I’ve said before that using a recipe may not always be best because professional chefs – those who write most cookbooks and online recipes – create recipes for restaurant quality dishes. As a result, time and cost are typically not factored in, yet these are precisely what concern most home cooks.
In order to buck that trend, I want to share with you two simple and cost-effective recipes for delicious meals. There isn’t going to be a tutorial video to accompany them, just clear directions and a list of general ingredients. I don’t want anyone to feel as if they have to follow these recipes exactly, so please feel free to include alternative ingredients or more or less spices and herbs depending on your taste.
8 servings – $33 total – $4.13 per serving
- 1 pack of lasagna noodles
- 1 yellow onion
- 1 small bag of spinach
- 5 lbs. of Cremini mushrooms
- 2 jars of pasta sauce
- 1 small container of Ricotta cheese
- 1 small container of Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 tablespoon of minced garlic
- Oregano, thyme, parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper to taste
To begin, fill a large pot with water and put it over medium-high to high heat. To help your lasagna noodles avoid sticking and to enhance their flavor, put a few pinches of salt and a spoonful of olive oil into the water. As this comes to a boil, make the lasagna filling.
Start by dicing your onion and putting it into a medium to large sized pot – you’ll need it big enough to hold all of your vegetables and sauce – with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put it on medium heat, season with salt and pepper and sauté. As your onion cooks, rinse and slice your mushrooms. If you like a strong mushroom taste, wipe the caps with a damp paper towel; otherwise, rinse them in a colander. Just be sure to rinse out your colander before straining the noodles. To make slicing easier, pull off the mushroom stems and cut the caps right side up.
Keep an eye on the onions as you work, making sure they don’t stick. When they’ve started to soften and turn yellow, add in your mushrooms. At this point, add your garlic and herbs to the mix and sauté till the mushrooms soften, which only takes a couple of minutes. As that cooks, give your spinach a rough chop and put it into the pot as well. Turn the heat off when you add the spinach, because you only want it wilted, not completely cooked down.
By this point, your water should be boiling. Turn the heat down to medium – or low enough so that it doesn’t boil over – and add the noodles, stirring periodically to avoid sticking. I like to use a fork instead of spoon to do this so that I can separate the noodles more easily. Cook until al dente, which means they should cut with a fork but still have some resistance. Turn off the heat and drain your noodles in a colander. Although it takes away some of the flavor, I prefer to run them under cold water for a minute because it makes them easier to handle and it helps them avoid sticking.
By now, your veggies should have cooled. Add your pasta sauce and Ricotta cheese to the pot with the vegetables and mix thoroughly. By mixing everything in one pot, you don’t dirty as many dishes, and it makes assembling the lasagna easier and quicker.
When that’s done, lightly coat the bottom and sides of a large baking dish – I use a 12” x 16” metal roasting pan – with olive oil and put down your first layer of noodles. Using your hands for this is easiest. My pan works best with three layers, so I divide the noodles accordingly. Ladle on a third of the sauce and vegetable mixture and spread it as evenly as you can over the noodles. Repeat for the second and third layers. On the top layer of sauce and vegetables, sprinkle the Pecorino Romano cheese evenly. You can either put all of it on now, or save some for later.
Finally, bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, keeping it covered with foil. After 30 minutes, take the foil off and put it at 400 for 5 minutes to get the cheese golden brown on top.
Take it out, serve it up and enjoy!
Lamb Tagine With Couscous
8 servings – $28 total (not including stock) – $3.50 per serving
- 2 lbs. of lamb (preferably inexpensive cuts like neck, shoulder or shank)
- 2 zucchini
- 1 onion
- 4 carrots
- 1 small bag of fingerling potatoes (or 1-2 regular potatoes)
- 2-3 cups of French couscous (bought in bulk)
- 2-3 cups of chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon of garlic
- Paprika, oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, salt and pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon of sumac (optional)
- 1 tablespoon of fenugreek (optional – for alternative preparation)
Start by putting a tablespoon of olive oil into the bottom of a Dutch oven. A Dutch oven works well as a substitute for a tagine pot, just make sure you have one big enough to hold all of your meat and vegetables. Place your lamb in the bottom of the pot and season it with salt and pepper on all sides.
Next, clean your fingerling potatoes and quarter them. If you’re using regular potatoes, dice them into small pieces, about ½” square. Add these to the pot on top of the chicken. Do the same thing with the carrots, and layer them on the potatoes. Then, slice your onion – I prefer half-ring slices – and layer it into the pot as well. Finally, halve your zucchini and cut them into half-inch thick pieces. Add these to the pot. Layering your meat and vegetables in this order will ensure that everything cooks evenly and gets done at the same time.
Add your seasonings and garlic, and then gently toss the top two layers of vegetables to let the spices mix in well. While the paprika, turmeric and oregano are entirely up to you to put as much or as little as you want, make sure you only add a pinch of cinnamon. Otherwise, it will be overpowering.
Put the lid on your Dutch oven, and bake at 325 for an hour, or until your lamb is fully cooked and your potatoes are fork tender.
While your tagine cooks, put your couscous into a pot on the stove with equal parts chicken stock. Then, add an extra half-cup of water for each cup of couscous – this helps it not be too salty. Cover your pot and cook on medium-low heat until the couscous has absorbed all the water, which takes about 10 minutes. Avoid opening the lid and stirring your couscous because you need the steam to help it cook. When the water has been completely absorbed, fluff the couscous with a fork and give it a taste. Make sure it’s fully cooked, and then turn the heat off and let it sit covered until you’re ready to eat.
When your tagine has fully cooked, turn off the heat and take it out of the oven. You can either serve the lamb and vegetables over your couscous or on the side.
For a less traditional and slightly quicker version, begin by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Salt and pepper your lamb on all sides and bake for about 45 minutes. You are looking for the fat to render and the meat to start falling off the bone.
As your lamb roasts, begin by dicing your onion. Place your Dutch oven over medium heat, and sauté your onion in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Note, if you are including the optional tablespoon of fenugreek – as we did for the version shown in the photos – make sure that you toast it in your pan first before adding the onion. Otherwise, it will be bitter.
While your onion cooks, quarter your fingerling potatoes – or chop them into ½” cubes if you’re using large potatoes – and add those to the Dutch oven. Stir everything together and cover your pot. Tagine cooking relies on steam, so by covering your pot on the stove and trapping the steam, you are cooking your vegetables in a similar way to a traditional tagine.
Next, chop your carrots and add them to the Dutch oven as well. At this point, add in your salt and pepper, spices, herbs and garlic, and stir them into your onion, potato and carrot mixture. Finally, add your zucchini on top of the other vegetables and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for about 15 minutes, or until your potatoes and carrots are soft. When you can easily cut through a potato with a fork, they are done. Turn off the heat, and remain covered until ready to serve.
Cook your couscous in the same manner as described above. When your lamb is done, turn off the heat and take it out of the oven. Depending on your cut of lamb, you can either pull the meat off the bone (if you’re using shanks) or serve individual pieces (with neck or shoulder) alongside or on top of your vegetable tagine and couscous.