef, because I was in too much of a hurry to defrost pork and our veal locker is shamefully empty right now.


After simmering for only about 40 minutes, it tasted just as good as one of those several hour-long Bolognese ordeals.  In fact, it was better, because we were eating hot bowls of pasta Bolognese within my two-hour deadline.  It was a delicious lesson that did nothing at all for my character.

– Catherine

Bologn-Easy Sauce

1/2 large onion (or one whole small onion, roughly chopped)

1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

2 stalks celery, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 lb lean ground beef

1/2 cup wine (white or red)

1/2 cup milk (not important if whole or otherwise)

3 Tbsp tomato paste

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/8 tsp crushed red pepper

Kosher salt

Combine butter and olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Finely chop carrots, celery, onion, and garlic in mini-food processor (or chop by hand).  Sauté in butter and oil mixture until vegetables begin to soften.  Move softened vegetables to the perimeter of the pot and add the beef, nutmeg and about 1/2 tsp salt.  Stir well, breaking up beef with a wooden spoon. Cover and allow beef to simmer until no pink remains. Add  the wine and stir until no liquid remains.  Repeat with the milk.   Add the tomatoes, tomato paste and the remaining seasonings.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, for a minimum of 40 minutes. Serve over tagliatelle with grated parmesan.  **Save some of the pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce before serving or storing if necessary.

Sausage and Lentils



This is something we eat quite often and both Catherine and I have tried to post this recipe several times but we can’t get a good photo.  Sausages don’t photograph well.  I won’t try to pretend that these could make the cover of Vogue but at least they don’t look like they are on a fast track to the wastewater treatment facility.   Slicing the sausages to serve seems to help.

This is a great winter meal that comes together pretty quickly.     It’s warm and savory and so good.   I like to serve it with a spinach salad.  -Andra

Sausages and Lentils    serves 4

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

2 carrots, diced

1 Red, yellow or orange bell pepper, diced

4 large leaves of swiss chard, chopped into bite sized pieces

2 cups of chicken broth

2 cups of water

2 cups of lentils

2 teaspoon of dried thyme

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper to taste

2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar

8 sweet Italian sausages

Heat the broiler to high.  Place the sausages on a rimmed baking sheet and pierce with a knife so that they don’t explode while cooking.

Heat olive oil over medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Add the onions, carrots, and peppers and cook until the onions are translucent.   Add the garlic, thyme and bay leaf and stir until the garlic is fragrant.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Add the lentils, broth and water.  Bring to a boil.  Once boiling, lower heat to a simmer and cover for 20 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

While the lentils cook, put the sausages under the broiler for 6 to 7 seven minutes until browned on one side.  Turn and cook for an additional 6-7 minutes. Once brown all over, remove from the oven.

Add the chopped swiss chard to the lentils and cover for about 5 minutes more until the swiss chard is wilted.  Remove from heat and stir in the red wine vinegar.  Taste for seasoning and serve with sausages laid over the top.



Couscous Stuffed Peppers


I make stuffed peppers often, especially during the winter, and have always used quinoa instead of the more traditional rice. But recently I replaced the quinoa with couscous and think we have a new favorite.  I also added a can of chickpeas and some mint, so this new recipe has an almost-Morrocan flavor.

As healthy as quinoa is, couscous – tiny pearls of pasta that look like quinoa – tastes so much better.

– Catherine


Couscous Stuffed Peppers

1 lb ground meat (I used ground chicken, but beef or turkey would be just as good.)

2 cups cooked couscous

2 cups crushed tomatoes or good (no sugar, just real ingredients) jarred marinara sauce

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint

1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup feta cheese

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet until fragrant

Heat olive oil in skillet over medium heat.  Sauté onion until soft, about three minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for one minute more, until fragrant.  Add chicken and cook until no pink remains, about 8 minutes.  Add Worcestershire sauce, crushed tomatoes (or marinara sauce), chickpeas and couscous and combine until heated throughout.  When the mixture is hot, add most of the herbs and half of the feta cheese and spoon into hollowed-out peppers in an oven-safe dish.  Top with the remaining herbs, feta and pine nuts and bake at 375° for 30-45 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown.

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