“Zucchini and Meat” Summer Lasagna

Gotta fix me a summer lasagna…and enjoy layers of noodles, red and white sauce, and medley of cheeses.     But I must make it “summer-friendly”, meaning less preps involved, some parts semi-homemade and not too rich and heavy sauces.   So, not minding the steamy conditions outside and little sweats inside, I was determined to make my summer lasagna.  My strategy:  Saute the vegetables and ground beef filling, jazz up a jar of pasta or spaghetti sauce, whip up a creamy ricotta cheese filling and use Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles.   So here’s the recipe…

“ZUCCHINI AND MEAT” SUMMER LASAGNA
Feel free to add any other veggies in your fridge like bell peppers, mushroom, squash, etc.   The fillings will make enough for a)  “dinner tomorrow” 9 x 13 lasagna and b) “can’t wait, I want it now” 8 inch square pan.  Once stored overnight in the fridge, the “dinner tomorrow” lasagna can be easily cut into squares.

Vegetable and Meat Filling:

1/2 lb ground beef, browned and drained
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 large zucchini, sliced (use mandoline, if available)
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Saute, stirring constantly.  Add flour last, cooking it well.

Tomato Sauce:

1 (24 oz) jar pasta or spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup tomato catsup
freshly-squeezed juice of 1/2 lemon
Whisk to combine well.

Ricotta Filling:

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups ricotta cheese (Use Calabro cheese so no need to strain to remove excess moisture)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
Beat all ingredients using electric mixer.

Grated mozzarella cheese (Use Calabro)
Topping:  1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Spray a) 13 x9 x 3 inch and b) 8 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Assembly:

1.  Spread thin layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of prepared pans.

2.  Top with single layer of no-boil lasagna noodles.  Spread with Ricotta filling, Vegetable and Meat Filling, grated mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce.

3.  Repeat layer 2.

4.  Top with another single layer of no-boil lasagna noodles.  Spread with Ricotta filling, tomato sauce, grated mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle with coarsely chopped walnuts.

Cover with foil, and bake for 55 minutes.  Remove foil, and bake an additional 5 minutes.    Let lasagna rest 20 minutes before “diving into” lasagna in small baking pan.

You’ll love this…it’s summer-rific!

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My Baked 4-Layer Lasagna

TGIF, and there’s only one word in my mind…EASY…so I just baked my super-easy 4-layer lasagna.  And I can’t wait to enjoy 2 servings (at least, it’s friday yo’, it’s ok to indulge!).

My Baked 4-Layer Lasagna

Sauce:
1 jar store-bought pasta sauce
banana catsup

Ricotta Filling:
1 1/2 lb Calabro ricotta cheese
1 bunch fresh spinach, washed well, steamed, strained and chopped
1 large egg, beaten with
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves

Additional ingredients:
12 pieces No-boil lasagna noodles
Sweet Italian sausage, crumbled and browned in skillet
4 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese and cheddar cheese mix

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Pam-spray a 13 x 9 x 3 baking pan or pyrex.

Assembly:

1.  Spread a thin layer of banana catsup on bottom of baking pan.

2.  Layer 3 uncooked noodles, 1/3 of ricotta filling, 1/3 of browned sausage, 1 cup Mozzarella/Cheddar cheese and 1/4 of jarred pasta sauce plus few shakes of banana catsup.  (Repeat this layering 2 more times.)

3.  Layer 3 uncooked noodles, the remaining sauce plus few shakes of banana catsup and remaining 1 cup Mozzarella/Cheddar cheese.

Bake, covered with foil until bubbly, for an hour.  Uncover and let stand 10 minutes before cutting in serving portions (Serves 12).  May top with grated parmesan cheese, if desired.

A “Cheesy” Day with Calabro’s Morena Febbo

Refrigerated boxes from Calabro Cheese revealed so many different sizes and shapes of Calabro’s premium quality and award-winning mozzarella and ricotta cheeses — some I have to admit I’m seeing for the first time.  Mozzarella in blocks, fresh mozzarella balls comfortably bathing in seasoned liquids, Huge 3 lb Ricotta cheese, and best of ’em all, Rotolini or prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella.  Refrigerator shelves filled up with Calabro cheeses…mmm, so what’s next?  That was yesterday.

(Calabro specializes in producing the following Italian cheeses: Ricotta, Ricotta Impastata, Mozzarella Fior Di Latte, Grated Parmesean and Romano cheeses; and a line of select specialty cheeses which includes scamorze, caciocavallo, burrini, smoked mozzarella, fresh basket cheese, and queso blanco.)

Today’s the day, the day I’m having the Vice President of Sales of Calabro Cheese as my guest in the CelebrEATy Circle.  Morena Febbo made it clear right away, “I’m Italian, and I’m expected to know how to cook.”   And we all cheered.  Yes, Morena’s in the house and the day’s evolving into some fun “cheesy” day, not as dark as it’s outside the studio.   Morena wasted no time, asked for this and that, and emptied her groceries of fresh basil, fresh tomatoes, fresh berries, fresh lettuce, fresh (I meant not stale) French bread — yes everything’s fresh to go along with fresh, superior-tasting Calabro cheeses, the Ferraris of all cheeses.

Project # 1:  Caprese Salad

Project # 2:  Stack of Tomato and Mozzarella Rounds

Project # 3: Better-than-Subway Sandwich (I just made this up!)

Project # 4:  Rotolini skewers

Project # 5:  Bruschetta with Ricotta cheese

Project # 6:  Morena’s BLT Wraps (reminds you of PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps)

Project # 7:  Ricotta Parfait with Fresh Berries and Honey

And they all look sooo yummm….so “cheesy” good…

Morena then making sure Calabro Cheeses and cheese delights are “camera-ready” — I’m convinced Morena can cook….

Now, the big question is….Can she talk?  Absolutely, she is the real deal, she is no doubt a “cheese monger” (who gave you this title Morena).  It was a joy to have Morena on and off the camera.  I think we did pretty good, no scripts at all, and no rehearsals too.

(Calabro Cheese Corporation was founded in September 1953 by Joseph Calabro in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mr. Calabro was born in Sicily, Italy in 1922, matriculated for three years at the University of Messina to attain his Ph.D. in Physics and Mathematics, served in the Italian army as an officer candidate, and emigrated with his sister and mother to the United States in October 1948.

Five years later, Joseph, together with his father, Salvatore, began serving and delivering to the “mom and pop” stores, as well s the families of Fairfield and New Haven counties with fresh Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Sausage. In May 1958, Mr. Calabro joined with 50% ownership the Gambardella Cheese Corp. of New Haven, forming the Gambardella / Calabro Cheese Corp. As a result of growing sales and a larger area to boost their expanding line of products, the Gambardella / Calabro Cheese Corp. leased in November 1959, and in July 1961 acquired the Wells River Creamery Corp. of Wells River Vermont as a manufacturing plant, leaving the distribution in New Haven, CT. In January 1981, with sales at an all time high, Calabro Cheese built a new 24,000 square foot production and distributing center in East Haven, CT, and subsequently closing the Vermont and the New Haven facilities. In 1996, a 30,000 sq. ft. expansion project was completed, enabling Calabro Cheese to better serve it’s extended list of customers in the New England, New York / New Jersey metropolitan areas as well as the southern, midwest and western regions of the United States.

Calabro Cheese Corp. is staffed by Joseph Calabro, as President and CEO; Salvatore Calabro, a graduate of Georgetown University as Vice President of Sales; Rose Angeloni, a graduate of Fox Valley Business Institute of Wisconsin, as Vice President of Administration; and Frank Angeloni, a graduate of University of Bridgeport, as Vice President of Production.)

Now the party has just begun…and I only have one name in mind when it comes to “everyday gourmet” cheeses….CALABRO CHEESE.  Thanks Morena Feebo of Calabro Cheese, yes, you really can cook and you’re Italian.

I asked Morena some more “cheesy” questions and she obliged….

Q:  As Vice President of Sales, what is a normal day in the office like for you?

My time is spent traveling visiting with our customers (customer service is very important to us) promoting and selling all of our wonderful cheese.  And curious if you would rather have lasagna or pizza on one of your “tough/stressful” days?  Lasagna….why because its comfort food and brings back memories of mama in the kitchen on Sundays preparing delicious home cooked meals for the whole family.  Comfort food is relaxing.

Q:  You must love working with food.  So tell me how you got started or what attracted you to working in various food production facilities?

I’m Italian….by law we are required to love food!! 😉  I have been working with food for 20 years.  I have worked for both food distributors and manufacturers… I am passionate about good food… both eating and preparing it.  

Q:  Pizza being a full meal, I probably wouldn’t mind eating nothing but pizza for an entire week.  Would you?

YES!   That’s the reason pizza is one of the Number 1 consumed foods in the country!!  Its  a communal food, you don’t need plates, napkins, or utensils… just grab and eat… it has all the food groups combined in one bite!

Q:  It just can’t be all pepperoni.  So what are some of your favorite pizza toppings? Or tell me what’s your favorite way to top a pizza.

My favorite is always Margherita, but also love anchovies!  The beauty of pizza is that ANY topping you desire will work!

Q:  Pizza, they say, is all about the crust.   So what’s your fancy — thin or thick crust pizzas?

I know Chicago likes it thick….but I’m an east coast girl and thin crust is the way to go!

Q:  Tell me what to you is a really good pizza, I meant, Italian-style pizza.  Or what to you is a really bad pizza?

There is never any BAD pizza, just degrees of goodness!!  Good pizza will have a crust that when held in your hand to bite does not flop over…. The sauce and cheese should be dolloped on so when you take a bite you can taste each ingredient.

Q:  Chicago is the home of deep-dish pizza (some considered this pizza to be “the beast”).  Tell me some interesting variations you’ve tried with deep-dish pizza.

Layer ricotta, then tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with parmesan

Q:  Leftover pizzas, do you have it reheated or you think it’s just great cold (my hubby loves cold pizza slices)?

Cold …. Hot…. If the ingredients are fresh I enjoy both!

Q:  I have to assume you have mastered the art of making pizza crusts.  How do you stretch the pizza dough to your pizza pan  — or how do you rate yourself with pizza throwing into the air?  Or do you have one extremely simple and really easy way to shape the pizza dough?

Hold your hands with fingers extended stiffly.   Push your fingers into the dough 1/2 inch below the edge.  Move your hands toward the center of the dough, about 1 inch, and push the dough down again.  Keep moving your fingers toward the center of the dough ball and pushing on the dough until you have flattened the dough from the edge to the center.  Turn the dough ball a quarter-turn and flatten the dough from the edge to the center again.  Turn the ball and flatten again, continuing in this manner until the entire ball of dough is flat….then….hold your breath…..and toss into the air!!  (Sarah’s comment: Oh Morena, after some finger maneuvering…you really serious about tossing the flattened pizza dough into the air?  I’d better stand on a clean bed sheet before doing this.)

Q:  Okay, inexpensive blocks of mozzarella cheeses can be found in refrigerated section of leading supermarkets.  But is it really that different using Calabro cheeses instead?

Absolutely…. We use the freshest local milk.  We leave more cream in the milk which gives the cheese a higher butter fat content so the cheese is creamier and melts smoother and richer…and of course the taste will speak for itself.  (Sarah’s comment:  Your mozzarella cheeses made me skip the pizza sections in my favorite stores and make homemade pizzas instead, need I say more?)

Q:   if there’s mold in unused mozzarella cheeses, would it still be ok to just cut away the moldy part and eat the rest of the cheese?

Mold comes from mold spores in the air… there are many different kinds…they need moisture or heat to grow which is why its important  to keep cheese properly refrigerated and sealed and when cutting into the cheese to make certain to use clean utensils…  Mold can’t  really hurt you but unless I know the source I can’t tell you whether  you can eat it.

Q:  Most cheeses are gluten-free.    Is Calabro mozzarella cheese gluten-free?

Yes, but we have different formulations for our cheeses so if anyone does have a question they should call the company and confirm.

Q:  What is the best way to firming up Calabro mozzarella cheeses for easy shredding or grating?    Do you recommend freezing mozzarella first overnight?

I never recommend freezing…there is moisture in mozzarella and by freezing, it will crystallize and the cheese will become grainy.  Instead cold refrigeration should be fine to be able to shred.

Q:  Have you ever met a cheese you didn’t like or didn’t care at all?

I love Cheese!!   Cheese contains a natural opiate which is why you just can’t have one piece!!! 😉

Q:  Name some personal favorite recipes using Calabro cheeses.

Mrs. Calabro’s Espresso Ricotta Pie, Ricotta cheese cake, Cannoli, Rolled stuffed eggplant, Lasagna, White pizza with ricotta and smoked mozzarella, Caprese Salad

Q:  Scamorza cheeses seem a bit unfamiliar in home cooking and baking.   Would you label this cheese as the “other” mozzarella cheese?

No, it’s a different cheese.  It has its beginning as mozzarella, it’s semi soft, aged, different flavor, most underrated cheese that we make. Fabulous cheese… wonderful as a table cheese and for melting. Intense flavor.

Q:  Lastly, would you consider Calabro cheese gourmet or everyday cheese?

It’s everyday gourmet!!  (Sarah’s comment:  I just knew you’d say that Morena…perhaps I’d add, if you want the best, then don’t settle for anything less…Calabro cheese all the way.  Period.  End of discussion.)

For more information about Calabro cheeses and recipes, visit website: http://www.calabrocheese.com