In a flash, a bang, and a pop, the wedding has come and gone. Was it everything I could have hoped for? Yes, absolutely but at the same time it was also so much more. I want so much to thank all who attended, and all of those who, in presence or in absence, have supported and encouraged our union. Your smiles, your embraces, and tears of joy have affirmed what I have always known in my heart – that I have found my best friend, my soul mate, my partner in life.
I want to extend a special thank you to the Reverend Doss, who gave such eloquent voice to the feelings that Dustin and I share – to Kathy and Mike for lending their ceremony to us and allowing us to make it our own. Dustin and I hope to follow in your footsteps as we share times of joy and sorrow, holding on to the good memories, and learning from our missteps. A true thank you as well to all of the attendees (particularly to Ken and Alicia and the Padalino family) who were so amazingly understanding and patient with us through the date change – through your support and kindness, and patience with our vision, we were able to enjoy a truly beautiful evening as a unified family. To those who traveled in from far away we appreciate you making the trek to join us, you presence helped make the day a truly memorable occasion. To Kristen, our patient photographer – thank you for making me smile, for your grace and poise and keen eye for detail.
To my new sisters and brother, thank you for the hugs and kisses, and for the amazing warmth and acceptance you have shown me. To my own sister a thousand thank yous for your patience with me, I know I can be a real trial. You showed amazing grace and support in the nerve biting moments before the big event. Thank you for loaning me some of your keen fashion insight, we both know how clueless I can be. To Peggy, thank you ever so much for your support with the flowers, you helped make our big day a beautiful success. To Gram, thank you for your endless support, for your wisdom and your prayers, we know we have angels looking out for us.
To my own parents, its hard to even begin. Thank you for your years of teaching. For thousands of hugs and kisses, and for the occasional tough love it took to keep me, your “head in the clouds” daughter, on track. It is through your guidance that I have learned to be loving, and your perseverance through times of adversity has taught me to stand tall, and above all – to never let the [bad guys] get me down. Thank you both for giving me such a special day, to Mom for her beautifully executed vision (it truly was a Mid Summer Night’s Dream) and to Dilip for his beautiful toasts and for that – often silent but always felt – support. Thank you both for the gift of allowing us to all share this day together as a family.
Just as love, family, and friendship are timeless and fill us with warmth, this dish that follows is a true classic. It takes advantage of the plenty of the summer harvest and transforms it into a light stew, full of sustenance and comfort. Leftovers can be easily transformed into a wealth of different dishes – from tarts, to pot pies, to soups, to bruschetta. To all of those who have supported us, this one is for you. We hope that it warms your hearts as you have ours.
Early Summer Ratatouille
2 Small Eggplant Cut in Half and Cut into 1/2 Inch Slices
4 TBSP Olive Oil, Divided
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
3 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Red Onions, Cut in Half and Sliced Thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
3-4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash (a Mix is Great Too!) Cut into 1-Inch Cubes
5 Plum Tomatoes, Scored with an X on the Bottom
At least 3 Cups Boiling Water
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
Small Splash of Good Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Heat the broiler to high. Place the eggplant in a single layer on a cooling rack atop a baking sheet (see the first photo above for an illustration.) Brush with 1 TBSP of Olive Oil, sprinkle with a spattering of salt and pepper and place beneath the broiler and grill until just browned (depending on the evenness of your broilers heat distribution you may want to rotate the pan half way though.) Remove the tray, flip the eggplant, brush the other side with another TBSP of olive oil, sprinkle on a bit more salt an pepper and repeat the broiling until just toasted and remove.
Set the cooling rack aside to cool and place the bell peppers on the baking tray. Pop the peppers in the oven under the broiler and cook until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap and allow to steam for 5 mins.
While the peppers steam place the remaining 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large sautee pan over the stove. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, sautee one minute, stirring often. Once the herbs are very fragrant add the onions and sautee until very soft (about 5-7 mins) and almost translucent.
While the onions sautee place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of boiling water. Allow to cool before removing them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Peel off the skins (these should slide off easily now.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the worst of the seeds. Place seeded and skinned tomatoes on a cutting board and chop roughly. Transfer tomatoes along with their accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.
When the onions have cooked for 5-7 mins add the sliced garlic to the onions in the pan and sautee another 2-3 mins, stirring often.
Remove the peppers from their bowl, leaving the accumulated juice inside. Peel and core the peppers. Slice thinly and return to the bowl with the juice.
Add the zucchini to the onion herb mixture and sautee stirring regularly for 4 mins. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and their juices and cook another 3 mins, stirring. If the dish appears too dry or starts to stick and brown on the bottom add a 1/4 cup of broth or water to loosen. Add the eggplant and cook until just heated through. Be careful not to overcook the zucchini.
Remove the pan from the heat. Scatter parsley over the dish and stir, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper adding a dash of balsamic if desired. Carefully fish out the bay leaves and what remains of the rosemary sprig and thyme (the parts that have cooked into the dish are fine to remain in place.) Serve warm, cool, or transform into a myriad of other dishes from tarts to bread soup.
Its starting to feel like we’ve found our flow here in Nashville. I have found my go to places (grocery stores, farmers markets, hair salons, tailors etc…) and I can finally navigate about the city without getting too horribly lost. And by the Grace of God, Dustin has finally managed to secure a position with one of the city’s largest and arguably its best Civil engineering firms and we are both so excited and so thankful. To celebrate, I decided to buckle down to take on a project that Dustin has been hinting at for a few months and take another pass at making vegetable lasagna.
We made veggie lasagna for the first, and, until now only, time about 3 years ago, just after we first moved in together. The recipe was a MAJOR undertaking as it called for us to slice and roast all of 7 different vegetables. As each veg cooked at a different rate we were constantly pulling roasting pans out of the oven and checking the done-ness of the various ingredients. The final product was good, but sheesh, what a project!
I spent several days mulling over how I would attack another great lasagna endeavor. I was resolved to keep the baked pasta dish veggie friendly, and thus dismissed the idea of a typical bolognese style lasagna. I thought about what my favorite component of a lasagna is – and realized that, aside from the layers themselves, I was quite crazy about the smooth and creamy mozzarella and ricotta filling and decided that my final dish would need to employ this traditional component. For veggies I selected two of my current favorites – zucchini and kale. In homage to the original lasagna dish that Dustin and I made years back, I decided to roast the zucchini in the oven. The kale I simply sauteed in olive oil on the stove.
Like the first time we made lasagna, making this dish was a bit of a labor of love. It is a great recipe for a rainy day when there is not much else to do. I am really pleased with the way Dustin managed to capture the cooking process with his camera.Hopefully these will give you some useful visual pointers for carrying out the dish and inspire you to take on the great lasagna challenge.
Zucchini and Swiss Chard Lasagna with Lemon Ricotta
For the Zucchini Layer
4 Medium Zucchini Cut into Quarters and Diced into 1/2 Inch Segments
3 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 jelly roll or other rimmed baking sheets with tin foil.
Toss the zucchini with olive oil and a liberal grinding of pepper, add salt to taste. Mix well and then divide among the two prepared baking sheets and bake for about 20 mins, turning at least once.
For the Greens Layer
1 10-oz Bag of Washed and Trimmed Kale (I got this at TJs) or 2 Bunches of Kale Stems Removed, Leaves Trimmed and Washed
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
1 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet, add kale in 2-3 batches allowing it to wilt before adding another handful or two. Immediately after adding the last batch, add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 mins. Remove Kale from heat and place in a bowl until ready to use.
For Lemon Riccotta Mixture
1.5 Lb Fresh Riccotta Cheese
3/4 Lb Grated Mozzarella Cheese
1 Mediun Lemon, Zested and Squeezed
1 TBSP Fresh Thyme or Oregano, Minced
Salt and Pepper
In a large bowl mix together the ingredients above. Add about 2 TSP Ground Pepper and about 1/2 TSP salt and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
For Bechamel Sauce (recipe from Mario Batali)
5 TBSP Butter
4 TBSP Flour
4 C. Milk
2 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Ground Nutmeg
In a medium, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hotto the mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.
To Finish the Lasagna
1 Package Flat (not Curly) No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (I bought mine from Trader Joes)
1/2 Cup Fresh Pesto
1/4 lb Freshly Grated Mozzarella
By the time you get to the assembly of the lasagna you are in the home stretch. Pick a large roasting pan for this job, you want one with deep sides that will be pretty for table side presentation. I used a large Emile Henry pan that my mother gave to me as a Christmas present, it was the perfect size at 14 x 10 x 3. Use one at least this size (or larger) or you may have some overflow issues.
Start by stirring your bechamel sauce and pour about 1/3 of this onto the bottom of the pan. Top with 1/2 the mozzarella cheese and a layer of noodles. Next, layer on about 1/2 of the pesto, followed by about half of the ricotta mixture. Then, gently add the zucchini on top of the ricotta, top this with another layer of lasagna noodles. Pour another third of the bechamel on top of the lasagna noodles. Repeat the process adding pesto on top of the bechamel, followed by cheese, greens, and another layer of noodles. Top this last layer with remaining bechamel sauce and wrap tightly with tin foil.
Bake in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Uncover the pan and top with remaining mozzarella and bake for an additional 20 mins or until the top is browned. Serve with or without a light topping of tomato sauce and enjoy!