Saturday, October 4, 2008


After writing about Maytag blue cheese I got a little flack from readers about some of the other chesses that deserve a column dedicated to them. As the air got cooler I thought about my grandmothers lasagna and cannoli. The two things I knew growing up that contained ricotta. I did love to scrape the containers when my mother was finished putting it into the dish. Technically, ricotta is not a cheese at all, but a cheese by-product. Ricotta is made from the whey drained from such cheeses as mozzarella, provolone, and other hard white cheeses. Ricotta is a fresh, soft, snowy white cheese with a rich but mild, slightly sweet flavor. Cottage cheese is a good replacement for ricotta (place 8 ounces in a blender with a tablespoon of milk to get the proper consistency, though it will be saltier. For the savory recipes if you are vegan or dairy intolerant try puréeing a 12-ounce can of white beans with roasted garlic. I have played with the lasagna and sauce recipes but they are based on my great-grandmothers recipes. She would call the sauce gravy and be thrilled with the no boil lasagna noodles! You can use hers or any meat or tomato sauce. My daughter loves the stuffed shells and work well with a jar sauce for a quick supper. Freezing in individual portions. Is a great way to utilize leftovers and have great meals through the winter.

Little Noni’s Lasagna
4 cups ricotta
2 cups spinach, chopped
1/4-teaspoon nutmeg
1-1/2 cups shredded Parmesan, divided
1/2 pound lasagna noodles, cooked and drained
6 cups mozzarella, shredded
3 Tbsp. Parsley, minced

. In a small bowl mix together the ricotta, spinach and nutmeg. Pour 1 cup sauce in bottom of 13x9-inch pan. Layer one-third noodles, half the Ricotta mixture, one-third of the remaining sauce and 2 cup Mozzarella cheese in pan. Repeat layers. Top with remaining noodles, sauce and 1 cup Mozzarella and 3/4-cup Parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil and bake at 350°F 50 minutes; uncover, sprinkle with parsley and bake 15 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Basic Meat Sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried basil, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon crushed pepper
1 28-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, drained, chopped
1 28-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 cup dry red wine

Heat oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic to skillet and sauté until onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add ground beef and stir until brown, about 5 minutes more. Stir in parsley, basil, oregano and paprika and continue cooking 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and wine. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until sauce is thick, about 30 minutes.

Emma’s Shells

2 dozen large pasta shells
2 teaspoons salt
24 ounces part skim ricotta cheese
1/4-cup fine dry breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
1 egg, slightly beaten
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes, untrained
3 cans tomato sauce
1/2-teaspoon oregano
1/2-teaspoon basil
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese

Cook shells in boiling salted water following package directions. Drain in a colander and rinse with cool water. Set aside. In large skillet heat oil over medium heat; add onion and garlic. Sauté until golden in color. In a bowl mix the ricotta, breadcrumbs, Parmasan, parsley and egg, mix until well blended. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, basil and oregano to the onions and garlic. Gently stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture. Place each stuffed shell in a casarole dish in a single layer. Cover with sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 350-degree oven for 35 minutes until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbly.

Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

1-1/4 cups fine chocolate wafer crumbs (25 cookies, processed in food processor)
1/3-cup butter, melted
4 cups Ricotta Cheese
1-cup sugar
1/2-cup heavy cream
1/4-cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
3 eggs
1-1/2 cups mini semi-sweet chocolate chips, divided
Mint sprigs or berries for garnish

Spray a 9-inch spring form pan with bakers joy. Combine crust ingredients in small bowl. Press evenly over bottom of pan. Bake in preheated 350°F oven 10 minutes. Combine Ricotta cheese, sugar, heavy cream, flour, vanilla and salt in medium bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, blend with electric mixer until smooth. Fold in 1 cup chocolate chips; pour over crust. Bake in preheated 350°F oven 1 hour or until set. Cool in oven with door propped open 30 minutes. Refrigerate 4 hours or longer. Sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over the top with mint and berries. You can also melt the chocolate and pipe or spoon drizzle over the top of the cake.


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