One step closer to a pasta machine

Jan is always looking for the next gadget to assist him in making the perfect meal. I, however, am perpetually concerned about the increasing amount of small, countertop kitchen appliances we accumulate in our linen closet/overflow pantry. It’s not exactly a good combination. It’s the same battle we experience with the condiments (An abundance of condiments, May 2010), but on a larger scale, as appliances are a bigger investment, both in money and space.

I hate being a spoil-sport who always says no, but regardless of what Jan will tell you, I do compromise. I still don’t think we need a pizza oven or a Margaritaville triple Frozen Concoction Maker. But, I’ll admit that the immersion blender is definitely a keeper as is the Williams-Sonoma Vegetable Chop & Measure we’ve recently been using to make quick and easy Pico de Gallo.

We recently made stuffed pasta shells and I realized, in making this meal, we were getting dangerously close to another kitchen gadget I have been putting off — the dreaded pasta maker. After the success of the stuffed shells, Jan’s thinking big: ravioli, tortellini, and–I know it’s coming. But, as we’ve yet to try the ravioli or tortellini with prepared dough, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Stuffed pasta shells

print recipe

  • 1 23 oz. container of ricotta cheese
  • 3 cups spinach
  • 1 egg
  • Shredded mozarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Homemade or jar of favorite pasta sauce
Stuffing shells with cheese mixture


  • Boil the shells according to package directions, about 4-5 shells per serving
  • While the pasta is cooking, wash the spinach and chop roughly
  • Saute spinach in a pan with olive oil until just wilted
  • In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan, parsley, salt, and pepper
  • After draining pasta shells, stuff them with the cheese mixture and place in a baking dish filled about 1/4 inch high with pasta sauce
  • Cover shells with the remaining pasta sauce and sprinkle with mozarella or Italian-blend cheese
  • Bake in oven at 350 degrees F for 45-60 minutes, until cheese is beginning to set
Ready to eat

A glorious truce with eggplant

I knew it wasn’t fair. I just didn’t like eggplant. I couldn’t even remember a specific time when I ate it and didn’t like it, we clearly just didn’t understand each other.

Then one day, Jan said he was going to make eggplant parmesan. “I don’t like eggplant,” I warned him, shaking my head. I sat at the countertop/bar overlooking our kitchen, pulled out a crossword puzzle, and sipped some red wine. A little bit later, Jan presented me with a disc, breaded and deep-fried, for me to try. I was skeptical, but instantly amazed. It was good. (This is not to say that the deep-frying technique will resolve conflicts with any vegetable I’m prejudiced against, as it did not work for mushrooms, Jan tried.)

Jan said that the trick with eggplant was slicing it horizontally, placing each medallion out on a tray, and sprinkling the eggplant with salt on both sides. Then the tray should be placed in the refrigerator for half and hour, letting the salt leach out the bitterness of the eggplant. Before cooking, the eggplant must be thoroughly rinsed of the salt water.

I was already amazed by the eggplant by itself, and the finished eggplant parmesan was even better. It was like lasagna, just with fried eggplant instead of the noodles and ricotta.

Now I request eggplant parmesan. The dish has opened up so many doors for me, this last time I decided it would open a new one. It was time for me to get over my fear of deep-frying. The last time I attempted to do so, I almost burned off my eyebrows a week before my wedding, setting a small but instantaneously out stove top fire in our apartment. Three and a half years later, my friend Heidi (who I was attempting to cook french fries for) still won’t let me live it down. This is also the reason a fire extinguisher now resides on our countertop, though it probably should have been there all along knowing firefighters’ propensities for starting fires.

So, when Jan began frying the eggplant slices for eggplant parmesan and asked me if I’d like to do the rest, I decided, why not? The fried eggplant is an amazing appetizer on its own, and one eggplant provides plenty of slices for constructing the layers of eggplant parmesan and for snacking on while you’re cooking the dish. And not an eyebrow or eyelash was harmed.

Here’s our simplified recipe:

Slice one eggplant and set out slices on a tray. Sprinkle both sides with salt and let sit in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and place in a colander to drain.

Set up a breading station with three shallow dishes. Fill one with flour, another with egg and milk, and the last with seasoned bread crumbs. Pat eggplant slice dry with a paper towel, coat with flour, then dip in the egg wash, and last, cover with breadcrumbs.

Fill a saucepan with about 3/4″ of oil and heat. Then fry about 4-5 of the breaded eggplant slices at a time, flipping over to brown both sides. Remove from oil and let drain over paper towels.

In a baking or casserole dish, layer red sauce (this time Jan made his own with Italian stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, and I messily completed the final step with the immersion blender), eggplant, sauce, cheese (we used an Italian blend of shredded cheeses), eggplant, sauce, cheese, etc., just like you were making lasagna.

Bake, covered, in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes (remove the lid for the last 10 minutes or so).  Remove from the oven and let rest for about 20 minutes before serving. Then enjoy! I am still enjoying the leftovers.