Part of eating for less involves eating meat less frequently or in smaller quantities. I realize that this may be an unpopular approach for carnivores, but one way to eat nearly vegetarian meals is to use a small amount of cured meat, such as bacon or pancetta to garnish dishes. At Easter, I make homemade ravioli for the vegetarians in the family, and this past Easter, I made ricotta-parmigiano, pea puree, and beet ravioli. The pea puree was, surprisingly, the hit of the trio, and it spawned this recipe, which is much more simple than rolling out your own pasta and filling ravioli all afternoon. In fact, this recipe is more of an assemblage than a real recipe, in my opinion - and as such, it comes together quickly. It's only in the oven for about 30 minutes as well, so it's a pretty convenient, nearly meat-free meal for a weeknight. And if you are vegetarian, you know what to do. Skip the bacon. It's still scrumptious without it.
Pea Puree Lasagnette (little lasagnas):
1 cup frozen peas
1/3 cup water
2 or more across-the-grain slices of shallot. For the Easter ravioli, I used around a tablespoon of chopped shallot and it had a decent kick to it. For this, you may want to start out on the more conservative end of the aromatic/shallot scale, unless you know you like a kick. If that's the case, load 'em up.
1/2 teaspoon thyme
6 lasagna noodles
8 ounces fresh ricotta - please try to find fresh ricotta as it really is a much better quality item than those shelf-stable-for-eight-months ricottas. If you're feeling the make-it-from-scratch love, Bon Appetit has a recipe for homemade ricotta in this month's issue. I intend to try that bad boy out this weekend, in fact.
salt and pepper, additional thyme if you like - you're only sprinkling this about, so it's up to you to determine if you'd like to include it.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2-3 tablespoons grated parmigiano-reggiano
For the "garnish":
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pieces bacon
1 medium shallot, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook frozen peas in 1/3 cup water until heated through. Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Bring water to boil in medium sauce pan, salt well and cook lasagna noodles until al dente - firm, yet cooked through. Rinse well with cold water to prevent noodles from sticking to one another or themselves. Set aside.
In a food processor or mini-food processor, combine the peas, their cooking water, and the 2 or more slices of shallot, and the 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and blend to a puree. It should look like baby food. Don't be afraid.
Grease a lasagna pan with enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Lay two sheets of pasta on the bottom of the pan the long way. Place 1/4 of the pea puree on each, then 2 ounces of ricotta on each, then salt and pepper (and thyme if you like). Cover this layer with another sheet of lasagna and repeat. Top with a third layer of pasta and place 1 tablespoon of butter, cut into pieces and evenly spaced around the noodle on top of each lasagna stack. Sprinkle parmigiano-reggiano over, and place in the oven on the middle rack. Bake for 30 minutes or until the lasagna is lightly browned and bubbling - indicating hotness as it does. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes so that it doesn't fall apart while you cut it. Cut each stack in half and serve with the pea-bacon garnish described below.
While the lasagna cooks, cook the bacon to desired doneness in a saute pan over medium heat. Remove bacon from pan, drain on paper towels, allow to cool slightly, and then crumble into bits of your desired size. I like a larger bit o'bacon myself. Add oil to pan so that the pan is evenly coated (this may not be the full 2-3 tablespoons, use your best judgment). Cook the shallots until they are opaque, approximately 3 minutes. Add the peas to the pan and cook until heated through. Keep warm until lasagna is ready to serve.
Top each lasagnette with 1/4 of the pea mixture and sprinkle bacon over top of each plate. Top with a dollop - by dollop, I mean somewhere around a tablespoon - of creme fraiche or sour cream if you so desire.
Dinner tonight: Ziti with roasted butternut squash, bacon, and creme fraiche. See, I'm making use of the remaining bacon from the pea lasagnette. So crafty with my meat conservation, I am. Estimated cost for two: $4.35. The ziti is that Whole Foods store brand that's made in the traditional Italian bronze-die, air-dried fashion, and yes, I really do think it makes a difference. The box was $1.99, and we'll use half of that. The butternut squash was 2 pounds and cost me 50-cents, but you don't live near the Sousa's farm, so you will likely pay 79-cents per pound, and we'll do the math that way to be fair to you. You only need a pound, so save the hollowed-out bowls for stuffing with Israeli cous cous or rice, apples, raisins, and cheddar and serving with roasted chicken or some such other use. But back to the cost of the squash. We'll call that 80-cents for the pound. I'm going to use leeks from the last day of my garden - can you stand that I still have these suckers? How long has it been? Those are free to me, but if you used even 1/2 of the mammoth leek I purchased at Whole Foods earlier this week - which would be more than enough - it would be 50-cents. The bacon was $2.15 for what turned out to be 6 pieces, and we're using the three leftover pieces, so that goes into the tally at $1.08. The olive oil is around 20-cents per tablespoon, so that's around 60-cents, and Vermont Butter and Cheese creme fraiche is on sale at Whole Foods this week. It was $2.99 for 8 ounces. According to Wikianswers, 1 ounce is equivalent to 1.99 tablespoons, so that's 37-cents for both of us.