Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some Favorites from a Favorite TV Chef

Thanks to the Food Network, we have been introduced to a variety of cooking shows and TV chefs. We love some, we hate others, and we even love to hate a few. Because I want to keep a more positive outlook, I’d rather focus on one of the ones I love: Ina Garten, also known as the Barefoot Contessa. Her recipes are always interesting and full of flavor. She takes classics and makes them her own, never hesitating to add as much butter, cream, or sugar that is required to get the dish just right. Warning: steer clear of her show or any of her recipes if you are attempting to follow any kind of a reasonable diet, because her food is just too good to pass up.

I recently took one of her cookbooks out of the library: Barefoot Contessa at Home. I did three recipes from the book:Simple, delicious, and quick to make. The chicken was juicy and flavorful, with a crispy outer crust, finished off by an addictive lemon-butter sauce. I spooned the sauce onto the chicken sparingly when I first served it, but it wasn’t nearly enough. We brought our plates back to the stove and had our chicken with a generous helping of sauce poured on.
This dish was good, but much too salty. If you have the book and you try the recipe yourself, I would recommend using only half of the one cup of soy sauce that the recipe calls for. I added the full amount but used a reduced-sodium soy sauce and Andrew and I both found that it was still too salty. Still, it’s a tasty recipe, probably even tastier when the saltiness is adjusted. You make a marinade with soy sauce, rice vinegar, lemon juice, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, chili paste, scallions, garlic, and ginger, and pour about a third of it over your fillet. Then, you cover the fillet in panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and I really mean cover it. Then, pour the rest of the marinade over the panko and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, simply roast it in a very hot oven for twenty minutes, let it rest for another fifteen, and you’re done.

And finally:
Now, this is the one that you must try. Layers of creamy white sauce, portobello mushrooms sautéed in plenty of butter, salty Parmesan, and, or course, soft noodles. It’s a great vegetarian dish. It could work as a side dish as well, but honestly, it is so rich and satisfying, I really think it should be the star of your meal. I served it with a small salad and stuffed artichokes.

So, want to make one of your own? Then preheat your oven to 375 and get about ¾ of a pound of dried lasagna noodles cooking. Boil the water, salt it, add your pasta, drain … you know the drill.

Meanwhile, take 1 ½ lbs. of portobello mushrooms, remove the stems from the caps, and slice the caps ¼” thick. Discard the stems.
Next, get 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil heating over medium heat in a 12” skillet. When the butter has melted, add half the mushrooms and sprinkle with salt (kosher is best), and cook for about 5 minutes, tossing occasionally, until they are tender and have released some of their juices. Repeat with remaining mushrooms.
You’ll also need some lovely creamy white sauce, so get 4 cups of milk simmering in a saucepan. Ina Garten says to use whole milk, but I only had 1% on hand and it was plenty rich and creamy, so you might as well go for a low fat milk and cut a few calories. In a separate saucepan, melt 8 tablespoons of butter (yes, 8!). Instead of a saucepan, I used the skillet that I sautéed the mushrooms in so that my sauce would be infused with a bit of that mushroom flavor, and it worked really well. Stir in ½ a cup of flour and cook for a minute over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture, and add a tablespoon of salt (I added a little less), a teaspoon of pepper, and a teaspoon of nutmeg. Cook and stir over medium-low heat for three to five minutes until thick. The sauce actually gets very thick, but this is good. You don’t want a runny sauce for this lasagna.
OK, is everything done? Is your oven preheated and your sauce made? Are your noodles cooked and your mushrooms sautéed? Then let’s assemble the lasagna. You’ll need a 8x12x12-inch baking dish (mine is smaller because I did half the recipe). Spread a little sauce around the bottom of the dish, then arrange a layer of noodles on top, then sauce, then mushrooms, and then ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese. You’ll need about a total of a cup of Parmesan, but I just grated it directly onto the lasagna like this:
Do two more layers of noodles, sauce, mushrooms, and Parmesan, and then top with one last layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese. Bake it for 45 minutes, until the top is browned and the sauce is bubbling.
Serve it with one or two of your favorite veggie sides, and you’ll be in heaven.


  1. Oh gah! That lasagna looks deadly. I may need to give that a try when I'm feeling like being very baaaad.

    Too bad about the salty salmon. It has such great color- it looks delicious

  2. Brittany: this is most definitely a lasagna for those days when you're feeling especially naughty. But I suggest you try it anyway!

  3. I looked at the recipe for Eli's Asian Salmon. Probably most of the salt is concentrated in the panko as it cooks. I'd probably try to marinate the salmon without the panko, per the recipe. Then drain completely, add a fine layer of panko and then proceed to roasting. The salmon will have absorbed enough marinade and salt. Worth a try...

  4. Good idea, Tony. That would definitely help to cut down on the salt and would even help to get a crispier outer layer of panko. I just might give this one another shot!