This is the only vegetable stock recipe you need to know. I usually do not make blanket statements like this, but when it comes to vegetable stock, this one is the only one worth using. The technique used to pull out as much flavor from the vegetables is so genius and obvious, I often wish I thought of it myself. What makes this stock so wonderful and puts all other vegetable stock recipes to shame? The brilliant idea of roasting the vegetables before you simmer them in water.
This is Mark Bittman’s recipe for vegetable stock from, How to Cook Everything. In his cookbook, Mark Bittman writes about his technique of roasting the vegetables before simmering them in the stockpot as the one step he always does when making vegetable stock. He has the talent for paring down a recipe to include only the essential techniques to get the most amount of flavor. Yet, for making vegetable stock, he adds an extra step and it is essential. Because Mark Bittman is often so nonchalant about things, that when he says, “This is the one thing to do when making vegetable stock,” I do not question his wisdom. I follow.
Building Extra Flavor
Once you roast the vegetables then simmer them for stock, you will see how important this step is. When vegetables roast in the oven, their flavor concentrates and browning occurs. This browning adds extra body and flavor on top of the flavor you get from roasting. If Emeril Lagasse was making this recipe he would shout out, “Bam,” and with a flick of his wrist, like its a magic wand, present this vegetable stock masterpiece.
Honestly, there are two extra steps because you must deglaze the pan after roasting the vegetables then add all that extra flavor into the stock.
Another bonus with deglazing the pan is, it helps with the cleanup later on. All the baked on goodness, (I know you are looking at the photo and thinking clean-up is going to be a bitch) dissolves into the warm water as you scrape it off the bottom of the pan. Voila, half the clean up is done before you finish the stock.
Vegetables for Vegetable Stock
“Vegetable for Vegetable Stock” sounds like a political campaign slogan. Though I am not on a political crusade, I am on a homemade vegetable stock crusade. The essential vegetables for making stock are celery, carrots, onions, and leeks. Use the onion skins because they add great color to the stock. Feel free to use the whole plant, roots and all. Carrot tops and celery leaves I add later to the simmering stock with the herbs, But everything else roasts together in one roasting pan.
Other vegetables depend on what you are making and have on hand. What is important to keep in mind is, whatever vegetable you use will influence the flavor of the stock. If you use broccoli stems, the stock will taste like broccoli. If you use asparagus ends, the stock will taste like asparagus and have a khaki green glow. Sometimes bitter vegetables get more bitter when roasted or cooked. So, keep in mind what you are making with the vegetable stock and add extra vegetables to complement the meal. If you are making vegetable stock for broccoli soup, then broccoli stems are perfect in the stock. If you are making mushroom risotto, then using broccoli is not the best choice, but reconstituted mushrooms and fresh mushrooms are along with the essential vegetables.
For my vegetable stock I generally use, celery, carrots, onions, leeks, garlic cloves, parsnip, turnip, and mushrooms with fresh herbs. Sometimes I add fennel stalks, but not too many.
Potatoes are common vegetables in stock, but I have yet to use them. Instead of potatoes, I like to use parsnips and turnips. What concerns me about using potatoes is I do not want the stock to get cloudy and I believe the starches in potatoes will cause that to happen. Also, I do not want my stock to taste like potatoes.
Cutting Back on Food Waste and Make Stock
To cut back on food waste, I keep a stash of vegetable scraps in my freezer specifically to use in chicken and vegetable stock. It is great to save on food items you frequently cook with, like mushrooms stems and the dark green parts of cleaned leeks instead of throwing them away. Fennel scraps get thrown in there as well. Recently I froze a bunch of swiss chard stalks from my Savory Tart of Swiss Chard and Butternut Squash and used them in my vegetable stock. Whatever vegetable scraps I do not use I compost even though I do not have a vegetable garden. Composting your kitchen scraps help reduce the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.
Read here for more information about Food Waste
For the first time, make the vegetable stock using the recommended vegetables and discover the vegetable flavor developed from the recipe. Once you get familiar with making stock, you can experiment with using different vegetables and come up with your own varieties.
Mark Bittman lists white wine as one of the ingredients in the stock. If I have a dry white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio on hand I use it. If not, I don’t. The wine does make the flavors brighter but is not so important that you need to make a special trip to the liquor store.
Discovering this vegetable stock recipe was a life changer for me. Up until then, store-bought vegetable stock tasted meh and the flavor unreliable. Any homemade version tasted just a step up from water. I like using vegetable stock in meals like risotto and vegetable stews because chicken stock sometimes is too strong a flavor. Sure, you can use chicken stock in all these foods, especially if you are not cooking for a person eating a plant-based diet, but it makes everything taste like chicken soup. As much as I love chicken soup, I do not want everything to taste like it. Having a good vegetable stock recipe is a necessity.
Use vegetable stock in these recipes:
Roasted Vegetable Stock
You can use most vegetables for making stock, just keep in mind that the stock will taste like the vegetables you made it with. The essential vegetable stock ingredients are celery, onion, carrots, and leeks. Any additional vegetables are bonuses. I happen to love the flavor of parsnips and turnips in stocks and use them often. Parsnips have a distinct and sweet flavor, that I believe gives vegetable stock a unique flavor.
This recipe is from, How to Cook Everything By Mark Bittman.
Makes 3 quarts
- 2 washed leeks cut in half or 2 onions quartered with the peel intact.
- 3 carrots peeled and cut in half
- 3 celery stalks cut in half, add some celery leaves during the simmer
- 2 parsnips peeled and cut in half optional
- 2 white turnips peeled and quartered optional
- 2 potatoes peeled or well washed and quartered optional and use if you do not use parsnips or turnips
- 1 cup (250 ml) mushrooms or mushroom stems. Or ¼ cup (60 ml) reconstituted dried mushrooms with soaking liquid)
- 6 garlic cloves still in its papery skin or shallots
- 4 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 3 bay leaves
- 10 sprigs parsley
- 2-3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 10 peppercorns
- ¼ cup 60 ml dry white wine
- Kosher salt to taste
- 2 quarts (2 liters) water, plus 4 cups (1 liter) of water for deglazing
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Place the vegetables on a rimmed baking sheet or large roasting pan. Do not add reconstituted mushrooms or fresh herbs at this time. Be careful not to overcrowd the pan. Use two sheet or roasting pans if necessary. Drizzle the vegetables with the extra virgin olive oil and Kosher salt. Toss the vegetables with your clean hands to evenly coat.
Roast the vegetables in the oven until they are browned and soft. Check the vegetables every twenty minutes and turn them around with a thin metal spatula. The vegetables should take around 45 minutes to finish roasting.
Remove the vegetables from the roasting pan and place all the ingredients in a large stockpot. Add the remaining vegetables, fresh herbs, bay leaves, peppercorns, wine, and 2 quarts of water. Turn on the heat to high.
Place the roasting pan over two burners and pour in the remaining water. Begin with 2 cups (500 ml) of water as it is easier to pour back into the stock pot from the roasting pan. Turn the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Use a wooden spoon and scrape off the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pan. Pour the liquid into the stockpot with the vegetables and add remaining water. It is awkward handling a large sheet pan or roasting pan filled with water, so be careful.
Bring the stock to a just about a boil, turn down the heat and cover the pot with a lid part way. Maintain the temperature at a low simmer. You should see a few bubbles reaching the surface at a time. Cook until the vegetables are very soft and tender. This can take from 30 -45 minutes. Taste.
Place a colander over a large bowl big enough to hold 3 quarts. Pour out the vegetables into the colander and drain the stock in the bowl. Press down on the vegetables to extract as much stock as possible without pressing in any solids into the stock. Taste and adjust for salt if needed.
Refrigerate and chill for a couple of hours then skim off any hardened fat floating on the surface if you like. Store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days or freeze for a couple of months.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
A friend approached Joe and said, “Joe, I just tried this great soup. It is called pasta ee fa-gee-oli. You have to try it.”
Joe responds laughing, “That’s not how you say it. It is pronounced pasta fazool.”
“No Joe. It’s pasta ee fa-gee-ol-ee.” It is pasta and bean soup and it is delicious.”
“I’ve eaten pasta fazool my whole life. It is Dad’s favorite soup and he loves to make it. In our house, we call it, pasta fazool.”
How do you say, “Pasta e Fagioli”?
Actually, according to online reference, you do not pronounce the “e” and fagioli has two syllables, fa-joli. The pronunciation is very lyrical and dances off the tongue with the accent on the “joli”. Saying “fagioli” is fun and so is saying “fazool”. The rhythm of the Italian word is upbeat and more captivating than the English translation, “beans”. Yet no matter how you say it, pasta e fagioli is delicious and needs to be in your soup repertoire. It is an Italian soup made with pantry staples of beans and pasta created out of necessity from humble origins. At its core, the soup is made with only four ingredients, beans, pasta, onion, and garlic. 5 ingredients if you count the water. 6 if you count the parmesan cheese. In my household, we always count the parmesan cheese.
Pasta e Fagioli
From my research, there are as many versions of pasta e fagioli as there are neighborhoods in Italy. Traditionally, pasta e fagioli has a stew-like consistency, somewhere in the middle of thick and thin. Too thick and it tastes gloppy, too thin and it is less filling. If Goldilocks were Italian, the three bears would leave pasta fagioli instead of porridge for Goldilocks to sample. She would taste each bowl of pasta fagioli to find the one that was “just right”, with the proper consistency and texture. Whether pasta e fagioli is thick like a stew or not, it is a magical soup with comforting flavor from the beans, pasta, aromatics, and parmesan cheese. Like Mac and Cheese, pasta e fagioli is pure comfort food and not only fuels the body but soothes the soul.
Italian heritage of Pasta e Fagioli.
Switching It Up
Traditional pasta fagioli recipe does not use stock because the soup’s foundation is the same water that cooks the beans and pasta along with aromatics and leftover rinds of parmesan cheese. Cooking everything in one pot helps develop the stew-like consistency of the soup. Plus, using rinds from parmesan cheese adds a nutty and cheese flavor to the water that is really lovely. It is a great technique to use when you need to bump of the flavor of a mild tasting broth or soup.
For my version, I made the soup with a thinner consistency, but it is loaded with lots of pasta, beans, and tomatoes. I chose not to cook the pasta and beans together but cooked them separately. Often, pasta gets gummy in soups because they become saturated and overcooked. I find this very unappetizing and do my best to avoid gummy pasta whenever possible.
Additionally, I made this soup with fresh cranberry beans and the cooking liquid turns dull and grey. I worried that the bean cooking liquid would make the soup unappealing. So, erring on the side of caution, I cooked the beans separately as well. By cooking the pasta and beans separately this gave me more control over the lifespan of the cooked pasta, the consistency of the soup, as well as the color and overall appearance.
Instead of using plain water, I combined vegetable broth, pasta water and the bean cooking liquid to make up the soups’ stock. This mixture keeps the traditional elements but lightens it up both in flavor and viscosity. I chose vegetable stock over chicken stock because chicken stock makes everything made with it taste like chicken soup.
Cranberry beans are stunning to look at with its’ ivory color and magenta splatter. Unfortunately, the beans lose their fun purple appeal as they cook, creating beans with an ivory-grey tone and ugly grey-beige liquid. The vibrant colorful appearance is gone. Have no fear, despite the dull cooked appearance, cranberry beans have a lovely mild and herbal flavor from the aromatics in the cooking liquid. When you cook fresh beans, do not salt the water. Instead add onions, garlic, and herbs to season the liquid. The cranberry beans will absorb all the aromatics and taste wonderful.
If you can find cranberry beans, buy them. This time of year, fresh cranberry beans are available at Farmer’s markets or specialty grocery stores. A pound and a half of cranberry beans in their shell will give you enough beans for this soup. The bonus of using fresh beans over dried beans is they do not take as long to cook, and there is no need for the overnight soaking.
To save time, use canned cannellini beans, reserving their liquid for the stock and rinsing them. Look for the low salt, or no salt variety as canned foods are often high in salt.
More soup recipes
Not only does pasta fazool have the power to nourish the body for a day of hard work, but it also has the power to heal emotionally. Eating soup is grounding, comforting and uplifting on any given day. I am not sure why all I know is how I feel after eating a bowl of soup. While eating soup there is a sense of timelessness and that might be the reason for the feeling of calm and comfort.
Making soup gives me the same satisfaction and reassurance. I find it to be a meditative process with a delicious outcome. What I love about making soup is I can use up odd and end pieces of food like vegetables, chicken or fish and give them new life. Pasta fagioli is the perfect foundation for such an activity. You won’t get the traditional soup, but the premise is the same. Use what you have in the pantry or the refrigerator, even if it is just pasta and beans, and transform those leftovers into a substantial meal.
I dedicate this post in loving memory to my father-in-law, Phil Palumbo. There is no special occasion for this dedication other than I cannot say pasta fazool or enjoy eating this soup without thinking of him and feeling his love.
Pasta e Fagioli
Some people say "Cheese" when having their pictures taken, but in our family, we say, "Pasta Fazool." It is a family tradition started from Joe's dad because it is such a fun word to say. No matter how you say it, Pasta e Fagioli, Pasta Fazool, or Pasta and Beans is a hearty heartwarming soup made from pantry ingredients and just hits the spot when every you need a pick-me-up.
It may look like a lot of ingredients in this recipe for such a basic soup, but each ingredient is consistent with the Italian tradition of using simple pantry ingredients and creating something magical. You can make this as easy as you wish by using store-bought stock and canned beans, or follow my lead and make everything from scratch. Yet, I hope one day, when you are stuck inside from bad weather, you take the time and make this soup from scratch. There is nothing like a homemade soup and its heartwarming lift you get from spending the day creating something delicious to eat for your family.
Cooked pasta absorbs a lot of the liquid in the soup. As a result, some people add warm pasta to individual bowls of the soup instead of the pot. This prevents the pasta from getting gummy from overcooking. But I believe the pasta adds flavor and a nice consistency to the soup, so I do not do that. To prevent the pasta from overcooking, make sure you cook it al dente because the pasta will continue to cook in the warm soup. Also, when I heat up leftovers of pasta fagioli, I add more vegetable stock to loosen it up.
- 2 cups (500 ml) dried cannellini beans or great northern soaked overnight Or, fresh cranberry beans
- 1 onion cut in quarters
- 3 garlic cloves peeled and smashed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 sprigs rosemary or one sprig sage
- 1 rind parmesan
Pasta e Fagioli
- 6 slices bacon cooked and cut into ½ inch pieces optional -see notes for substitutes
- 4 TB (1/4 cup / 60 ml) extra virgin olive oil or you can use a combination of rendered bacon fat and olive oil
- 2 celery stalks diced
- 1 onion, cut in small dice
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 3 bay leaves
- Bouquet garni of 3 parsley sprigs, 1 sprig sage, 2 sprigs rosemary
- Beans from the bean recipe, drained from their liquid. Or 1-14.5 oz can cannellini beans, great northern beans, or kidney beans
- 2 Parmesan rinds, plus grated or shaved for serving
- 4 cups (1 liter) vegetable stock
- 2 cups (500 ml) water, or a combination of pasta water and the bean's cooking liquid
- 1 - 14.5 oz (425 g) can diced tomatoes with liquid
- 4 - 6 oz (125 -175 g) dried pasta such as ditalini, small elbows, or small tube-shaped pasta
- Parmesan Reggiano cheese grated or shaved
If you are using fresh cranberry beans you won’t need to soak them overnight as they have not been dried out.
If you are using dried beans and forgot to soak them overnight, place the beans in a large pot filled with water. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and soak for one hour. Drain the water and proceed as directed for cooking the cranberry beans.
If you are using canned beans, drain and reserve the bean liquid. Rinse the beans. Begin the recipe at step 1 under Pasta e Fagioli.
Place the fresh cranberry beans or soaked beans in a large pot and add the quartered onion, 3 cloves of garlic smashed, 3 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of rosemary. Bring to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, but not breaking apart, about 35 minutes for fresh cranberry beans, or 1 hour or longer for the dried beans. Check the beans frequently so you do not overcook them.
Remove the aromatics, onion, garlic, herbs, pour the beans into the bowl of a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to catch the liquids. Drain the beans and reserve the bean water. Set aside.
Pasta e Fagioli
In a 5 qt Dutch oven or large stock pot, add the olive oil, (or a combination of olive oil and rendered bacon fat to equal 4 TBS (1/4 cup / 60 ml)), set over medium heat. Heat up the oil to melt the bacon fat if using. Add the onions and celery and a Kosher salt. Sauté until the vegetables are soft and transparent, being careful not to brown the vegetables, about 5-8 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and minced garlic and sauté until for about 1 minute.
Once the vegetables are soft, add the vegetable stock, and 2 cups water (or a combination of pasta water, bean cooking liquid, and water). Add the bay leaves, bouquet garni, parmesan rinds, and chopped tomatoes with their liquid. Bring the soup to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
Continue to simmer the stock and add the cooked beans and crispy bacon pieces. Simmer for ten to twenty minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Add the cooked noodles and cook until they are warmed through.
Serve hot with thin slices, or finely grated Parmesan Reggiano.
Pasta e fagioli is best eaten the day it is made but it can be reheated on the stove or in a microwave. You may want to add some extra stock when heating up leftover soup, as the beans and pasta will absorb the liquid in the soup.
Joe's dad often added scraps of meat like ham to the soup to make it more substantial or cook the beans with a ham bone. According to Joe, Dad often used the soup to use up odds and ends of food that was leftover in the refrigerator or the pantry.
I like bacon in this soup as it adds a lovely smokey flavor. Pieces of fried prosciutto are a nice addition as well, but it does not have the smoky flavor of bacon.
If you do not eat pork, a traditional substitute is anchovy filets. Add 4-6 fillets to the sautéed onion and celery when you add the red pepper flakes. You want to cook them down so they melt into the oil before you add any liquids.
For a plant based version, omit the bacon, anchovies, and parmesan cheese rind. You will need additional seasoning to add more body and flavor to the pasta fagioli, which can come from additional garlic and herbs. Or maybe a small amount of miso though not too much to change the soup's Italian flavorings. I have yet to try nutritional yeast, but that is another option as well.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Macaroni and cheese must be one of the most popular foods around and it is easy to understand why. Mac and cheese is pure comfort food with the creamy and cheesy sauce coating tube-shaped pasta. I can’t decide which type of macaroni and cheese I like more, stove-top mac and cheese or baked, as both have their merits. For this blog post, I decided to go with baked mac and cheese because I love the layer of crispy breadcrumbs over this cheesy casserole. They add welcome textural contrast to the smooth and creamy macaroni. In my opinion, this classic baked mac and cheese is the ultimate mac and cheese because it is creamy and gooey in a good way, with lots of cheese and extra flavor from the herb-infused sauce.
What is Mac and Cheese?
What is the foundation ingredient in Mac and Cheese? Other than the macaroni, it is the Mornay sauce made with cheddar cheese. A Mornay sauce is a béchamel sauce, (white sauce made from a roux and milk ) with melted cheese. These two sauces are two of the five mother sauces from French cuisine and are the backbone to a lot of American food.
Traditionally, a Mornay sauce is made with Gruyère cheese, so for this recipe, I decided to stay with tradition and use Gruyère cheese. Because mac and cheese would not be mac and cheese without the sharp taste of good cheddar, I combined a blend of two kinds of cheese for a full-flavored cheese sauce. Most mac and cheese recipes call for using all cheddar cheese, but the texture of a sauce made with only cheddar cheese is gritty. There is nothing wrong with it as it is the nature of the cheese, but it is just not that pleasant to eat.
Extra Cheese Flavor
I discovered to make a smooth cheese sauce with cheddar cheese, using two types of cheeses is essential. Plus the proportion of cheddar must be less than the second cheese in the sauce. Making cheddar cheese the less prominent cheese diminishes the gritty texture and makes a velvety smooth sauce. I recommend two cheese combinations, one with 12 oz (350 g) of Gruyère and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar. Or, for a more economical meal substitute the Gruyère with 12 oz (350 g) of Colby jack cheese and 8 oz (225 g) of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Either combination produces a silky and cheese forward sauce perfect for mac and cheese.
This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten’s Mac and Cheese and where I got the idea of combining Gruyère cheese with cheddar cheese. After my disappointing mac and cheese with 100% cheddar, I sought out more inspiration to fix the gritty texture and her recipe did just that. There is a lot of cheese in this recipe and it is very rich. Yet the combination of Gruyère with its’ aged and nutty flavor with sharp-tasting cheddar give this sauce extra body and flavor. The cheese flavor comes through and is not mild which is a common complaint about a lot of macaroni and cheese recipes.
If Gruyère cheese is too expensive you can use a combination of Gruyère and Swiss cheese or substitute the Gruyère with Colby jack. Colby jack is a milder tasting cheese and usually a favorite with younger children. These two options give you two mac and cheese recipes, one for adults and one for children. Although the recipe has so much cheese in the sauce I believe children will like both versions.
My Extra Step
What makes my recipe different from The Barefoot Contessa’s is I steep the milk with garlic and herbs before I make the Mornay sauce. This extra step really makes a difference in flavor. Fortunately, it does not add extra time because you can easily steep the milk while you wait for the pasta to cook. Unfortunately, it does give you one more pot to clean, but I promise you it is worth it. Dried bay leaves, fresh sage and garlic steep in warm milk and change the sauce from ok to distinctive. Steeping herbs is one of my favorite ways of adding extra flavor without changing the look of the sauce. The sage flavor in this sauce is not too herby or assertive and comfortably rounds out the cheese and cream flavors like putting on a brand new pair of socks. Its soft, comfortable and invigorating.
And Then Some
There are countless ways to change-up mac and cheese. Listed below are just a few examples.
- If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy sauce add a 4 – 8 oz (125 – 225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes after you mix the sauce with the macaroni. Personally, I believe this recipe has more than enough cheese in it, but people love the extra cheese.
- If you use the Colby jack and cheddar cheese combination, add about a half cup (125 ml)of Romano or Parmesan Reggiano to the macaroni after you mix the cheese sauce and pasta. The Romano or Parmesan will add some extra flavor to this mild cheese sauce.
- Caramelize two onions then add to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Add blanched broccoli flowerettes or cauliflower to the mac and cheese before baking.
- Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Fried prosciutto is also delicious. Tear pieces of prosciutto and cook them up in a skillet with extra-virgin olive oil until crispy.
- Add frozen peas to the stock pot with the pasta 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
- For pure decadence, add 1 ½ lb (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. (Ina Garten’s Lobster Mac and Cheese recipe).
- Use Ina Garten’s recommendation and add sliced tomatoes over the top of the casserole, then add the breadcrumbs before baking.
- Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Serve Mac and Cheese with Rolled Stuffed Flank Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Classic Mac and Cheese and Then Some
A classic macaroni and cheese recipe with a smooth creamy-cheesy macaroni filling. I added an extra step of infusing the milk with fresh herbs and garlic to develop extra flavor in the sauce and complement the cheeses. Sprinkle toasted breadcrumbs seasoned with parmesan cheese, ground garlic and dried herds over the macaroni and cheese before baking in the oven. The breadcrumbs add a welcome crunch and textural contrast to the delicious and gooey macaroni.
Make macaroni and cheese with any tubular shape pasta like elbows, shells cavatappi or a small penne or ziti shapes are nice. But it is important to undercook the pasta before you add it to the sauce. The pasta will continue to cook while baking in the oven so undercooking it beforehand prevents the macaroni from getting soggy and limp.
Macaroni is a great make ahead casserole and you can make it two days in advance. Store in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap. Make the casserole up to the point before putting on the breadcrumb topping. You can also freeze it for up to 2 months. Make sure you freeze it in a freezer-to-oven safe baking dish.
If refrigerated, take the casserole out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before baking to bring up to room temperature. Remove the plastic wrap then add the breadcrumbs. Bake covered in foil for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking until hot and bubbly.
If frozen, remove the plastic wrap and cover the casserole with foil bake for one hour, then remove the foil and bake until hot and bubbly.
Best eaten hot on the day it is made.
Store leftover macaroni and cheese covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The sauce gets drier, but it heats up well in a microwave.
Macaroni and Cheese
- 4 cups (1 L) whole milk
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 sprig fresh sage
- 1 lb. tubular shaped pasta like elbows shells, or cavatappi
- 6 TBS Butter
- 6 TBS all-purpose flour
- 12 oz grated Gruyère cheese or Colby Jack
- 8 oz grated extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 1-2 tsp Dried herbs like parsley oregano, or sage or Italian seasoning
- 1-2 tsp ground mustard
- 1-2 tsp hot sauce like Frank’s Red Hot
- Several rounds of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs, or use 2-3 slices of whole grain bread
- 2 TB melted butter
- ¼ cup (60 ml) Parmesan Cheese
- ½ tsp granulated garlic
- 1-2 tsp of dried herbs like parsley, oregano, sage or basil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C / Gas Mark 5) with the rack in the middle position. Butter a 9 x 13 inch (23 x 33 cm) baking dish.
Cook the pasta and Flavor the Milk
Heat a large stock pot filled with water until boiling. Season with salt and cook the pasta for half the amount of recommended time. Drain the pasta. Shake out any excess water from the colander then drizzle about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil over the pasta and toss to coat. Set aside.
Meanwhile, heat up the milk and cream with the sage, bay leaves, and smashed garlic clove in a saucepan to just shy of boiling. Turn the heat down to low, and simmer for 5 minutes, making sure the milk does not boil. Turn off the heat then let the milk and herbs steep for 15-20 minutes.
Make the Topping
While you are waiting for the pasta to cook, make the topping. If making fresh breadcrumbs, take the bread slices and rip each slice into four pieces then place in a bowl of a food processor. Process the bread until it becomes crumbly but not gummy. Add the melted butter, parmesan cheese, and dried herbs if using, and process until combined. Pour the breadcrumbs into a small bowl and set aside.
If you are using panko breadcrumbs, pour the melted butter into a small bowl with the breadcrumbs and mix together. Add the parmesan cheese and dried herbs if using. Mix together and set aside.
Make the Sauce
Melt the butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and stopped sizzling, add the flour and whisk to blend. Continue to whisk the butter and flour to make a roux for about 5 minutes. You want to remove the flour taste and smell. Be careful not to brown the roux.
Remove the herbs from the milk and add the milk into the roux a little at a time. Whisk the milk and roux continuously to thoroughly mix them together between each addition. Make sure you get into the crevasses of the pan to mix in all the milk and flour. Cook the sauce for about 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. You know it is done when you dip a wooden spoon in the sauce then run your finger across the back of the spoon. If the sauce does not run and break the line, the sauce is done.
Once you have a thick sauce with a smooth texture, add the ground mustard, and hot sauce (if using), and a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper. Whisk them into the sauce and taste. Add the grated cheese in increments whisking the cheese and sauce thoroughly between each addition. Wait until the cheese has melted between each addition as well. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings as needed.
Assemble and Bake
Scrape the cooked macaroni into a bowl with the cheese sauce then stir to mix. If you are adding add-ins like crispy bacon or broccoli, add them now. Pour the mixture into a buttered baking dish.
Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top of the macaroni in an even layer.
Place the macaroni filled baking dish on a rimmed sheet pan to collect any sauce that bubbles over while baking. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the topping is brown and crispy and the macaroni is bubbly. The internal temperature should register 165°F (74°C) Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.
And then some:
If you want to have cheesy strands in your creamy mac and cheese, add up to a half pound ((225 g) of cheese cut into ½ inch cubes to the macaroni mixture and stir to combine.
Add a half cup (125 ml)of grated Parmesan Reggiano to the Macaroni and cheese sauce before scraping it into the baking dish.
Caramelize two onions, then add them to the mac and cheese before baking.
Add blanched broccoli or cauliflower flowerettes to the mac and cheese before baking.
Cook 6 slices of bacon, not thick bacon, until crispy. Chop up into half-inch pieces. Add the crispy bacon to the mac and cheese before baking and proceed as directed. Or try fried pieces of prosciutto.
Add frozen peas to the boiling pasta water 2 minutes before you stop cooking the macaroni. Drain the peas with the macaroni and set aside to cool.
Add 1½ lbs (750 g) cooked lobster meat to the macaroni and cheese. Season the cheese sauce with nutmeg instead of hot sauce. Add ½ teaspoon of ground nutmeg.
Add sliced tomatoes over the top of the mac and cheese then sprinkle with breadcrumbs before baking. (Ina Garten's recipe)
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
Throughout the spring, summer and now fall whenever I ate broccoli, I roasted it. This cooking technique is my favorite way to eat broccoli, especially when I roast whole garlic cloves alongside the roasting broccoli. I love roasted broccoli and adding the garlic cloves just made it that much better. Why waste a perfectly good sheet pan and a hot oven by roasting only one vegetable when you can roast two? Both vegetables complement each other between the roasted char flavor in the broccoli and the sweet caramelized garlic. As far as I am concerned one can never have enough roasted broccoli or roasted garlic because they go with any meal and are very good for you. You can eat roast broccoli and garlic hot out of the oven as a side dish or use as add-ins for other meals, like pasta or farro.
Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
The longer you roast the broccoli the crispier it gets from searing on the sheet pan. That char adds a nice contrast to the soft texture of the vegetables adding deep flavor to the sweet broccoli. You can eat the garlic cloves by chopping them up and sprinkling them over the broccoli or leave them whole and smear the caramelized garlic over the broccoli spears or bite of roast chicken. Roasted garlic is pretty tasty all by itself too.
This is one of those recipes where you don’t really need a recipe just an idea of what you want to accomplish. Use this recipe as a guide. The only thing you can mess up on is adding too much salt or seriously overcooking, (or undercooking) the broccoli. Yet, keep in mind to use enough extra virgin olive oil so the broccoli does not stick to your pan or dry out.
If you wish, substitute the broccoli with any type of cruciferous vegetable, like cauliflower, romanesco, or Brussels sprouts (sliced in half lengthwise), or a combination of any of these vegetables. This roasted broccoli recipe is quite versatile and easily adapts to roasting all types of vegetables like carrots or asparagus.
The store where I bought my broccoli, removed the stem. Hopefully, you can buy broccoli with the stem still attached. Do not throw out the stem, go ahead and roast it along with the broccoli spears. Just cut off the tough end, how much will depend on how the broccoli was processed, about an inch (2.5 cm). Then, I recommend removing the tough outer layer of the skin with a vegetable peeler. Once done, slice on the diagonal across the stem into quarter-inch (.5 cm) pieces. Make sure you leave enough of the stem intact, so you can slice the head of broccoli into broccoli spears, not flowerettes.
If you have more roasted garlic cloves than you need, don’t throw them away. Use the cloves to make Garlic Bread. The roasted garlic mellows the garlic’s harshness making the best garlic bread around.
Oven Roasted Broccoli with Garlic
This is my go-to recipe for roasting vegetables especially broccoli or cauliflower. I love roasting whole cloves of garlic still in its' papery skin so it gets good and soft and sweet. You can either roast a whole head of garlic as described in the instructions or scatter as many garlic cloves still in its' skin but with the root end cut off. Either way, you get sweet roasted garlic and crispy browned broccoli.
The broccoli may get done before the head of garlic is soft. The easiest way to adjust for that is, remove the sheet pan from the oven and return the head of garlic wrapped in foil back in the oven and roast for 5 - 10 more minutes, or until the garlic is soft and squishy.
I sprinkled homemade bread crumbs on my roasted broccoli for the photographs and you can easily make them as well. Either use a cup of Panko breadcrumbs or make your own bread crumbs from two slices of bread. Rip each slice of bread into four pieces and process the bread slices in a food processor until the bread gets crumbly and the size of Panko breadcrumbs or a little larger. Add a tablespoon of butter to a skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the processed breadcrumbs to the melted butter and stir to get evenly coated with butter. Add around 1 -2 teaspoons of dried herbs of your choice and a pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes or ground chili, then stir. Continue to stir the seasoned breadcrumbs until the breadcrumbs are brown and crunchy. Remove from the heat and pour them into a small bowl. Do not leave the breadcrumbs in the hot skillet because they will continue to cook and burn. Add a couple of tablespoons of Romano or Parmesan cheese and stir.
- 1 bunch (about 1 lb 6 oz / 700 g) broccoli one or two heads
- 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp Kosher salt
- 1 head garlic or 8 -10 cloves still in its' papery skin root end sliced off
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C)
Trim the broccoli by cutting off the touch end of the stem, then cut the broccoli head into spears.
Toss the broccoli on a sheet pan large enough to hold the broccoli in one even layer. Drizzle the olive oil over the broccoli and sprinkle the Kosher salt with a few rounds of black pepper. Toss the broccoli with your hands until all the spears are coated with the olive oil.
Drizzle extra olive oil over the cut side of the garlic and rub the olive oil all over the cut edge and sides. Place the garlic cut side down on the sheet pan. Take a small piece of foil, large enough to wrap around the head of garlic, and surround the head of garlic with aluminum foil creating a tight-fitting tent.
Alternative method: If you are using whole cloves, leave the papery skin intact, but slice off the root end. Sprinkle about 8 garlic cloves around the broccoli and toss to coat with olive oil.
Place the broccoli and garlic in the oven and roast for twenty minutes. Check the broccoli and turn the spears over with a spatula. Roast for another 10 – 15 minutes.
Remove the foil from the garlic. When the garlic is cool enough to handle but still hot, turn the garlic upside down. Hold the head by the root end in one hand and with the other hand, run your fingers down the sides of the garlic to push out the garlic cloves. Let the garlic cloves fall on top of the broccoli.
Alternative method: When cool enough to handle, remove the papery skin from each clove by pushing them out with your fingers. Scatter the garlic cloves around the broccoli on a serving platter or plate.
Arrange on a serving plate or serve the broccoli directly from the sheet pan. Serve immediately while hot.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.
It is tart week in my household with both sweet and savory tart recipes for yours and my pleasure. Because it is fig season, I am compelled to make something at least once using figs. I love figs. They are a beautiful fruit with its simple pear shape, deep purple color, and a seductive subtle but jammy interior. That rich eggplant purple is one of my favorite colors and I find anything with that color totally irresistible.
Fig and Almond Tart
Several years ago, I discovered this tart recipe on Food Network by Giada De Laurentiis but I thought it was very rich and sweet. Because I wanted to make a fig and almond tart, I decided to give this tart recipe another try with some minor changes. I adapted the tart recipe by reducing the amount of sweetener in the filling, so the sweet flavor does not dominate the fig and almond flavors.
The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar in the pie crust, and one tablespoon of sugar plus 2 tablespoons of honey in the mascarpone cheese and almond paste filling. In my opinion, it was too rich, so I reduced the sweetener to only 1 tablespoon of honey in the filling. For me, this minor adjustment made all the difference.
I do like the sweetened pie crust and did not change the amount of sugar in that recipe. However, feel free to adjust the amount of sugar in the crust from 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 – 30 ml). The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of sugar and I believe the sweetness in the crust blends the crust with the filling. Otherwise, the strong flour flavor in the crust will compete with the figs and almonds.
My experience baking with almond paste is limited, but what I have learned so far is each brand tastes slightly different for both almond flavor and sweetness. Depending on your brand of almond paste could determine how much sugar you need to add to the filling. Before you begin mixing the filling, taste the almond paste to determine how sweet it is. Then mix it together with the mascarpone cheese and other filling ingredients, then taste again. Add more honey or sugar if you wish. I like the amount of sweetener I have in this fig and almond tart recipe, but if your almond paste is on the less sweet side, you may need more.
For another tart recipe using almond paste, make Almond Cherry and Peach Galette.
Another trick to get more almond flavor without adding extra almond paste is, add a few drops of pure almond extract. Be careful adding the almond extract because it is strong and only use pure almond extract. Imitation almond extract tastes like chemicals and not the real deal, just like imitation vanilla extract.
The most common almond paste brands available are Solo and Odense almond paste. Solo comes in a box or can, and Odense comes in a tube. You want to make sure it is pure or real almond paste. I have used both brands with good results. You will find almond paste in the baking aisle.
Almond paste and marzipan are two different ingredients and not interchangeable. Marzipan is made with almond paste and extra sugar and more egg whites. It is the almond paste that gives marzipan its characteristic almond flavor.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can make your own almond paste.
You want to use figs that are just starting to ripen and getting soft. I used black mission figs, but any type of fig will work in this tart recipe. Stay away from figs that are too soft and mushy. They are over-ripe and do not taste as fresh. I recommend inspecting the figs before you buy them because they often have moldy figs mixed in with the ripe figs. Figs are very perishable and quickly become over-ripe so use them as soon as possible after you buy them.
To store figs, remove them from the plastic container and place them on a paper towel-lined plate in one layer with space between each fig so they can breathe. Cover the figs in plastic wrap. You can keep the figs on the counter for a couple of days, but they will last longer in the refrigerator.
More recipes using figs:
Mascarpone vs Cream Cheese
What is mascarpone cheese? Mascarpone cheese comes from Italy and is similar to cream cheese, but it has a higher milk fat content because it is made with cream. Cream cheese is made in America and by law must have at least 33% milk fat and 55% moisture. Cream cheese also has additives, like gums to give the cheese a thicker appearance. They are not equally interchangeable in a recipe because of the differences in consistency, texture, milk fat percentages, and additives in cream cheese. You will find mascarpone cheese in the cheese department or deli department near the crème fraîche. If possible do not substitute cream cheese for the mascarpone cheese in this tart recipe.
Fig and Almond Tart
- 1 ½ cup 213 g all-purpose flour
- 1 -2 TB (12 - 24 g) sugar
- Zest from one lemon
- 10 TB ( g) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into half-inch (1 cm) pieces
- 3 TB ice water
- 3 ½ oz (101 g) almond paste, room temperature and cut into ½ inch ( 1 cm) pieces
- 1/3 cup (76 g) mascarpone cheese, room temperature
- 1 TB honey
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Pure almond extract to taste (if needed) a couple of drops
- 12 figs, stems removed and sliced into fourths lengthwise
- 2 tsp of Minced sprigs of Rosemary or Lemon Thyme optional
Make the pie dough
Food Processor Method
Add the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is evenly combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and pulse until the mixture looks like large course sand with uneven clumps. Turn on the machine and add the water in a steady stream until large clumps form being careful not to overwork the dough. Tip the mixture onto a clean and lightly floured surface and pat into a disk. Wrap the pie dough with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour, or up to 2 days.
If making by hand, add the flour sugar, lemon zest, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Whisk together until the ingredients are evenly combined. Add the cubed butter and toss them with your clean hands until coated with flour. Smash the butter with your fingers to mix into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse meal with uneven sizes. Add the ice water and stir with your hands briefly until the dough comes together. Tip the dough onto a clean and lightly floured surface and shape into a flat disk. Wrap the disk with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour.
Mix the almond filling
In a clean bowl of a food processor, add the almond paste, mascarpone cheese, honey, and vanilla. Process until a smooth paste is formed. Scrape down the side of the bowl to blend and process again. Make sure there are no clumps of almond paste in the mix. Taste and add a couple of drops of almond extract if you want the filling to have more almond flavor. Go very light with the almond extract because it is very strong.
Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C) with the oven rack in the middle position. Line a large sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
Assemble the Tart
Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator and if it is too hard, let it rest at room temperature for a couple of minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough on a lightly floured and clean work surface. Whack the dough with your rolling pin across the dough to soften it up and start forming a circle. Rotate the dough 180° and whack it again 4 times across the dough. Turn the dough over and repeat.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin starting at the center of your dough and roll it in one direction away from you. Move the rolling pin around the dough circle and roll out in one direction. Turn the dough over and continue to roll and shape the dough until you have a circle with a 12-inch diameter and is ¼ inch (.5) thick.
Transfer the dough onto your prepared baking sheet by draping the dough over your rolling pin then easing the dough into place.
Spread the almond filling over the dough in an even layer leaving a 2-inch (5 cm) border. Layer the fig slices in concentric circles over the almond filling beginning at the outer rim and working inwards.
Heat the jam for 15 seconds to loosen it up and spread the jam over the figs. You might not use all of the jam, but you want an even layer that is not too thick.
Fold the dough border over the toppings to create an edge. Pleat the border to maintain the circle shape. You can bake the tart right away, but if it took you a while to arrange the tart filling over the dough and you are concerned about the tart expanding and opening up when baking, refrigerate the tart, loosely covered with plastic wrap for 30 minutes or freeze for 15 minutes.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is a golden brown color. Transfer the tart on the sheet pan to a cooling rack and cool for 10 minutes. Loosen the bottom of the tart with a metal spatula or offset spatula and slide the tart off the parchment paper onto your serving platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Best eaten the day it is made.
© 2018, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.