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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Why I Love Cookbooks

All the time people are saying to me "you are such a good cook".  Now, while I love the kudos for my kitchen prowess, the truth is that I am really just really good at following directions.  Yes, it's true.  I can read a recipe.

As far as any real cooking skill, well that's up for debate.  I am completely self taught.  If you saw my knife skills the self taught part of this would come as no surprise.

I rarely make up my own recipes, try as I might.  Every once in a while I improvise and what results is edible.  I guess that in the grand scheme of things, that counts for "writing" my own recipes,
although I cannot recall ever actually writing anything down.

But here's the thing.  Cookbooks are wonderful things.  They make it possible for people like me, who have a little time and a great interest in eating well, to turn out really delicious and spectacular meals.  I love cookbooks.  To me, they're like buried treasure.  Inside each book are dozens of recipes just waiting to be tried.

I'm always buying new cookbooks.  In fact, I'll bet you can always tell when I've gotten a new one because for weeks every post contains a recipe from "my new favorite cookbook".  But every once in a while I go back to longtime favorites, like Ina Garten's Family Style.  Ina hasn't come out with a new cookbook since How Easy Is That so lately I've been going back through her previous cookbooks and making some of my favorites from a couple of years ago.

This recipe for turkey sausage lasagna is one of my all time favorites.  It's a little lighter than traditional beef lasagna and uses no boil noodles which really cuts the prep time way down.  It's also a guaranteed crowd pleaser and one that will really impress your guests.  Serve this and they'll all praise you on your wonderful cooking skills.  And, if you're anything like me, you'll know that the only skill required to turn out such a delicious lasagna was the ability to read a recipe.

Ina's Turkey Lasagna
Recipe:  Lasagna with Turkey Sausage

(Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa Family Style, 2002)


2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10 to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one third of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

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