Rainy Day Comfort Food – Baked Macaroni & Cheese

Mac and Cheese Casserole

Even though the calendar says it’s Spring there still may be a bit of a chill in the air and right now we have hit several weeks of on again off again rain.  So it’s still a bit early for starting to make those lighter warm-weather dishes and my old stand-by comfort foods still have a chance to be made once again. So why not make a dish of my homemade baked macaroni & cheese. I know there are many preferences on how people enjoy their mac & cheese, anywhere from the “blue-box” to a thick creamy sauce stirred with pasta and sometimes baked or served as is. I have made and enjoyed them with my family so you won’t get any arguments from me.

While I was growing up my mother made a baked macaroni and cheese casserole that we loved and I pretty much make it the same way. Over the years I made a slight revision to my mother’s recipe to make it just a bit richer by adding two eggs to the milk so it has a more custard-like consistency. I also on occasion add other cheeses to the shredded cheddar like Mozzarella or Fontina when I have it on hand to vary the taste and creaminess.

classic make and cheese

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

You will need: A deep casserole dish or pan

1 lb Elbow macaroni (sometimes I use shells or Cavatappi)

Block of a good quality Sharp or Mild cheddar cheese (about 4 cups shredded) I have on occasion mixed other cheeses to the cheddar like adding Mozzarella or Fontina when I had some left over.

1 Quart (4 cups) Whole Milk

2 Eggs,  beaten

1 Stick of Butter

Ground Black Pepper (as desired)

Directions:

Boil pasta according to the package in salted water, al dente works perfectly.

Drain.

Butter a deep casserole dish

Add the two beaten eggs to the quart of milk and mix well

Place a layer of macaroni (about 1/3), enough to cover the bottom, of the casserole dish. Dot with some butter.

Add a layer of the shredded cheese covering the macaroni.

Repeat these layers until you are out of pasta – the top layer is cheese. Don’t push down on the macaroni or it will make it too dense.

Slowly pour milk/egg mixture over the casserole until the milk almost reaches the top of the casserole dish.

Dot top layer of cheese with butter and ground pepper

Bake uncovered for about 50-60 minutes in a 350-degree oven depending on how crisp you like the top, just make sure the milk mixture has turned to a custard-like consistency when a knife is inserted into the casserole.

You’ll know it is finished cooking when the milk is no longer liquid and is custard-like.

Serves 6 – Cook time and servings are approximate.

A secret to switching up this recipe: If you want to push this recipe over the top my daughter sometimes adds BBQ pulled pork in between the layers when building the casserole. It’s fantastic!

 

Countdown to Christmas – Italian Wedding Soup

10 Days until Christmas

The final Christmas countdown is here. Hope you have all gotten a good jump on your holiday shopping. It’s a gray rainy day here in the Northeast, I have just a few more things to put together for the holidays so on days like this I want a meal that will warm me up but is fast and easy. I just love a good bowl of soup that won’t take all day to cook when I’m busy.
Here are two ways to make this soup, one is quick and easy the other requires just a bit more prep work but either are simple and delicious.

Simple Italian Wedding Soup
This is the standard version of the recipe
Meatballs
1/2 lbs lean ground beef*
1 egg, slightly beaten egg
2 tablespoons fine dry bread crumbs
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon EACH dried basil leaves and onion powder
Soup
2 32 oz cartons of chicken broth
2 cups thinly sliced fresh escarole or spinach*
1/2 cup (about 3 oz.) Orzo or Acini de pepe (small size soup pasta), uncooked
1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
Grated Parmesan cheese (Optional)

In medium bowl, combine meat, egg, bread crumbs, cheese and seasonings;
shape into 3/4-inch balls. In large saucepan, heat broth to boiling;
stir in meatballs, escarole or spinach, orzo and carrot. Return to a boil;
reduce heat to medium. Cook at a slow boil 10 minutes or until orzo
is tender and meatballs are heated through, stirring frequently.
Serve sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese and serve with a nice crusty bread for dipping in the soup.
4 to 6 servings

*The quick and easy version is to use * 1 lb (about 30 meatballs in a package) of frozen Italian meatballs in place of making meatballs and substitute 1 10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach for fresh escarole or spinach.

A nip in the air…Pasta Fagioli

It’s holiday season and the cool temps are here in full force in the Northeast. Over the last six months I jumped on the band wagon and fell in love with the Instant Pot. I started to convert some of my favorite recipes so they could be made in the Instant Pot. One of my favorites is Pasta Fagioli and it turned out fantastic and a lot less time then cooking it on the stove. So If you are looking for a hearty meal soup this is it. You can have this meal on the table within an hour from start to finish.

Pasta Fagioli in the IP

Pasta Fagioli with Sausage

for the Instant Pot

Made in a 6 Qt. Duo Instant Pot

Ingredients

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage, sweet, hot or a mix of both. Take out of the casing and break up into bits
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 15-oz. cans Great Northern Beans (do not drain)
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes
4 cups of chicken broth
1 ½ teaspoons of Italian Seasoning
1 1/2 cups Ditalini pasta (or other small shape like shells)
Freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Directions

In the IP press Sauté wait until it reads Hot the add oil and heat.
Add sausage meat and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until cooked through, about 5-7 minutes.
Stir in onion, carrots and celery and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.
Season with salt and pepper to taste
Add chicken broth, beans (with their liquid), diced tomatoes, and Italian Seasoning.
Mix and scrape the bottom to loosen any bits so they don’t stick.
Stir in Ditalini pasta.
Press cancel, then set IP to High Pressure and timer for 4 minutes
Do a Quick Release when done.
Stir, taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Serve in bowls garnished with Parmesan Cheese (optional)                                               Serve with some nice crusty Italian bread.

A Basic Tomato Sauce

On a Sunday many home cooks like to make a traditional Italian tomato sauce or gravy as some may call it. It takes lots of preparation and several hours of cooking. But what happens when there are those Sundays when the family gets busy and there isn’t the hours to prep a large pot of sauce? This may be a simple work around recipe for those days. It’s still home made and very delicious and takes about an hour.

A couple of  years ago member in an the online cooking group I belong to shared a basic tomato sauce recipe they had discovered. This recipe is adapted from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

I like to add basil to this sauce either fresh or dried.

 

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Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Makes 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes; Cook Time: 45 minutes-1 hour

INGREDIENTS
• Two 28 ounce cans San Marzano peeled plum tomatoes
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
• 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 pound dried pasta
• Freshly grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

DIRECTIONS
1. Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan. Add in the butter, onion and salt. Cook, uncovered over medium heat so that the sauce maintains a slow but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir with a wooden spoon every now and then, mashing up large pieces of tomato with the back of the spoon. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Remove the onion before using the sauce. You can definitely eat it if you like.

Serve the sauce over pasta or use for the base for pizza or with anything you want a basic tomato sauce. Sauce keeps in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for several days. Enjoy!

Still a chill in the air – Baked Ziti

Hopefully Spring will be around the corner. Mother’s nature is taking her sweet old time about it though. I figured I might as well get in one of my last cold weather meals this past week. I haven’t made Baked Ziti in quite a while. Baked Ziti isn’t a difficult dish to make and for a long time I just didn’t think the way I was making it was anything special. So some years back I had belonged to a recipe newsgroup (I’m dating myself here for those who remember those days of CompuServe and GEnie) Someone had shared a recipes that came from a New York City Italian restaurant. So I gave it a try and was really happy with it and have been using this recipes ever since.

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Restaurant Style Baked Ziti

Ingredients:

1 pound ziti
16 ounces ricotta cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
3 cups marinara, (or meat sauce) homemade or jarred
16 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook ziti in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 10 to 12 minutes.
Drain well.
In a medium bowl, combine ricotta cheese, eggs, 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano
cheese, salt, pepper, and parsley.
Mix to blend well.
Toss cooked ziti with 2 cups sauce.
(At this point I also add sliced cooked sausage and/or meatballs
cut into pieces)

Place half the pasta in an deep 9″ x 13″baking dish or foil lasagna pan.
Top with the ricotta mixture and half the mozzarella cubes.
Top with remaining ziti, remaining 1 cup sauce, mozzarella cubes , and Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Bake until casserole is heated through and cheese is
bubbly and lightly browned on top, approx. 35 to 40 minutes.