My inspiration for cooking can come from a variety of things. Sometimes I get inspired by having a dish from a restaurant that I’ve never had before and try to replicate it at home. Sometimes inspiration comes from recipes I may see on television. I mostly get inspired by the certain items I see in the grocery store or farmer's market.
Sometimes I fail at the outcome of what I’m making and sometimes I succeed. I just like to try new things and expand my horizons when it comes to testing new ingredients or cooking methods. James, my husband is a great guinea pig. He will generally eat whatever I make and is honest about how the food tastes. Unlike James, I myself am much more critical about how my food turns out.
1 c. Orecchiette
1 Medium eggplant
1 Large zucchini
4 Medium portabella mushrooms
7-8 oz. Skim ricotta cheese
1 c. Mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. Romano grated cheese
1 t. Onion powder
3/4 c. Tomato paste
1 + 1/2 c. Tap water
1/4 c. Red wine (that you would drink)
3 Cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
1 t. Salt
1/2 t. Black pepper
1/2 t. Crushed red pepper
1/2 t. Dried oregano
1/2 t. Dried Thyme
1/2 t. Sugar
1/2 c. Julienne fresh basil leaves
Serving Size: 6
Preheat oven to 375*.
In a medium sauce pan, heat at medium about 1/4 c. of olive oil in the pan and sauté garlic until aroma is released. Be sure not to burn the garlic, otherwise it will give off a bitter taste and you will have to start over.
Add tomato paste and whisk in one and a half cups of tap water slowly. Once all of the tomato paste has been dissolved, add salt, thyme, oregano, crushed red pepper, sugar and basil leaves. Stir until well combined and then add wine and lower heat to a simmer and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste and add salt and pepper accordingly to preferred taste.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and cook pasta for about 7 minutes. Do not cook the pasta all the way because it will continue to cook inside the casserole. Set aside until veggies are done being prepared.
Cut vegetables into large 1” thick pieces. In a large nonstick sauté pan, drizzle bottom of pan with olive oil and heat to medium high heat. You’ll sauté the veggies in 3 batches. Because the pieces are so big, over crowding the pan will cause the veggies to become soggy and not allow them to crisp up.
In each batch that you pan fry, add a sprinkle of salt, black pepper and a pinch of onion powder. Brown and crisp each sides of veggies and set aside until all the veggies are cooked.
Place the veggies in a medium casserole sized dish. Add the pasta on top of the veggies and integrate the pasta into the veggie mix. Drop about 6-8 small spoons of ricotta throughout the top of the casserole. Sprinkle with grated Romano cheese and then sprinkle the shredded mozzarella cheese, covering the entire casserole.
Bake for 45 minutes or until cheese is golden brown.
Allow to set for at least 30 minutes after removing from oven.
*Precooking the veggies releases the water that they retain, it will keep the casserole from becoming too watery and water logging the entire casserole. Keep in mind that they will still release a good amount of water in the casserole and allowing the dish to set for 30 minutes will help keep the extra juices becoming thicker and integrated into the sauce itself. Seasoning the veggies while they cook will also add another depth of flavor to the entire casserole.
Cook Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
(Stiff is an amateur home cook and food blogger. Stiff can be found at a grocery store, Instagram @stifferoni and Tumblr: http://stiffers.tumblr.com/.)
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