Un Bacio in Cucina

a photographic exploration of Italian food, culture & wine

Category: Pasta and Rice

Mushroom Lasagne

Mushroom Lasagne

Two summers ago I spent a month in Tuscany, Italy photographing several wineries and a bed and breakfast outside of Siena. It was September and I remember waking up and feeling the subtle transition from the summer heat and humidity to a crispy coolness in the air, a sign that Fall was on it’s way.  I also remember the sacks of porcini mushrooms the family that I stayed with used to bring home and the aroma that filled the kitchen as they prepared delicious meals using those fresh mushrooms. I was more than grateful to be invited to the dinner table and learn a few tricks in the kitchen. Recently, I’ve been feeling that same crispy, cool air as the weather is transitioning in Maine and New Hampshire as I daydream of that golden time in Italy.
I get inspired this time of year to make something with fresh mushrooms just so I can relive that experience I had.  A fresh mushroom lasagne seemed appropriate and a definite crowdpleaser. Although I can’t get those fresh porcini’s here in the US, the dried ones seem to do the trick. I used more porcini’s and add a bit of butter because I love how the butter helps bring out the richness in the mushrooms.
When served with a salad of greens and tomatoes this is a simple and delicious meal that will ease you right into Fall.

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A rustic and healthy lasagne that feels like Autumn in Italy

Mushroom Lasagne
Serves 8
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Ingredients
  1. For the mushrooms~
  2. 1.5 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
  3. 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  4. 1 tablespoon butter
  5. 1/3 cup diced sweet onion
  6. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  7. ½ cup red wine
  8. 1 1/4 pounds cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  9. Salt
  10. 1 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves, chopped
  11. 1 teaspoon fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
  12. Freshly ground pepper
  13. For the béchamel~
  14. 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  15. 2 tablespoon butter
  16. 2 tablespoons minced shallot
  17. 3 tablespoons flour
  18. 2 cups milk
  19. 1/4 tsp salt
  20. freshly ground pepper
  21. For the lasagna~
  22. 3/4 pounds no-boil lasagna sheets
  23. 6 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  24. fresh parsley leaves
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 190 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit)
  2. Grease bottom and sides of rectangular pan with olive oil
  3. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 1/2 cups of boiling water for about 30 minutes. Drain, making sure to squeeze out all the liquid from the mushrooms while reserving the porcini broth
  4. Rinse mushrooms in cool water and roughly chop
  5. In a large sauté pan, heat olive oil and butter over medium heat.
  6. Add onion and garlic and cook for two minutes or until onion is translucent
  7. Add porcini's, their liquid and wine, cooking covered, but not completely, until liquid has almost evaporated.
  8. Increase heat to medium high
  9. Add crimini mushrooms, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper and cook until juices from the crimini’s evaporate
  10. Take off heat and set aside
  11. Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan
  12. Add the shallot and cook until fragrant, about two minutes
  13. Sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture starts to bubble, but not brown.
  14. Whisk in the milk slowly and stir constantly until mixture thickens
  15. Reduce heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper if needed.
  16. Strain mixture directly into pan with the mushrooms, reserving about four tablespoons of bechamel
  17. Stir until incorporated and set aside
  18. Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil
  19. Add about 4 lasagne sheets and boil for about two minutes. These will be used for the top layer only.
  20. Remove from water and lay to drain on flat surface
  21. Spread the reserved béchamel on bottom of lasagne pan
  22. Top with a layer of uncooked lasagne sheets
  23. Add a generous layer of mushroom mixture followed by a layer of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  24. Repeat layering of lasagne sheets, mushroom mixture and cheese until you have enough room for one more layer
  25. Place partially cooked lasagne sheets on top and cover with the remaining mushroom mixture and cheese
  26. Sprinkle top with parsley
  27. Be sure to cover all corners and exposed sheets with sauce so they will cook thoroughly. If you like some crunch to the top layer you can leave some areas exposed
  28. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes
  29. Remove foil and bake an additional ten minutes or until top is golden browned
  30. Remove from heat and let sit for ten minutes before cutting and serving
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/

Spaghetti with Roasted Summer Squash, Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata

One of my absolute favorite things about summer is the local farmer’s markets and the abundance of the freshest fruits and vegetables available. Not only are they beautiful specimens to photograph, it’s no secret that the freshness of ingredients can make or break a meal. Summer squash is high on my list to cook with and to photograph but is so underrated. It must be because we are overwhelmed by the amount of varieties that are available and how fast squash grows. Because it’s so readily available it just doesn’t seem special, but it really is. It’s one of those vegetables that can take over a garden in no time and we end up giving it away to everyone we know because we just don’t know what to do with it all. Here is a recipe I created where you can use a good amount of it for a nice dinner or double the recipe, and use a lot of it for a party or leftovers for several days. When summer squash is oven roasted it has a very delicate flavor and does not overpower a dish, it actually marries nicely with other subtle ingredients. Always use the freshest ingredients possible and the highest quality extra virgin olive oil and balsamic you can find. Your guests will thank you. If you’d like to see more of my work feel free to visit my website.

Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes basil and ricotta salata-IMG_4008

Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes, Basil and Ricotta Salata. Photo by Leslie Brienza

Spaghetti with Roasted Summer Squash, Tomatoes and Ricotta Salata
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Ingredients
  1. 1.8 kilograms zucchini squash
  2. 3 garlic cloves, whole, peeled
  3. 4 T olive oil
  4. 140 grams cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  5. 1 handful fresh basil leaves
  6. salt and pepper
  7. 2 T olive oil
  8. 230 grams spaghetti
  9. 100 grams ricotta salata
  10. extra virgin olive oil
Instructions
  1. Cut ends off of zucchini and cut in ½” slices lengthwise. Lay all slices on baking sheet with garlic cloves, brush olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and pepper
  2. Roast in oven at 190° Celsius for 40 minutes, turning over slices halfway through roasting
  3. While zucchini is roasting, add 2 tablespoons olive oil, cherry tomatoes and basil leaves to serving dish
  4. Once zucchini is browned remove from oven and cool
  5. Cook spaghetti al dente, reserve ½ cup pasta water
  6. Drain spaghetti and add to serving dish. Mix together with tomato mixture, adding reserved pasta water to desired consistency
  7. Grate ricotta salata and mix in, reserving some for topping
  8. Cut up zucchini into bit size pieces and add to serving dish
  9. Mix all together well then top generously with more grated ricotta salata and drizzle with a high quality extra virgin olive oil
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/

Butternut Squash, Speck and Carnaroli Rice Soup

This recipe came about as I was preparing for the infamous Blizzard of 2015 here in New York. I wanted a roasted squash but was also craving a comfort soup. Melding the two ideas together, adding some salty flavor in the way of speck and apple for sweetness this soup turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever had. I hope you enjoy it on a cold and snowy day, or any other day for that matter!

Butternut Squash, Speck and Rice Soup

Butternut Squash, Speck and Carnaroli Rice Soup. Photo by Leslie Brienza

Butternut Squash, Speck and Rice Soup
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Ingredients
  1. 1 medium sized butternut squash
  2. 2 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 4 slices speck or other prosciutto, cut in small pieces
  4. 1 medium sweet onion, diced
  5. 5 cups low sodium chicken broth
  6. 3/4 cup carnaroli rice
  7. 1 apple, Honey Crisp or similarly sweet, peeled and cubed
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds
  3. Rub olive oil on the squash and place cut size down on cookie sheet
  4. Bake for 30 minutes or until skin is browned and flesh is soft
  5. Remove squash from oven and let cool
  6. Remove skin from squash and cut into cubes
  7. Heat olive oil in 5 qt. saucepan and sauté onions until soft and translucent
  8. Add the speck and apple and saute for 2-3 minutes over medium high heat until browned
  9. Add squash to pan and brown for two minutes
  10. Add chicken broth and rice and bring to a boil
  11. Reduce heat to low, and cook covered for 25-30 minutes or until rice is done
  12. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and cracked pepper
  13. Drizzle good quality olive oil over the top and serve
Notes
  1. This recipe doesn't have added salt. The salt in the speck, cheese and broth gave it enough flavor
  2. Use a good quality peppery olive oil and Parmigiano-Reggiano for the ultimate flavor combination
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto

Classic Italian Risotto. Photo by Leslie Brienza

I learned many things about cooking good Italian food while spending the summer with my relatives in Italy. The way they simply prepare the meals, the high quality, natural products they use and the conversations and good times that evolve around the dinner table are all part of every day life there.  These are things we rarely see or have time for anymore in the U.S. 
The one thing I remember most from cooking with them is that they don’t measure or weigh hardly at all. It’s all about ‘a pinch of this’, ‘a bunch of that’, ‘about 20 of those,’ or ‘a handful of these’. Unless it’s a specific dessert where precise measurements are required it really isn’t that important. We tend to complicate things by using recipes that have 30 ingredients which, to me, taste just as good when using only six. Of course the quality of ingredients used is why they only need a few.
I made this risotto without any measuring because I only watched what they were doing but didn’t write it down. Nonetheless I was so happy with the results. It also allows for a more relaxed way of cooking.  A lot of it is in the method of preparation which Italians make so simple. The following recipe has simple guided measurements otherwise It wouldn’t help you at all. Just keep in mind these are approximations and the most important things are the quality of ingredients and the way the ingredients are prepared.
Since I can remember I’ve always made risotto with arborio rice and some will argue this is the king of rice for risotto. Well, I discovered that many use carnaroli rice as well and when I asked my relatives it was split down the middle. I decided to try it with carnaroli for the first time. What I found was that the risotto seemed a lot creamier and also absorbed more of the broth than I remember when using the arborio, lending it more flavor. Even with more absorption of the liquid the rice still held it’s texture and firmness. Carnaroli will now be my rice of choice from now on.  I wonder how it would be for rice pudding, hmmm, that’s another post! If you’ve tried it or have any tips for your own risotto post a comment below.

This recipe made enough for four as a first course.

Classic Italian Risotto
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
50 min
Total Time
1 hr 5 min
Ingredients
  1. Carnaroli rice - about one cup
  2. Chicken broth- I used about one quart
  3. 1/2 onion, chopped fine
  4. Extra virgin olive oil- enough to soften the onions
  5. 2 generous pinches of salt
  6. White wine - I used about 1/2 cup
  7. 2 pats of butter
  8. Parmigiano Reggiano cheese- freshly grated-I used about 1/2 - 3/4 cup
  9. Truffle oil, to drizzle on top
  10. Black pepper, freshly ground
  11. Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Instructions
  1. Heat chicken broth in a saucepan to almost boiling
  2. In another larger saucepan cook chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent
  3. Add rice and cook until starches start to release
  4. Add white wine and salt and cook until wine is evaporated
  5. Add broth, one ladleful at a time, stirring constantly until evaporated after each addition
  6. Once rice is al dente turn heat to low and add butter and cheese stirring until incorporated
  7. let rest for about five minutes before spooning into bowls
  8. Top with truffle oil and crushed black pepper to taste
  9. Garnish with fresh basil
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant & Tomatoes

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant and Tomatoes. Photo by Leslie Brienza

 

 OK, it’s getting hot outside! When I think of a pasta dish for a hot summer night I think about one that goes well with white wine. Even better if the wine can also be used in the recipe!
The wine I chose for both purposes is one I had on hand, the 2008 Methven Family Vineyards Hillside Blanc. This comes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and has about 1% residual sugar. It’s considered off dry with just a hint of sweetness. Perfect for balancing out the sweetness in the tomatoes. Ah, I feel cooler already!
Since this particular wine is not easy to find a nice Italian Pinot Grigio would work as well. On another note, I prefer to use only good wine to add to my dishes. If it’s not good enough to drink then it definitely shouldn’t be used in the dish.
Tomatoes are ripe and bursting with sweetness now so an obvious choice to brighten up the flavor and presentation. I found some local cherry tomatoes this week at the farmer’s market so this is what I’ll use.
This is a light, healthy and delicious meal that takes about 20 minutes once ingredients are prepped. I know my neighbors were envious when they smelled the aromas in the hallway!
A salad and crusty bread would be all that’s needed to round out the meal. Leave me your comments and let me know how you liked it and if there’s anything you would do different. Buon appetito~ 

Pasta with Swordfish, Eggplant & Tomatoes
Serves 4
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Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Prep Time
15 min
Cook Time
20 min
Ingredients
  1. 1 pound fresh swordfish, cut in cubes
  2. 1 large eggplant, peeled, cut in strips lengthwise then in 1” pieces
  3. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  4. 2 cloves garlic, smashed then roughly chopped
  5. 6 large basil leaves, chopped, and some whole leaves for garnish
  6. Salt
  7. Pepper
  8. 1 pound penne or rigatoni pasta
  9. ¾ cup dry white wine
  10. 1 teaspoon oregano, dried
  11. 12 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  12. Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, optional
Instructions
  1. Trim skin from swordfish, cut into 1” cubes and set aside.
  2. Peel eggplant, cut into ¼” strips lengthwise then cut crossways into 1 ½” strips. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in pan over medium heat then add garlic and basil.
  4. Sauté until aromatic but not burned, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add eggplant and stir to combine. Cook over medium high heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Set aside in a bowl.
  6. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in same pan and reduce heat to medium. Salt and pepper the swordfish generously. Add to pan and sauté until browned on all sides, about 4 minutes.
  7. While the swordfish is browning prepare the pasta. Fill large saucepan with water and a pinch of salt and heat to boiling. Add the pasta and cook a little less than al dente, about two minutes less than recommended on package.
  8. Once swordfish is browned, add white wine, cooking until liquid reduces by half, about 4 minutes.
  9. Add the eggplant and oregano to swordfish in pan. Stir to combine and sauté for 2 minutes.
  10. Drain pasta, reserving one cup of liquid.
  11. Add pasta to eggplant and swordfish mixture along with 1/2-3/4 cup of pasta liquid, depending on desired consistency. Stir to combine.
  12. Reduce heat to medium low for another 3 minutes or until pasta is tender.
  13. Spoon mixture onto individual plates and lay tomatoes on top. Add basil for garnish and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese if desired. Serve.
Notes
  1. ~Add cherry tomatoes and basil to individual plates for a fresh, sweet flavor and a nicer presentation
  2. ~Save about 1 cup of pasta water for final simmer
  3. ~Use any tube pasta to hold in the sauce
  4. ~Smash garlic first before chopping for this recipe. We want the strong pungent taste and smell that comes when smashing first with a knife.
  5. ~Add freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before serving
  6. ~Swordfish can be substituted with either halibut or mahi-mahi for a similar taste and firmness
Un Bacio in Cucina http://www.unbacioincucina.com/
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