It’s hard not to start cooking with Guinness around St. Patrick’s Day. It is a very versatile brew, lending itself to sweet and savory recipes. And as the old ads say, it makes you stronger! I love this simple glaze and think thick slices of Irish bacon are the perfect vehicle for it. Irish bacon is similar to Canadian bacon and more like ham than our “streaky” bacon, so a couple of slices makes for a nice change at dinner, or breakfast. I find it at natural food and upscale markets, but sliced Canadian bacon or thickly sliced ham will work as well.
Serve this sticky bacon with a large portion of Colcannon, which is traditionally served with a large pat of butter, but a drizzle of this glaze over the top is pretty good too. Or pair it with Champ, if cabbage is not your thing.
This recipe makes more glaze than you will need, but it will keep, cooled in an airtight jar, for a week or so and can be used to glaze grilled chicken, burgers or a meatloaf, so it’s nice to have around to extend the St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon
1 (12-ounce) bottle Guinness stout
1 ¼ up light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
½ teaspoon English mustard powder
8 ounces sliced Irish bacon or Canadian bacon (about 8 slices)
Pour the Guinness into a high-sided saucepan and leave until the foam settles. Stir in the brown sugar, honey and mustard powder and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Watch carefully and stir frequently as this can easily boil over. Just when it hits the boil, reduce the heat to medium -low and cook, stirring often, until the glaze is reduced by half., about 20 – 25 minutes. Remove from the heat. It will thicken a little as it cools.
Cook the bacon slices in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until just beginning to brown, flip and brown the opposite side. Spoon about 1 Tablespoon of glaze over each slice and cook a few more minutes until the bacon is nicely glazed and syrupy. Serve immediately, with a little extra glaze spooned over if you like.
Guinness Glazed Irish Bacon and Colcannon
I first remember having grillades and grits at brunch at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans. It was family trip, maybe an early vacation or taking my brother to look at college. My parents made us dress up – would have checked to see that we packed something appropriate, and it would have been our fancy meal of the trip. And Commander’s was fancy, particularly to a young teen with little experience. There were white-coated waiters with trolleys doing all sorts of amazing things like flaming bananas foster and café brulot. What made me order something with the unfamiliar name grillades, I can’t imagine, but I do love veal and those grillades were made with veal.
In truth, grillades and grits are a rustic dish. Slow simmered meat and vegetables served over simple grits, so it seems funny that they pair with one of my earliest fancy meal memories. And the Commander’s Palace I see in my minds eye is nothing like the Commander’s of reality that I know to day. Like how everything at your high school seems smaller and less significant when you return as an alumnae. So grillades and grits sat in my mind as a vaunted, scared New Orleans restaurant dish (I had it a various places over the years), something only served by waiters. But I finally decided to see if it was something I could conquer, and lo and behold, it is a pretty simple dish to prepare. And when you do it yourself, you end up with the dish that evokes the perfect memories and flavors. Tender veal, the trinity of creole vegetables, piquant sauce and creamy grits. Now I want to celebrate my early experiences in New Orleans with this dish of memories any time. Particularly during Mardi Gras season.
Grillades and Grits
1 ½ pounds veal scallopine (about 6 cutlets)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
¼ cup bacon grease (plus more if needed)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium beef broth
For the Grits:
6 cups chicken broth (plus more if needed)
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 ½ cups stone-ground grits
6 ounces cream cheese, cubed
6 Tablespoons butter
For the Grillades:
Cut the veal pieces in half or thirds, to yield 4-inch squares. Place the flour and creole seasoning in a large ziptop bag. Add the veal pieces and shake well to coat.
Heat the bacon grease in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Shake any excess flour off the veal pieces and add to the pan. Brown lightly, just a few minutes on each side, then remove to a plate. Do not crowd the pans, do this in batches. Add the chopped onion to the hot grease and cook until golden brown, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan as you go. Add a touch more bacon grease if the pan starts to dry out. When the onions are soft and brown. Add the bell pepper and celery and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of the seasoned flour from coating the veal over the vegetables and stir until no flour is visible. Add the tomatoes and their juice and the beef broth. Stir, scraping the browned bits up from the bottom of the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low.
Nestle the veal pieces into the sauce, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. If you would like a slightly thicker sauce, uncover the pan, raise the heat and bubble for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened.
For the Grits:
Season the chicken stock with salt and pepper and bring to a boil in a deep pan with high sides. Pour the grits into the water and stir thoroughly. Cook, stirring frequently to keep the grits from sticking, until most of the liquid is absorbed and the grits are tender, but with a little bite. Be careful while you are stirring, grits spit, so stand back aways. Stir in the cubes of cream cheese until smooth and melted. Stir in the butter until melted.
The grits can be kept covered for an hour or so, then slowly reheated over low, stirring in a little broth if needed.
Serve the grillades spooned over a mound of grits.
An easy weeknight treat is a great recipe to have on hand. I love this version of a a classic pizza casserole, updated my way with no jarred sauces or chemical laden boxed mixes. This is a real family pleaser, better than greasy delivery and easier than making or rolling out dough. A mix of beef and Italian sausage with fun bites of pepperoni up the pizza factor.
If your dinners will stand it, you can sauté some shredded carrots, bell peppers and onion with the meat to add a little touch of vegetables. Or sprinkle a little red pepper in with the filling if you like spice. You could even use ground turkey and turkey or chicken Italian sausage.
Upside Down Pizza Pie Bake
½ pound ground beef
½ pound bulk Italian sausage (or links with casing removed)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
½ cup diced pepperoni*
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
Break the beef and sausage into a large skillet and cook until browned and no longer pink, breaking up into small pieces as you go. When the meat is cooked, stir in the garlic and the oregano and stir to combine. Stir in the pepperoni. Add the tomato sauce and 2 Tablespoons flour and stir until thoroughly combined and thick.
Spread the meat mixture a well-greased 8-inch square baking dish. Leave to cool slightly, then spread the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Beat the eggs, milk and olive oil together in a small bowl, then add the flour and whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour the batter over the top of the meat and cheese and spread to cover the top completely. Sprinkle over the parmesan cheese.
Bake the pizza for 35 – 40 minutes until puffy, golden and the cheese has melted. Let the dish sit for 5 minutes. Loosen the sides of the pizza with a thin knife, then invert it onto a platter. Cut into squares and serve immediately.
* The last time I made this, I found some “mini” pepperoni rounds at the grocery. They are perfect for this recipe, and cute to boot!
Football and tailgating season have arrived, so I offer this little tidbit. Country Ham Paté has the down-home goodness of salty, savory country ham, with a slightly sophisticated twist. It is easily portable and imminently useful. Try it simple spread on crackers or corn chips, or sandwiched between the halves of little cocktail-sized buttermilk biscuits. Its great on a snacking spread with pimento cheese or other dips.
I buy ground country ham online, but you can as easily take country ham biscuit slices and pulse them to a thick paste in the food processor. I love this served out of old canning jars, but molding it into a lovely shape adds a dash of style.
Country Ham Paté
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
A few grinds of black pepper
5 green onions, white and light green parts
1 pound ground country ham
With a hand mixer, beat together the cream cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, paprika and pepper until smooth. Finely chop the green onions and stir them into the mix. Crumble the ground ham in and use a sturdy wooden spoon to beat everything together until smooth and well combined.
Scrape the pate into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavors meld. Well-covered, this will keep for up to a week. If you want to get a little fancy, line a bowl with plastic wrap, smoothing it out as much as possible, and scoop the pate into it. Press down on the pate and smooth it out so there are not air pockets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Before serving, unwrap the top, invert the pate onto a platter and remove the plastic wrap.
This dish, I can hardly call it a recipe, is one of those meal ideas that’s passed around from family to friend to book club to the office to tennis groups to cocktail party and on and on. You know, that simple recipe someone rattles off when you worry about new dinner ideas or what to serve to guests – “wrap a pork tender in bacon, sprinkle over some brown sugar and cook in a cast iron skillet.” I can’t count how many times it’s been my emergency meal, because it is so easy and so good. I never really considered putting it on the site because it’s just so simple. But I made it not to long ago, and it got me thinking that with a few simple little tweeks, it could turn into something really special.
So I brushed a little tangy mustard on the pork before wrapping it in smoky bacon, and added a rich sauce with bourbon verve and butter smoothness. The sauce goes wonderfully well with any grilled pork dish.
Bacon Wrapped Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon Butter Sauce
For the Pork:
1 pork tenderloins, about 2 pounds each
2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 pound bacon
2/3 cup light brown sugar
For the Sauce:
¼ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup Dijon mustard
3 Tablespoons bourbon
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 375°. Evenly coat a 12-inch cast iron skillet with oil making sure it is all well covered. I use a wadded up paper towel.
Place the pork tenders on a cookie sheet or large cutting board. Tuck any thin ends underneath so you have nice, even logs of pork. Keep it tucked as you wrap. Brush 1 Tablespoon mustard evenly over each tender. Wrap the bacon around the tenders, starting the next piece where the first one ends and so on, so you have a nice little package completely wrapped in bacon. Get the ends covered as best you can too.
Spinkle the sugar next to the tenders then start pressing it into the sides and top of the bacon. You can roll the tenders around in the sugar a little if needed. When they are nicely covered, tuck any bacon ends back in place and carefully transfer to the oiled skillet. Neaten up the bacon, but try not to let any stray sugar fall onto the skillet.
Cook the pork for about 45 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 140°. I recommend a probe thermometer. Turn on the broiler to crisp the bacon on the top, and cook to 145°. Remove from the oven and transfer the pork to a cutting board. (At this point, I usually pour a little water into the bottom of the skillet and scrape up any cooked sugar with a silicone spatula to make cleaner up easier). Tent the pork with foil and let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.
For the Sauce:
Mix the brown sugar, mustard, bourbon and Worcestershire sauce together in a small saucepan until it is all well combined. Place over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil, whisking frequently. Cook about 2 minutes, until the mixture is slightly thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, and when the bubbling subsides, return it to low heat and whisk in the butter a few small pieces at a time, letting each addition melt before adding another. When all the butter is combined, remove from the heat. You may gently reheat the sauce over low heat, stirring constantly.
Spoon the sauce over the sliced pork.
Serves 4 – 6
Memorial Day is coming and marks the official start of summer party season. Millions of people will be firing up the grill for the long weekend and beyond, and here in the South, they’ll be making endless pitchers and jugs of ice cold sweet tea to keep things cool. So I decided to combine the two for the perfect summer meal.
I’ve always found that brining is a great tool when cooking pork on the grill. It keeps a meat that can quickly dry out juicy and tender. I have seen many recipes for brining various meats in tea, and they’ve made me curious. But I wanted to take that sweet tea flavor one step further, giving the pig the full Southern treatment. There’s a subtle flavor infused through the meat, but it is the sweet and tangy glaze that takes it up that extra notch.
So fire up the grill and brew up a pitcher (or maybe some bourbon-laced Sweet Tea Juleps) and celebrate summer Southern style.
Grilled Sweet Tea Glazed Pork Chops
For the Chops:
4 cups water
½ cup sugar
½ cup kosher salt
4 black tea bags
4 sprigs fresh mint
4 boneless center cut pork chops
For the Glaze:
1 ½ cups water
3 garlic cloves
2 black tea bags
4 – sprigs fresh mint
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons cider vinegar
Stir 2 cups of water, the sugar and salt together in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags and mint. Leave to cool, then remove the tea and mint and stir in the remaining 3 cups of water. Place the pork chops in a flat container or a ziptop bag placed on plate. Pour the cooled brine over the chops and refrigerate for 8 hours, but up to 12 is fine.
For the glaze:
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan with a lid. Peel the garlic cloves and crush with the flat side of a knife. Remove the pan from the heat and add the tea bags, garlic cloves and mint. Cover the pan and leave to steep for 30 minutes.
Fish out the tea bags, garlic and mint, then add the brown sugar and vinegar and return to medium high heat. Cook the glaze, stirring frequently, until reduced by a little more than half and thick and syrupy, about 20 minutes. Keep the glaze warm over low heat.
Heat the grill to high heat, then place the pork chops on the grates. Cook for about 5 minutes on one side, then flip to the other side. Don’t flip the chops until they easily lift off the grates. Lower the heat, over the grill and finish cooking the chops until cooked through, about 10 minutes, to an internal temperature of 145°. In the last few minutes of cooking, brush on a thick coat of glaze, then finish cooking. When the chops are done, brush with another coat of glaze, then remove to a platter. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
Serve the chops immediately, with more glaze spooned over the top.
To cook in the oven, heat a grill pan or cast iron skillet to high and sear the chops on each side, brush with a little glaze, then transfer to a preheated 400° oven. Cook until 145° internal temperature. Remove from the oven, and brush with a little more glaze. Tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes.
It is that time. My stock of frozen sauce made from summer’s freshest tomatoes is dwindling, and I am hoarding those last little bags. Hey, I do like a sauce made from quality canned tomatoes as well (my standard Bolognese uses them), but after a steady diet of the fresh stuff, it’s heard to switch over. That’s where this comes in. A bridge Bolognese if you like, between the deep cold of the winter and the tomatoes of summer. This sauce is hearty and warming, but somehow brighter than a rich, deep red Bolognese.
And this recipe represents what I think home cooking is all about. Blending and creating and combining until you find the taste that suits you. I first saw white Bolognese on a menu at an Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t picture what that meant, so I didn’t order it. But a friend at the table did, and ate every bite. That made me curious. So I researched and read a lot of recipes and figured out this version that features the flavors I like. The combination of veal and fennel-laced Italian sausage, mild leeks and the punch of fresh fennel. White wine instead of red gives the characteristic zing. I shy away from traditional Bolognese ingredients; this doesn’t need onion or garlic or carrots, basil or oregano. This is not some kind of substitute for red sauce, but a creation all to itself. What this lacks in looks, it more than makes up for with punchy, bright flavors.
White Bolognese Sauce
1 pound ground veal (or pork)
1 pound Italian sausage meat
1 medium fennel bulb
2 stalks celery
1 leek, white and light green part only
¼ cup olive oil
1 bottle (750-ml) dry white wine
4 cups chicken broth
6 large fresh sage leaves
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ cup heavy cream
Crumble the veal and sausage meat into a large Dutch oven and cook over medium high heat until cooked through, but not deep brown. Break up the pieces into small bits as you cook. Pour the meat into a colander and drain off the fat and juices. Wipe any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.
While the meat is cooking, cut the vegetables. Cut stalks of the fennel and set aside, then cut the fennel bulb in half and cut out the hard core. Dice into very small pieces. String the celery and cut into very small pieces. Cut the leeks into quarters, rinse thoroughly and cut into small pieces. The key here is that no bite is overwhelmed with a huge piece of any one flavor.
Put the oil into the pan, add the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently, until they are soft and wilted and translucent. Add 1 cup of the wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until the wine is evaporated. Put the meat back in the pot with the vegetables and stir to combine. Add the remaining wine and cook until it has all evaporated, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
Finely chop the sage leaves and a small handful of the feathery fronds from the fennel. Add the chicken broth, sage and fennel fronds to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken broth has evaporated, a good 20 minutes. Give it a good stir a few times. When the broth is almost all gone, stir in the fennel seeds.
When the broth is evaporated, stir in 1 cup of milk and the nutmeg and bring to a nice bubble. Cook until the milk has reduced slightly and just coats the meat.
The sauce can be made several hours ahead and kept covered in the fridge. Reheat gently over medium-low heat.
Before serving (after keeping or if serving immediately), stir in the heavy cream until heated through. Spoon over pasta.
Like many traditional dishes of the British Isles, my first taste of Irish Stew was in the dining hall of my college at Oxford. And it wasn’t a particularly good experience. Tough meat, watery broth, soggy vegetables. But I never gave up on the notion; I just think I liked this dish in theory more than in concept. But a warming, hearty lamb and vegetable stew is just a plain good idea, so I stuck with it.
I have read many Irish Stew recipes over the years and they are all pretty simple and plain, which I think is a hallmark of Irish cuisine. And I’ve made many versions too, but I always felt they needed a little oomph. So I’ve added some bacon for smoky saltiness and browned the meat for extra richness. Some of the impetus for sticking to the dish is that I now find beautiful pasture-raised, local lamb, and good meat makes all the difference. I love the contrast of peppery parsnips and sweet carrots and of course, no Irish Stew would be complete without potatoes.
If you don’t find ready to use stew meat, ask the butcher counter to cube lamb shoulder or leg for you.
3 pounds lamb stew meat, in 2-inch cubes
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound bacon
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 cups beef broth
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 yellow potatoes
chopped fresh parsley to garnish
Pat the lamb cubes dry with paper towels. Mix the flour, salt and pepper together in a large ziptop bag, then drop in the lamb and shake it around to coat each cube with flour.
Cut the bacon into small pieces and place in a large (5-quart) Dutch oven. Cook over medium high heat until the bacon is crispy. Remove the bacon to paper towels to drain using a slotted spoon. Let the bacon grease cool a bit, then very carefully pour it into a glass measuring jug. Carefully wipe out the pot, cleaning out any burned bits.
Return the pot to the stove and heat ¼ cup of the bacon grease. Remove the lamb cubes from the bag, shaking off any excess flour and cook them in the bacon grease until browned on all sides. You will need to do this in batches, removing the browned pieces to a plate. If needed, add a little more bacon grease to the pot and heat it up between batches.
When all the lamb is browned and removed from the pot, add 2 more Tablespoons of bacon grease and the chopped onions and cook over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent. When the onions are soft, add ¼ cup of water and scrape any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cover and cook until the onions are soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a further 2 minutes. Return the lamb and about ¾ of the cooked bacon to pot. Pour in the beef broth, add the bay leaves and thyme and bring to a boil. Stir the stew well, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook for 1 ½ hours.
Peel the parsnips and carrots and cut into bite-sized chunks. Add to the simmering stew. Scrub the potatoes, but do not peel, and cut into nice chunks. Add these to the stew as well, give it all a good stir, cover the pot and cook for a further 30 - 40 minutes or until the potatoes, carrots and parsnips are tender.
At this point, the stew can be made up to a day ahead, cooled, covered and refrigerated. Reheat over medium just until warmed through. Fish out the bay leaves and thyme stems before serving.
Serve in big bowls, topped with the remaining bacon pieces and a sprinkle of fresh chopped parsley.
No self-respecting Southerner, I boldly say, would let New Year’s Day pass without at least one bite of black- eyed peas. They bring luck and good fortune for the New Year, and everyone can use a little bit of that. Hoppin’ John is traditional in many quarters, but peas slowly cooked with a piece of pork are the norm for many. I like to vary my black-eyed pea intake, from my classic recipe to a big bowl of Good Luck Gumbo. But no matter how you eat them, cornbread is the traditional accompaniment to black-eyes. So here’s a recipe that kills two birds with one stone, and is tasty to boot.
This recipe is very simple, though it has a couple of steps. It’s easily done while watching the football game, which I understand is a popular New Year’s Day activity, or while resting on the sofa after some late-night revelry. Season this to your own tastes, lots of spicy Creole seasoning or just a touch, tomatoes with green chile or without. I find country ham “biscuit slices” readily at most markets in vacuum packages, but whole slices are just fine. Chopped “seasoning pieces” are great for seasoning, but don’t make great eating, so avoid them. For some prosperity to go with your New Year luck, serve these with greens, like Foldin’ Money Cabbage.
Black-eyed Pea and Cornbread Skillet
For the Black-eyed Peas
4 ounces center cut country ham biscuit slices
Half of a small yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning (I like Tony Chachere’s)
12 ounces frozen black-eyed peas
3 green onions, white and light green part only, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons butter
1 Tablespoon flour
1 (14.5-ounce can) diced tomatoes with green chile (or plain diced tomatoes), drained
Salt to taste
For the Cornbread:
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
2 Tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
For the Black-eyed Peas:
Cut the country ham into small cubes and put it in a saucepan with the halved onion, garlic and bay leaves. Pour over 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil, skim off any scum that rises, lower the heat to medium low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas and ½ teaspoon of the creole seasoning. Simmer for 1 hour, or until the peas are tender.
Drain the peas, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, garlic and bay leaves. Rinse out the bean pot and return it to the heat. Melt the butter in the pot, then add the chopped green onions and cook until soft and translucent, but do not brown. Sprinkle in the flour and stir until smooth and pale. Stir in 1 cup of the cooking liquid and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced slightly, about 8 minutes. Season with the remaining ½ teaspoon Creole seasoning (or to taste). When the sauce has thickened, add the peas and ham and stir to coat. Stir in the drained tomatoes and cook until the sauce has reduced a bit more and just coats the peas, about 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
Brush a 10-inch cast iron skillet with oil. Scrape the cooked peas into the skillet and smooth the top. Set aside while you make the cornbread.
For the Cornbread:
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Stir the cornmeal, baking soda and salt together in a bowl using a fork. In a large measuring jug, measure the buttermilk, then add the egg andmelted butter and beat until combined. Pour the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Spread the cornbread batter over the top of the peas in the skillet. Carefully transfer the skillet to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the cornbread is puffed, golden and set.
As I remember it, trick or treating is hard work. Lots of walking, in what is invariably an uncomfortable costume, that heavy bag of candy and keeping your best manners on under all that stress. But the promise of a seemingly endless supply of fun-size candy bars made it all worthwhile. I even liked the stripey, crunchy peanut butter Mary Janes and the peanut taffy in the orange and black wrappers. Then there was the dentist down the street, who gave the “special” neighborhood kids a toothbrush, while any other kids got granola bars.
So after a hard slog of candy hunting, it’s nice to come home to warm, comforting seasonal dinner. And what could be more perfect on Halloween than pumpkin? This creamy, cheesy casserole can be made ahead, and popped in the oven to cook while you’re out and about. The meaty sausage and melty cheese are perfect, with a subtle pumpkin flavor that will satisfy little tummies (and grown-up appetites) before the sugar rush sets in.
Creamy Italian Sausage and Pumpkin Manicotti
For the Manicotti:
1 (8-ounce) package manicotti pasta shells
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, bulk or casings removed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
7 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 cup pumpkin puree, from a 15-ounce can
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
For the Pumpkin Sage Béchamel Sauce:
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
10 fresh sage leaves, very finely chopped
¾ cup pumpkin puree (the remainder from the manicotti recipe)
Salt and pepper to taste
For the Manicotti:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the manicotti according to the package instructions. Cook the manicotti about 2 minute less than the recommended cooking time. Drain the manicotti and rinse thoroughly with cold water to prevent sticking.
While the water is boiling and the manicotti is cooking, crumble the sausage into a large skillet and cook over medium high heat, breaking it up with a spatula, until it begins to brown. Add the onion and ½ cup of water and cook, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the sausage is cooked through and no longer pink and the water has evaporated. Stir in the garlic and chopped sage and cook for 2 more minutes. Add the ricotta and pumpkin and stir until the filling is creamy and smooth. Stir in the parmesan cheese until melted. Leave the filling to cool to room temperature while you make the sauce.
For the Pumpkin Béchamel:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, then whisk in the flour until you have a loose, smooth paste. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium until the sauce is creamy and thickened. Whisk in the nutmeg and chopped sage. Stir in the pumpkin puree until combined and cook until lightly bubbling. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Spread about ½ cup of béchamel sauce over the bottom of a greased 9 by 13-inch baking pan, to prevent the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan. Stuff the manicotti shells with the filling and lay them over the sauce in the pan. I admit, I am a bit of a manicotti cheat – I cut the shells open with a pair of scissors, place a line of filling down the center, roll it up, and place it seam side down in the pan. If you have some leftover filling, tuck it in around the noodles.
Spoon the béchamel sauce over the noodles and gently spread it out to a thin layer covering the noodles. Sprinkle the 2 cups of shredded mozzarella over the top of the manicotti.
The manicotti can be covered and refrigerated several hours or overnight at this point. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 350°. Bake the manicotti for 40 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. If the cheese begins to brown, loosely cover the pan with foil.
Serves 6- 8
You might also like Spicy Chorizo, Pumpkin and Black Bean Chili, Pumpkin Cornbread, Chicken Enchiladas with Pumpkin Sauce, or Candy Corn Mousse.