One of the most obvious signs of growing up is when your holidays start to change. For as long as I can remember, my family has celebrated Easter morning together with multicolor baskets brimming over with chocolates and other goodies. Then, in the glow of the post-basket-opening high, we’d have a spirited egg hunt, the memories I have of which are tainted by visions of my too-competitive older sister hurling me out of the way to snatch an egg from me. Finally, we’d capped off the day with a multi-course dinner and dessert. However, this year was the first year that all of that drastically changed (and yes, I received baskets through age 18; I’m not ashamed).
This year, there were no bountiful baskets, my sister was in another state, my father was stuck at work until midnight, and instead of serving an elaborate meal, we made a one-dish Vegetable Lasagna with Blush Sauce. I have to say, even though the whole day was different, it was still enjoyable. I spent it with Mother Cookie, which is always a pleasure, and at the end of the day, we had a completely delicious meal to devour.
My Vegetable Lasagna with Blush sauce is a refreshing change from the typical veggie lasagna. Normally, they’re made with a white sauce. But mine features a velvety, creamy blush sauce that gives you the best of marinara and béchamel sauces in one. This robust, sweet yet savory sauce is good enough to drink, and it pairs perfectly with hearty helpings of eggplant, broccoli, and spinach. And to really take things over the top, we employ a generous amount of three kinds of cheese: gooey fresh mozzarella, tangy provolone, and salty parmesan. The whole dish is indulgent, filling, and irresistible.
This is a meal that will wow whoever eats it. I guarantee you’ve never had vegetable lasagna like this before. It’s made from scratch, but it’s less labor-intensive than you might think. For me, it was a wonderful meal to enjoy on Easter with my wonderful mother, and it would be just as delicious any other night of the year.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- Be sure to join me in my video to whip up this delicious lasagna.
- Switch out the vegetables I used for whatever ones you prefer.
- You must use fresh herbs. Dried just can’t compare. If you use dried, don’t expect this to have the same wow factor.
- The same goes for good-quality cheeses. The better the cheese you buy, the better the lasagna will be.
- You can assemble this ahead of time then bake later in the day.
- If you don’t have a shallot, sub in one yellow onion.
Blush Vegetable Lasagna
By The Smart Cookie Cook
- 1 lb. lasagna noodles, cooked al dente & drained
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 2 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 28-oz. cans San Marzano tomatoes & their juices
- 1 6-oz. can tomato paste
- ½ tsp. Salt
- 1 tsp. Red pepper flakes
- 3 tbsp. fresh chopped basil
- 2 tbsp. fresh chopped oregano
- 1 ¾ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 whole eggplant, diced
- 2 heads fresh broccoli, chopped
- 4 cups fresh spinach
- 1 1/2 lbs. fresh mozzarella, sliced
- 2/3 lb. provolone cheese, grated
- 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×13 baking sheet with nonstick spray. Set aside.
- Place broccoli in a medium microwave-safe dish and fill halfway with water. Cover and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Stir and microwave another 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, bring the olive oil to medium heat. Add the garlic and shallot and sauté until translucent and fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the San Marzano tomatoes and their juices, tomato paste, salt, red pepper flakes, ¾ of the basil, and ¾ of the oregano and stir until well-combined. Let simmer for 5 minutes.
- Stir in the cream and grated parmesan until cheese is melted. Remove from heat. Use a ladle to pour a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the prepared dish. Lay out a single layer of noodles so it completely covers the sauce. Add another layer of sauce, using about half of it. Then sprinkle half of the veggies on top, followed by half of the mozzarella, provolone, and shredded parmesan. Repeat: noodles, sauce, veggies, cheese. Press down to compact it. If you have room, finish with another layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese (no veggies this time).
- Bake for 30 minutes uncovered then cover and bake another 15 minutes or until bubbling and hot in the center. Sprinkle with remaining herbs then let sit for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Olive Garden perfectly exemplifies the americanization of European foods. I’m fairly certain that any self-respecting Italian who stepped foot in Olive Garden would be appalled, and would say something along the lines of “Those American morons did it it again” in Italian. In fact, I’ve even heard a ton of U.S. citizens complain about how Olive Garden isn’t real Italian food.
Did OG ever once peg themselves as 100% authentic Italian food? Of course not. They put an American twist on their Italian-inspired dishes, because this is America after all. Just because OG’s food doesn’t perfectly replicate that of an Italian cucina doesn’t mean it’s not delicious.
So, I’m sorry, but I love Olive Garden. It’s self-indulgent American fare at its finest. But I love authentic Italian too. It just depends what you’re in the mood for. Sometimes, I turn to my classic and traditional Fettuccine Alfredo recipe, which is pasta perfection. Or, when I need a little twist, I’ll go for my Roasted Garlic Alfredo. Other times, however, I want that super rich, super decadent American twist on the Italian classic. And that, my friends, is my Copycat Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo.
Ever since I was a kid, I have adored OG’s Alfredo. Say what you want about how it’s unauthentic and calorie-laden, but that stuff is gut-bustin’ good. In fact, it wasn’t until last year that I actually tried ordering something else off the menu; I just loved the Alfredo too much to get anything else.
For a while, I wondered how OG got their sauce so thick and rich. I knew from experience that it was simply impossible to make a sauce with that viscosity using only butter & cream. When I finally figured out their secret, I felt like a fool for not realizing it sooner: they used a roux!
A roux is a thickening agent consisting of equal parts butter & flour. It is almost always the base for mac & cheeses, bechamel sauce, and cream-based soups, hence why they’re so darn thick. Roux is not a traditional component in classic Alfredo; normally, it’s just butter, cream, and parmesan. But of course, Olive Garden added that indulgent American touch. And I have figured out exactly how to not only make an OG replica at home, but make it even better.
The result is the richest, most indulgent Alfredo you’ve ever had, so thick, creamy, garlicky, and bursting with tangy, cheesy Parmesan goodness. It’s the most sinful plate of pasta you’ll ever experience, decadent in all the best ways. Is it traditional Italian? No. But you can taste those Italian roots in there, along with that American richness we all love so much.
Dare I say this is the best Alfredo sauce ever? Yes, I do.
I so just went there.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- Fresh garlic is essential to making this amazing. Not to mention, it’s cheaper than the jarred minced stuff.
- I highly recommend serving the fettuccine with broccoli. I always stir fresh broccoli into my alfredo. It’s delicious, adds nutritional benefits, and bulks up the meal so you don’t need as much pasta.
- You could also serve with chicken, pancetta, or bacon for more protein.
- There’s no excuse to not choose whole wheat or whole grain pasta. It’s delicious, and so much better for you.
Copycat Olive Garden Fettuccine Alfredo
By The Smart Cookie Cook
Yield: 4 servings
- 1 lb. fettuccine, I recommend whole wheat or whole grain
- 3 tbsp. butter
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 2 cups heavy cream
- kosher salt, to taste
- pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 3/4 – 2 cups shredded parmesan cheese, not grated
- fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
- In a large pot of salted boiling water over high heat, cook the pasta according to boxed directions. Drain.
- Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic and let cook until translucent and aromatic, about 2 minutes. If you can smell the garlic, you’re good to go.
- Whisk in the flour until free of lumps. Cook for another 2 minutes, continuing to whisk the entire time. Whisk in the cream until free of lumps. Cover and let cook until thickened, about 10 minutes. Do not boil.
- Whisk in the cheese, salt, and pepper. Continue whisking until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Taste test and decide if you would like more cheese or seasonings and add more to taste.
- Whisk in the milk, 1/4 cup at a time, until sauce reaches your desired thickness. More milk means a thinner consistency. Keep in mind, it will thicken slightly as it cools.
- Spoon fettuccine into bowls and top with sauce. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve immediately.
Eggplant Rollantini is one of my all-time favorite dishes. It’s basically all the goodness of Eggplant Parmigiana rolled up, and you know how I love my Eggplant Parm. You know what I don’t love though? All that fat and calories. It’s kind of frightening. In fact, I’m eternally grateful that most restaurant menus don’t reveal the caloric count, because I’m pretty sure I’d have a heart attack on the spot. Even though I know deep down the Eggplant Rollantini I ordered in all its breaded, cheese-covered glory is going to tower into the 700-800 calorie vicinity, I prefer to ignore that.
So what is there to do when I want some Eggplant Rollantini without a side of guilt? Make a lighter version, of course! We make a couple of quick switches: lighter cheese instead of full-fat, spinach to bulk up the dish with vitamins, a light marinara sauce, and nix the frying. The last step is doubly helpful because not only do you save fat/calories, but you also avoid pain-in-the-butt breading and frying. Therefore, this Eggplant Rollanti is much easier than the standard recipe.
Just because we’re skimping on calories doesn’t mean we’re skimping on any of the good stuff. Each roll is so stuffed with creamy ricotta and fresh spinach that they’re bursting at the seams. And there ain’t just cheese inside the rolls; they’re covered in a gooey layer of mozzarella too! On a side note: has anyone noticed that I tend to whip out the word “ain’t” when I get really excited?
Well, there’s a lot to be excited about here: tender eggplant stuffed with cheese then topped with more cheese and zesty sauce. It’s such a comforting, filling meal that it’s easy to forget that you can have two honkin’ rolls of eggplant for under 300 calories.
Yay for being full of food, not guilt!
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- You can use part-skim mozzarella instead, which will taste more indulgent. It’ll cost you a few more calories, but will still clock in under 300.
- The thinner you slice the eggplant, the easier it is to cut.
- This dish actually has a LOT of protein, which makes it a great vegetarian meal.
- USE FRESH BASIL. Dried = icky.
Light Eggplant Rollantini
Adapted from Hungry Girl
Yield: 4 Servings
- 1 large eggplant, ends removed, cut lengthwise into 8 slices
- 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 1/2 cups fat-free ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1/4 cup fat-free liquid egg substitute (like Egg Beaters Original)
- 2 tsp. chopped garlic
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 1/8 tsp. salt
- 2 cups low-fat marinara sauce (like Ragu)
- 1 cup shredded fat-free, reduced fat, or part-skim mozzarella cheese (fat-free will be lowest in calories)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 2 baking sheets and a 9″ X 13″ baking pan with nonstick spray.
- Lay eggplant slices on the baking sheets and bake for 5 minutes. Flip slices. Bake until soft, about 5 more minutes. Leave oven on.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, thoroughly mix spinach, ricotta cheese, basil, egg substitute, garlic, pepper, and salt.
- Lay eggplant slices in front of you with the short sides on the top and bottom. Distribute spinach-ricotta mixture among the bottoms of the eggplant slices. Roll up each slice around the mixture, and place them in a single layer in the baking dish, seam sides down. You may want to use toothpicks to secure the rolls, but make sure you remember to take them out before you eat!
- Cover rolls with marinara sauce. Cover pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove foil and sprinkle rolls with mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, until cheese has melted, 10 – 15 minutes. Serve it up!
Serving Size: 2 rolls (1/4th of recipe), Calories: 288, Fat: 7.5g, Sodium: 937mg, Carbs: 30g, Fiber: 8.5g , Sugars: 15.5g, Protein: 24.5g (Note: Nutrition stats are calculated using part-skim mozzarella. Fat-free will have less calories and fat).
I will be honest right now: this Eggplant Parmigiana is a recipe I’ve posted before. It was way, way back in the dark ages of Smart Cookie when I was just starting out. I had only a few readers and crappy photography. That is precisely why it is reappearing now. I need you guys to experience this recipe; I don’t want a single one of you to miss it. My photography still isn’t stellar, but it beats how it was a year ago!
Now, let’s get down to why this Eggplant Parmigiana was worthy of a round-two. You see, I have love for a lot of foods. Don’t ever ask me to pick just one; that’s downright impossible. I do, however, have a select list of foods that I classify as “favorites.” There is something about this edible handful that ever so slightly stands above the rest, deeming those foods as what I would choose for a last meal. This Eggplant Parmigiana happens to rank in that VIP list. Honestly, it is hands-down the best eggplant parm recipe out there, and one of the best dishes I’ve ever had.
This is one of those dishes where, no matter how many times I make it, I never get sick of it. It is so incredibly good, it’s otherworldly. I think the Gods are jealous of this one. They’re like, “What the heck? Why don’t we have anything like that here?” It’s okay guys, I’m willing to share the recipe if you’re willing to put the love into making it.
Yes, this Eggplant Parm will require a bit of time and love, but there was never a dish so worthy of that energy as this. What sets it apart form other Eggplant Parms is going that extra-mile and putting tender love and care into each step. Good-quality ingredients are also a major contributing factor to the heavenly outcome: fresh mozzarella, quality provolone, freshly grated parmesan, and a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. Yes, the good-quality ingredient list will cost you a little bit more, but it is absolutely worth a little splurge. This ain’t no everyday dinner. It’s something truly special.
That being said, you don’t need a special occasion to make this Eggplant Parm. Dinner becomes a special occasion when you declare it an Eggplant Parmigiana night. My whole family likes to join in the kitchen and work together to make it. That makes this incredible meal all the more special and memorable. I guarantee that if you try it just once, it will automatically become a tradition in your house as well.
One forkful will make you melt. The eggplant is breaded and deep-fried to create a crispy, crunchy, golden shell that gives way to the tender eggplant encased within. The sauce itself is the best I’ve ever had. I don’t just use it for eggplant parm; it’s amazing on spaghetti as well. It’s sweet, tangy, and bursting with flavor from fresh garlic and onions. Using those good-quality San Marzanos really makes a difference. But my favorite part about the sauce is the heat it’s packing. Spicy little red pepper flakes add that kiss of kick. You won’t notice it immediately, but that spice gets you on the way down like a pleasant little surprise.
The best part of this towering casserole is the mound of fresh, ooey, gooey, melted cheeses. You never have to fear for a cheese-less forkful, nor will you find yourself needing more. There is a perfect, generous portion of cheese loaded in every bite and, my god, it is bliss. Fresh mozzarella as opposed to shredded brings something truly gooey and special, while provolone gives you something a little different, and parmesan gives classic tang. Cheese lovers, you have found your Cloud Nine.
I need you to make this Eggplant Parmigiana. It’s a very special recipe that has quickly become a tradition in my home, and will quickly become one in yours too. Even if you don’t like eggplant, I challenge you with this dish. It’ll convert any eggplant hater. It’s cheesy, saucy, hearty, and oh so comforting. You will eat an ungodly amount, and you will not feel the least bit sorry.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- If you don’t go for the good-quality ingredients, don’t expect high-quality results. Jarred sauce? Tastes like dirt compared to this stuff. Pre-shredded mozzarella? Tastes like feet compared to fresh.
- Don’t know where to buy the good cheeses? Your grocery store has a specialty cheese section that’s usually located by the deli.
- Prepare the dish earlier in the day then bake it later when you’re ready to eat. It’s much less stressful this way.
- You can take the skins off the eggplant if you like.
- If you’re cooking for two, cut this recipe in half.
- Leftover are awesome!
Recipe adapted from Alex Guarnaschelli
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium yellow onions, peeled, halved, and cut into thin slices
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and grated
- Kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 3 (28-ounce) cans San Marzano whole plum tomatoes
- 2 medium eggplants, washed and cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds (about 2 1/2 pounds)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 5 large eggs
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 4 cups Italian-style breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
- Vegetable oil, for frying, as needed, about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
- 1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into thin slices
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 pound fresh provolone cheese, shredded
- 2 handfuls fresh basil, leaves only, torn
- For the tomato sauce: Put the tomatoes in a blender or food processor and puree until it reaches your desired consistency. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and season with salt and red pepper flakes. Cook until the onions become translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the sugar and the canned tomatoes. Cook 10 to 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time. Taste for seasoning, the tomatoes should be fairly broken down and the flavors coming together. Cook for another few minutes if the tomatoes still taste like they need a little more time to break down. Set aside to cool.
- For the eggplant: Put the flour in a medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and milk and season with salt and pepper. In a third bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the oregano and fresh thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Dip each eggplant slice in the flour and shake off any excess. Then, dip in the egg mixture, and finally in the breadcrumbs. Make sure to coat both sides of each slice of eggplant. Arrange them in single layers on the baking sheets.
- In a large skillet, pour enough oil to fill about 1/2-inch deep. Heat the oil until it begins to smoke lightly. Use a pair of kitchen tongs to add a single layer of the eggplant to the pan. They should sizzle when you drop them in. If not, the oil is not hot enough. Cook them until they are golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Remove from the oil and transfer to a baking sheet fitted with a kitchen towel so the eggplant can drain as the others cook. Season lightly with salt.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil on the bottom rack of your oven to catch drippings (this dish is likely to bubble over a little).
- To assemble: In a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, spoon about 1/4 of the tomato sauce on the bottom. Top with a layer of the fried eggplant; the eggplant slices can overlap slightly. Top with about 1/3 of the mozzarella slices. Sprinkle with about 1/4 of the Parmesan and provolone cheeses. Top with a layer of torn basil leaves. Spoon sauce and repeat the layering 2 more times to make 3 layers. End with the remaining mozzarella. (So, to repeat, the layers go: sauce, eggplant, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, repeat. Be generous with that cheese!)
- Carefully press the layers down firmly into the dish once assembled. Cover with foil and place the dish in the top part of the oven and cook for 30 minutes. Remove foil and continue to cook until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5-10 minutes more.
- Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Pardon my grammar, but it don’t get no better than buttery, garlicky bread covered in gooey cheese. That kind of food is out to steal your heart. Often times, you’ll pop into your favorite pizza place with the full intention of eating pizza, only to see cheesy garlic bread on the menu and wind up eating a gazillion slices of that. Then the pizza comes and you’re like, “Oh right…pizza.”
I’ve got good news for you: it is crazy easy to indulge in delicious cheesy garlic bread at home. In fact, my Cheesy Garlic Bread Dunkers need only 5 ingredients. They come together in minutes, and they taste just like the ones from the pizzeria.
Actually, that’s a lie. Mine taste way better. There’s no skimping on toppings or using poor-quality ingredients here. I’ve got these babies covered in garlic, 2 kinds of cheese, and butter. The bread is crusty and buttery; the cheese is perfectly stringy. Restaurants just can’t compare.
These dunkers are so much fun to eat. They’re sliced into perfectly sized strips so you can dunk ’em in marinara sauce. It’s like a cheesy-pizza-garlic bread party, and you do not want to pass up this invite.
You probably have most of the ingredients on hand right now! Don’t wait a second longer. It’s time to get dunking!
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- See just how quick and easy this bread is to make in my video above. My furry friend Reese joins us in the kitchen today to do some taste-testing. Even she loves this stuff!
- Don’t like oregano? Try parsley or basil instead.
- I found my pizza crust in the refrigerated section of my grocery store. It’s made by a local pizza company, Spano’s. You want to find something similar, which I’m sure your grocery store will have as well. The crust should be thick and fluffy, like all good garlic bread is. If all else fails, gets some good focaccia or another thick bread.
- Store bought marinara sauce is just fine for dipping. But feel free to make some homemade if you like!
- You can use all mozzarella instead of the mozzarella-cheddar mix.
Cheesy Garlic Bread Dunkers
By The Smart Cookie Cook
- 1 thick rectangular pizza crust, store-bought or homemade (if you can’t find this, use store-bought dough and roll it thick, or you can use focaccia)
- 3/4 stick of butter (6 tablespoons), melted
- 1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano
- marinara sauce, for dunking
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the crust on a baking sheet and bake for 5-8 minutes, or until hot and set but not yet browned.
- Remove the crust from the oven, but leave the oven on. Use a pastry brush to evenly spread the butter over the crust. Do the same with the garlic. Sprinkle cheese evenly over top and bake for 10-15 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly and the crust is golden brown.
- Top with fresh oregano and cut into sticks. Serve with marinara sauce.