Classic Baked Lasagna

Lasagna No Ricotta

Lasagna No RicottaUntil recently, I’ve made very few lasagnas in my life. It always seems like a long process for an average, everyday pasta dish that appears on the menu at almost every red-sauce Italian restaurant. But this lasagna has changed my mind. I give credit to the absence of one of the most common ingredients in lasagna: ricotta cheese. I don’t have a particular problem with ricotta. The crumbly, almost grainy like texture doesn’t bother me like it does some people. I even thought I liked it in lasagna but that was before I tried replacing the ricotta with a basic béchamel sauce. The simple French sauce made of butter, flour, and milk (or cream) is often used as the base for many other sauces (like the cheesy sauce in baked mac & cheese). In this lasagna, the béchamel sauce adds an unexpected smooth creaminess to the dish without making it overwhelmingly rich.

This lovely classic was adapted from John Clancy’s Cookbook, “John Clancy’s Favorite Recipes.” Another talented friend of my grandmother, John Clancy was a chef and restaurateur who like my grandmother, was mentored by James Beard. He later opened his own culinary school and authored a number of cookbooks. Although he was known for his fish and seafood recipes (and baking recipes in his inner circle), this lasagna recipe is exceptionally tasty. I did, however; make some modifications. The original recipe instructions state to cook the tomato sauce for 4 hours. Who has that kind of time?! I’m sure it might make a more flavorful sauce but a tasty one can be made in under 30 minutes and then allowed to simmer while the pasta and béchamel are prepared. Instead of a combination of ground veal, pork, and beef – which I’m sure is delicious – I decided to keep it simple by just using beef (ground turkey could also be used). And lastly, I added cheese! A sprinkle of parmesan on top was just not enough so I added both grated parmesan and mozzarella between each layer. Ricotta lover or not, this classic lasagna will quickly become your favorite and replace that tomato sauce-drenched version from the local mediocre Italian restaurant.


Meat Sauce

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 cup finely chopped onion
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 – 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup fresh basil, shredded or chopped (or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried)
salt and pepper

Bechamel Sauce

3 cups light cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 lb lasagna noodles
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 lb shredded mozzarella (or one 8 ounce package)

For the meat sauce:

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil until it is very hot. Add ground beef and brown, breaking up meat with a fork or spatula. Drain fat. Stir in onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste and cook a minute longer. Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, dried basil (if using fresh, wait to add until right before building lasagna), and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Continue to simmer while preparing the bechamel and lasagna noodles.

Heat the water for the lasagna noodles and cook according to package instructions while preparing the bechamel. A tablespoon of oil can be added to the water to help prevent the noodles from sticking. Cook until just slightly resilient to the bite.

For the bechamel sauce:

Place the light cream in a small saucepan. Heat cream until hot and set aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy 1 quart saucepan, add the flour, and stir until smooth. Whisk in hot cream and place the saucepan over high heat, bringing the sauce to a boil and whisking constantly. When the sauce is very thick, lower the heat and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Remove from heat and set aside.

To assemble lasagna:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread a thin layer of the meat sauce on the bottom of a 9 x 12 x 3 inch casserole. Spread about 1/4 of the bechamel sauce on top. Add a 1/4 of the Parmesan and mozzarella. Add a layer of pasta on top. Repeat layering three more times, ending with meat sauce bechamel and cheese.

Bake in a preheated oven until lasagna is bubbling hot, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes before serving.

Adapted from “John Clancy’s Favorite Recipes,” by John Clancy.


Chinese Spare Ribs

Chinese Spare Ribs

Chinese Spare Ribs

We often think of spare ribs in the summer, thrown on the grill and eaten with corn on the cob or cole slaw. However, Chinese spare ribs have a sweet and salty warmth that make them perfect for the winter. Marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, rice wine vinegar, and Chinese five spice powder, these ribs are baked in the oven and basted until almost charred but still gooey and tender.

There are many different methods for baking ribs. Some recommend boiling the ribs prior to baking to extract some of the fat.  In “The Art of Good Cooking,” my grandmother recommends steaming the ribs in tin foil in the oven before baking and basting the ribs. Other methods indicate marinating the ribs and putting them directly in the oven, similar to what I’ve done here. The cut of meat may help determine what method to use. If the ribs are particularly fatty, they will be greasy so either boiling or steaming them will help produce a leaner tasting rib without a fatty residue.

Although my grandmother didn’t specialize in Asian food, there are a few recipes hidden throughout her book. Her original Chinese BBQ sauce recipe can be found in the spare ribs section along with Hawaii BBQ sauce and Mexican BBQ sauce. I decided that the Chinese sauce needed a bit more attention so I made a few modifications. To get the full texture and flavor that Chinese spare ribs deserve, I added the Chinese five spice powder and rice wine vinegar to the sauce as well as a step to marinate the ribs. On these crazy winter days, juicy flavorful ribs are worth the extra effort.


1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 lbs beef or pork spare ribs

Mix together all ingredients in a shallow dish and add ribs. Turn to coat. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a baking rack on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan lined with foil. Remove ribs from marinade and place on rack, meat side up. Reserve marinade. If space permits, pour water half-way up the sides of the pan (make sure the water does not touch the ribs). Bake 30 minutes and baste with reserved marinade. Bake another 30 minutes and raise heat to 450 degrees. Baste the ribs then bake another 20-25 minutes until glazed and tender, basting once after 10 minutes.

Adapted from “The Art of Good Cooking,” by Paula Peck


New England Clam Chowder

New England Clam Chowder

Clam Chowder

The weather in the Northeast has been quite a roller coaster lately. When it’s cold, it’s really cold. And when it’s warmer, it’s usually raining. New England Clam Chowder is the perfect lunch for either side of the crazy winter weather spectrum and anything in between. Warm and comforting, a steaming bowl fills you up while giving you a taste of the sea you might be missing.

I found this recipe in buried my grandmother’s stack of unpublished soup recipes. John Clancy’s name was typed neatly in the top corner of the page so I’m assuming this is his recipe or a collaboration of some kind. This chowder is not as thick as what you would expect from a traditional New England Clam Chowder (and definitely not as thick as the nasty stuff in the can). That may be good or bad, depending on your preference. If you prefer a thicker chowder, you can simply start with a roux – add roughly 2 tablespoons butter and 2 tablespoons flour to the pan before cooking the bacon and onion. However, I believe that if you use really fresh clams (right from the shell), you won’t care about the thickness of the soup. The taste of fresh meaty clams with the smoky bacon is enough to keep you going back for more.


2 dozen chowder clams, shucked and chopped, and their juice
1 8oz bottle of clam juice
1/4 cup bacon, diced
4 cups potatoes, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 cups onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups heavy cream or half and half
3 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a large 3-4 quart saucepan, brown bacon and saute onion until golden. Add all clam juice and bring to a boil. Cook potatoes in mixture for 10 minutes or until they are tender. Add thyme, clams, and cream and simmer for 5-6 minutes (careful not let the soup boil or it may curdle). Season with ground pepper and remove sprigs (once thyme leaves have fallen off).

Serves 6.


Champagne Chicken

Champagne Chicken

This is not your average chicken dish. It may look fairly ordinary in the photos but this chicken is particularly royal. Drenched in a champagne mushroom sauce, it’s fit for a King…or a special occasion such as New Years. I would recommend making this with leftover champagne after new years but for many of us, “leftover” champagne is usually non-existent. In this case, get the party started early by opening that bottle while cooking new years eve dinner and toast to the chef.

This recipe comes from “The Art of Good Cooking” and can easily be halved. Sparkling wine may also be substituted for the champagne, making it a bit more the budget friendly. The chicken is actually cooked in the champagne (or wine) sauce, absorbing its sweet fruity tones. Mushrooms are added and the sauce is then thickened further with egg yolk and cream (substitute half and half if you would like). And since it wouldn’t be a Paula Peck dish without fresh parsley – the sauce is finished with chopped fresh parsley as well as tarragon. Simple yet deliciously rich, this chicken is the perfect side- kick for that champagne toast. Happy New Year!


1/2 cup unsalted butter
6 chicken legs, skinned
6 chicken thighs, skinned
1/2 cup chopped shallots
3 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
salt and pepper
2 cups champagne or sparkling wine (approximately)
1/2 lb mushrooms, sliced and sauteed 2 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
3 egg yolks
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon

Melt butter in a broad heavy pan over medium heat. Add chicken legs and thighs and sauté slowly, turning frequently, until chicken loses its pink color on the outside. Add shallots and continue to sauté until they are soft. Remove chicken and keep warm.

Stir flour into pan. Cook for a few minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Add dried tarragon, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat and whisk in champagne. Return chicken to sauce. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes, until chicken is just tender and juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Remove chicken pieces to a platter and keep warm.

Add sauteed, sliced mushrooms to sauce. If sauce seems thin, raise heat to reduce it a little, while stirring, being careful not to scorch the sauce. Remove from heat.

Whisk cream and egg yolks together. Stir this mixture into sauce. Replace over low heat, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens a little more. Add tarragon and half the parsley. Taste for seasoning and pour over chicken.

Adapted from “The Art of Good Cooking,” by Paula Peck.



Fresh Tomato Soup

Fresh Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup with EggGiven that I just did a post on Gazpacho a few weeks ago, a tomato soup recipe may seem redundant. Besides the tomatoes though, this soup couldn’t be more different. Those hot and humid evenings may have only been a couple of weeks ago, but fall seems to have arrived without hesitation here in New York. It’s as if Mother Nature looked at a calendar and scheduled the cooler weather immediately as August ended. These chilly evenings call for soup, and this unpublished fresh tomato soup recipe struck me as the perfect way to use up some of the delicious ripe tomatoes leftover from summer.

The most intriguing part of this recipe is the addition of a raw egg. Cracked directly into the serving bowls, the hot soup cooks the egg just enough so the yolk remains runny. This of course requires the soup to be very hot when served and the serving bowls to be warmed (throw them in the oven for a minute restaurant style or cheat and use the microwave). The runny part of the egg can then be enjoyed with not just the soup, but a large parmesan crouton – the other jewel of this dish. Slices of crusty bread are sautéed in butter until toasted and crunchy, then topped with grated parmesan cheese, and briefly browned under the broiler. Each bowl of soup is then topped with a slice..or two.

It seems my grandmother had yet to name this recipe because the faded typewriter written version just reads, “Another Tomato Soup, But Very Good” – the “another” referring to an unpublished recipe for a non-vegetarian or beef tomato soup that she also wrote. I considered coming up with a fancier name that would hint at the unique addition of an egg and the large crusty parmesan croutons. However, those can always be excluded and the basic soup is perfectly satisfying on its own or with good old grilled cheese.


3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
5-6 large fresh tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 baguette, sliced
1/2 stick butter
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 very fresh eggs

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, tomatoes, salt, sugar, basil, pepper and stock and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.

While the soup simmers, prepare the parmesan croutons. Preheat broiler. Heat butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add baguette slices. Saute a few minutes on each side until lightly browned. Remove croutons from heat and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle croutons with cheese. Place under broiler just until cheese melts.

When tomatoes in soup are tender, remove from heat. Blend by using an immersion blender or by transferring soup to a blender, a few cups at a time. Return to pot, check seasoning, and bring to a boil. Return to a simmer until ready to serve.

Heat serving bowls. Crack an egg in each bowl. Ladle soup into bowls, allowing it to “cook” the egg. Top with parmesan crouton.

Serves 6 small bowls or 4 large.

Tomato Soup with Egg



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