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Bechamel sauce is essential to many baked and stuffed pastas such as lasagne. It is easy to make and takes only several minutes. If you use a wire whisk, you'll avoid lumps; the sauce must be smooth.
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch of white pepper
pinch of nutmeg
In a small saucepan, melt butter over moderate heat without letting it brown. Remove the pan from the heat, add the flour and stir together thoroughly.
Add the milk and cream and beat with a whisk to dissolve the flour partially. Then return pan to moderate heat and whisking constantly, bring the sauce to a boil. When it is quite thick and smooth, reduce the heat to its lowest point and simmer sauce for 2 or 3 minutes to remove any raw taste of flour. Stir in the salt, pepper and nutmeg
If the sauce is not to be used right away, stir it every now and then as it cools to prevent a skin from forming on its surface. Cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate; it will solidify when cold. Reheat it to tepid, stirring constantly, before using. Thin with a little milk or cream if it seems too thick.
A secret in making risotto is to first blanch the outer shell of the rice so that the grains will swell as the broth is added. Blanching is accomplished during this important first step, sauteing the Arborio rice-traditional for making this classic dish. Add only a little heated broth at a time. Stir, then wait for the liquid to be absorbed before you add more. Risotto making takes time and care but is highly satisfying. At the end of the cooking process, the grains should be tender but al dente..the desired results are a creamy, tender, but not mushy texture.
For a menu change, serve a variety of Italian cheeses one day instead of a meal. A light meal can include fresh cheeses, such as Robiola di Roccaverano; an aromatic soft cheese, Taleggio; hearty Grana Padano; piquant Provolone. Add Italian condiments such as different olives, nuts, celery and, of course, crusty breads of several types and butter.
Garlic bread in Italy, “bruschetta”, is never made with butter but with fruity extra virgin olive oil. It isn't heated in an oven; it is sliced crusty bread that is usually grilled and it must be crisp, never steamy. The garlic is rubbed lightly over the hot bread after it is removed from the grill. Then it is drizzled with olive oil. You can go one step further and add tiny pieces of firm fresh tomatoes and fresh basil or oregano. “Simply” delicious!
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 tablespoon finely chopped pinenuts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
In processor or blender, add garlic, salt, basil, pinenuts and olive oil and process until smooth, scraping down sides one or two times.
Add cheeses and butter and process very briefly, just to incorporate the cheeses and butter.
Store in refrigerator or freeze. (Fast-freeze small servings in ice cube trays...remove and place in freezer bags; return to freezer.) Bring to room temperature before using as a spread on pizza or bruschetta, or toss with freshly cooked pasta.
Baked Penne Pasta is one of the easiest weeknight dinner ideas available. In fact, it can be made ahead, frozen, and cooked in the oven later.
For this meal, you will need:
- One box of penne pasta
- One jar of spaghetti sauce
- Ground beef or ground turkey (optional)
- Shredded mozzarella cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 X 13 glass baking dish with non-stick spray. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water.
If using ground beef or ground turkey, cook it in a skillet. Drain off any fat and rinse the meat with cold water.
Combine the cooked pasta, jar of spaghetti sauce, cooked meat, and shredded mozzarella cheese together in a large bowl. Mix well. Press the mixture into the glass baking dish. Top with additional cheese and bake until the top layer of cheese is bubbly.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|