Italian Nonna Style Pesto Lasagna

Pin It

We first had Pesto Lasagna in Cinque Terre, where Pesto is a specialty.  It was one of the best meals we have had during our travels and we have talked about re-creating it ever since.  Well, on this Saturday in Brussels, we decided to do just that and I am so glad we did!  Though it takes some time and TLC, this dish is superb, so superbo you will think your Italian Grandmother (Nonna) made it!  Seriously!

Let's start with the pesto.  This pesto can be used for anything, pizza, pasta, on toasted bread as an appetizer, on a burger, you name it.  You will need lots of fresh basil, so get planting soon so you can have fresh basil out of your garden all summer long.  We are starting our mini garden next weekend!  Once you make this Perfect Pesto, you will never want to eat pesto out of a jar again. 

Start by toasting the pine nuts on medium heat shaking pan frequently.  You will want to keep a close eye on them, so they don't burn.  No one likes burned nuts.  Or you can simply place them on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 F (176 C) for 10 minutes.  Note: Mine never actually got a toasted color.  I read this changes the texture and you don't want them that toasted.
 Chop the basil with a sharp knife and garlic together with a sharp knife.  Or use a garlic chopper for the garlic, and chop the basil.  Then combine, and chop a bit more.
Shred both cheeses (my parmesan was in flake form, so I just chopped it).
Add the chopped basil and garlic to a mortar and pestle.  Add the toasted pine nuts and a drizzle of olive oil.  Begin to mash it (is there a special verb for the act of using a mortar and pestle??  I have no idea).  
Continue to mash until it is in a paste form.  Add both cheeses.

Add another drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice and continue to mash until it is in your desired consistency.  Salt and pepper if desired (Both cheeses are quite salty, so I opted for no salt).  Voila.  You have Perfect Pesto that can be used for anything!

Now we will continue to the Besciamella sauce (sounds fancy, right?).

Melt butter over medium heat and slowly stir in the flour.  Whisk together.  Slowly stir in the warmed milk, while continually whisking.  Continue to whisk until sauce comes to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  
Cook for about 15-20 minutes.  Add salt, pepper, nutmeg.  Taste test the sauce to see if it tastes floury.  If it does, cook a little longer (I cooked mine for about 25 minutes), to avoid a floury taste.
Butter the baking dish and line with a small amount of the besciamella sauce.  Layer no boil noodles.  Top with a layer of besciamella and about 3 spoonfuls of pesto.  Mix together with a spoon.  Sprinkle some sundrieds and a little parm.  Repeat until sauce is used up.  Bake at 350 F (176 C) for 35 minutes covered with aluminum foil.  Remove foil, and broil for 10 minutes. MMMMMMMMM.

Italian Nonna Style Pesto Lasagna
As Adapted from CookingChannelTV.com by Gabriele Corcos & Debi Mazar

Serves 8


2 recipes Pesto Sauce (as follows)
1 recipe Besciemella Sauce (as follows)
1 package spinach lasagna no boil noodles
1/2 cup chopped sundried tomatoes
extra parmesan for serving


Grease a baking dish with butter.  Pour a thin layer of Besciamella sauce on the bottom.  Layer on the Lasagna noodles.  Cover with Besciamella sauce and about 3 tbls of the pesto.  Mix together.  Sprinkle on a little pit of parmesan cheese and some sundried tomatoes.  Repeat until sauce is used up.  Bake at 350 F for 35 minutes covered with aluminum foil.  Remove foil, then broil for 10 minutes until hot and bubbly. 

Perfect Pesto (double recipe if making the lasagna)
4 cups loosely packed fresh basil
4 cloves garlic 
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil 
1/2 cup pine nuts
Juice of 1/4 of lemon
1/4 cup freshly grated percorino romano
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan 

Start toasting your pine nuts on the stove over medium heat, shaking pan frequently or in the oven on 350 F for 10 minutes.  Chop garlic and basil together (if you have a garlic chopper, use that) into fine pieces.  Put basil and garlic mixture into a mortar bowl.  Add pine nuts and 1/2 of the olive oil.  Mash into a cream like paste.  Add the cheeses and the remaining oil.  Continue to mash a little more.  Once to your desired consistency,  squeeze the lemon juice on top, and stir.  Salt and pepper if desired.

Besciamella Sauce

1 cup butter
1 cup flour
9 cups milk (warmed)
sea salt & ground pepper  
a dash of nutmeg

Start melting the butter over medium heat.  Slowly add in the flour, whisking constantly.  Once mixed, slowly add the warmed milk, whisking constantly.  Bring mixture to a boil, while continuously whisking.  Once brought to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer for 15-25 minutes.  Add salt, pepper and a dash of nutmeg.  Taste your sauce.  If you taste a hint of flour cook for a few more minutes.

Serve with some crusty bread and a salad.  Let me tell you... it was sooooo good.  You must try this recipe!  It is the best one yet!  
Bon App├ętit!

Pin It


Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa

Pin It Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa), a South American grain, is popping up every where these days.  It is no wonder with the nutritional values it offers, it's on the list of super foods everywhere.  It is such a versatile substance, it can be sweet or savory, hot or cold, and combined with just about anything.  To read more about the nutritional value of quinoa click here.  In this post, I used quinoa as a substitute for oatmeal, in Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa, inspired by Martha Stewart's breakfast quinoa.  I also would like to try some other recipes from this list!  You may be seeing some of the others in future Saturday posts.

Start by rinsing the quinoa to remove the saponin (a natural chemical coating).  Rinse two or three times.  This will remove any bitter taste.
Place the rinsed quinoa in a small sauce pan on medium heat.  Toast the quinoa for a few minutes (2-3).   This will bring out the nutty flavor of the quinoa.  
Add 1 3/4 cup of the milk of your choosing (cow, almond, rice, soy.......).  Bring to a boil, then place cover and reduce to a simmer for 15 minutes.
Toast almonds in pan on medium heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned.  This brings out a more intensified flavor. 
Toasted Almonds will look something like this.

Add brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cover and cook on low for 5 more minutes, until there is minimal liquid remaining. 
Add the thawed or fresh blueberries.  Stir in and turn off heat.  It is ready to eat!  Top with toasted almonds and serve with extra cinnamon and brown sugar on the side.  A healthy, filling breakfast that will tide you over until lunch!

Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa 
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 3


1 cup organic quinoa rinsed
1 3/4 cup milk (any milk or substitute will work!)
1/2 cup slivered almonds
2 heaping tablespoons of brown sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen blueberries


Start toasting rinsed quinoa in a saucepan on medium heat for 2-3 minutes.  Add 1 3/4 cup milk.  Bring to boil.  Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 minutes (avoid lifting the cover to check on the quinoa, I didn't check once and it turned out perfectly cooked).  Start toasting almonds over medium heat, stirring frequently until lightly browned.  After 15 minutes, add two heaping tbs of brown sugar and cinnamon.  Cook for 5 more minutes on low until there is minimal liquid remaining.  Stir in blueberries and turn off hear.  Top with toasted almonds and serve.

Serving suggestions:  

Extra brown sugar
Hot cup of Jo
Bon Appetit! 
Blueberry Breakfast Quinoa and coffee in my Irene mug (grandma)  :)
Pin It


Chicken Broccoli Casserole with Rice (sans Condensed Soup!)

Pin It It's hard to find condensed soups here, well up until a month ago, anyway.  They just recently introduced Condensed Soups to the Belgian market.  If it would have been before my cooking days, I would probably be buying them regularly, throwing them in any chicken, cheesy, mushroom dish I want and loving every minute of it.  But, since I have been on this cooking streak, it doesn't seem right to eat something so full of preservatives, sodium and who knows what else.

My favorite meal growing up was a casserole my mom makes whenever I am home (still to this day) with chicken, broccoli, cheese, egg noodles and condensed soup.  I have made it a few times myself, but moving to Belgium, I needed to find a different option. It was tricky at first, even a lot of the recipes on foodnetwork.com (my prior go to) had condensed soup in the ingredient list.  That was at least, until I met my trusty friend Pinterest (yes we all know and love her), and came across Jonna's Chicken Broccoli Supreme on her blog Get Off Your Butt and Bake!  (side note: My S-I-L also recently made her Parmesan  Pretzel Bites and said they were to die for!  Will definitely need to try that one soon.)  Back on topic... See my adapted version of Chicken Broccoli Casserole with Rice (sans Condensed Soup!) Side note: the house smells like buttered corn flakes as I write this, which believe me is nothing short of amazing.  Make this casserole, if only for the smells (I dare you)! 

Start preheating the oven to 350 (176 Celsius, for my Belgian friends).  Then rub down 2 chicken boobs with some paprika and freshly ground pepper.  Yes, rub them down.  Do not be afraid.  Place in a glass pan with 1/3 cup water and bake.
While the chicken is baking, start lightly steaming chopped broccoli and cook rice.
Start sauteeing the chopped leek until clear, shiny and tender.
Shred the chicken into bite size pieces, once done (internal temperature should be about 165 degrees F).
Grease a casserole dish, then line chicken, cooked rice and the lightly steamed broccoli.  Set aside.
Melt the butter.  Then slowly add the cornstarch dissolved in cold water, chicken broth, milk, and salt & pepper.  Cook on low heat until thickened.
Add the cheese mixture until melted.  
Pour the sauce mixture over the layered chicken, rice and broccoli.  Top with the sauteed leeks and some extra shredded cheese. 
Melt butter and mix with cornflakes (yum, buttery corn flakes).  Don't feel guilty.  It's worth it.  Top your casserole mixture with the cornflakes and bake for about 25 minutes, until bubbly.

Oh it is delicious... and honestly, the leftovers were even better (I love dishes like that!) Maybe my "Taste Tester" should vouch for me in the comments section (if he even reads my blog ;)

Chicken Broccoli Casserole with Rice

2 chicken breasts
1/2 tsp paprika
3/4 cup (uncooked) rice cooked
2 heads of broccoli, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup cold water 
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp cracked pepper
Dash of Salt
1 3/4 cup shredded cheese of your choice (I used cheddar and gouda, as usual)
2 and 1/2 tbs Parmesan Cheese

1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cup cornflakes


Preheat oven to 350 F (176 C).  

Start by rubbing paprika on the chicken breasts.  Once covered, put a dash of cracked pepper on the top.  Bake in oven until internal temperature is 165 degrees. 

While chicken is baking, lightly steam the chopped broccoli (about 7 minutes over boiling water) and sautee chopped leeks until clear, shiny and tender.  

Once Chicken is cooked, shred into bite size pieces.  Line a greased casserole dish with rice, broccoli and shredded chicken.

Start melting 1/3 cup butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Slowly add the dissolved cornstarch, chicken stock, milk, and cracked pepper.  Turn heat down and stir occasionally until thickened.  Add 1 cup of shredded cheese and the parmesan.  Once cheese is melted, pour over mixture in casserole dish.  Top with the sauteed leeks and the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese.  Mix the corn flakes (crushed a bit, if you prefer) with 1/3 cup melted butter.  Once flakes are coated evenly, top your casserole dish.  Bake in oven at 350 F for about 25 minutes.

Bon Appetit.  PLEASE do yourself a favor and save some for leftovers.  We reheated ours on the stove the next day (we don't have a microwave, crazy, I know) and it was soooo GOOD.

Chop the broccoli in smaller pieces, especially if you plan on taking a photo! 


Pin It


Creamy Potato Leek Soup

Pin It Out of 5 recipes, this is already my second soup post.  But, I love soup.  What's not to love?  It's easy, you can pretty much throw whatever you want in it and it's perfect for winter.  I recently discovered leeks.  Though they can smell strong and oniony, they have a great flavor when cooked (I still don't like raw onions), and anything with potato is generally delicious.  This recipe comes from a combination of two different potato leek soup recipes from foodnetwork.  The first being Potato Leek Soup by Robert Irvine, and the second a recipe from Foodnetwork Magazine.  Though these recipes were my inspiration, I didn't follow either to a tee, although I am sure both would be delish.  My version is a semi-lightened up loaded baked potato/potato leek soup concoction or Creamy Potato Leek Soup.  I have to say, it turned out pretty good.

Start by peeling and roughly chopping 8 medium potatoes.  Continue to chop 5 large leeks, white and light green parts only.  Then dice three cloves of garlic and one small onion.
Fry about 5 pieces of bacon in a hot pan until it is crispy (not shown).  While the bacon is frying, start melting 4 tbs of butter in a large stock pot and add the garlic, leeks, and onion.
Put on cover and cook until leeks are softened, about 10 minutes on medium heat.
Add 6-7 cups of water and 3 chicken bouillon cubes.  Add potatoes.  Salt and Pepper and bring to a boil, then let simmer for 20-25 minutes until potatoes are softened. 
Once potatoes are softened, blend with immersion blender until soup is your preferred texture.  I like mine with little potato pieces still in tact.  Once blended, stir in 1 cup of 2% milk and some frozen corn (no photo, because I got too excited to get it in the bowl and start chowing down!).  Cook until corn is crunchy and serve.  

Garnish with chopped crispy bacon and shredded cheese.  Some sour cream and sliced green onion would also be good.  Serve with some crusty bread and a side salad and you have yourself a hearty meal!  (it was seriously good, maybe better than the photo looks...)

8 medium potatoes
5 leeks
3 cloves garlic
1 small onion
5 slices of bacon
4 tbsp unsalted butter
6-7 cups water
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 cup 2% milk
1 cup of frozen corn
 sea salt & cracked pepper

for garnish:
shredded cheese
bacon cut into small pieces
sour cream (or greek-yo)
sliced scallions


Peel and roughly chop the potatoes.  Cut the leeks into thin slices.  Dice garlic and onion.  Fry the bacon on a heated skillet until crispy.  While bacon is frying, start melting the butter in a large stock pot on medium heat.  Add the garlic, leeks, and onion.  Put cover and cook until softened.

Once the bacon is crispy set on paper towel to get rid of some of the grease.  Then chop into small bits. 

Once the leeks are softened add the water and chicken bouillon (or chicken stock).  Add a dash of sea salt and cracked pepper.  Add potatoes.  Bring to a boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes or until potatoes are softened.  Blend using immersion blender (or cool, and blend in a blender).  Add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of frozen corn (it adds a nice crunch).

Garnish with deliciousness and serve.

Bon Appetit!
Pin It


Stuffed Peppers x 2 (Mexican Style vs. Italian Style)

Pin It Me: Want stuffed peppers for dinner?
Paul:  What kind?
Me: Mexican style.
Paul:  What would be in it?
Me: Ground beef, rice, beans, spices.. etc.
Paul: eh, I would rather an Italian style, with melted fresh mozzarella on top.
Me: That could be good, but I don't know if that would be as good.
Paul: How about we make both and have a showdown.
Me: You are on. 

Since it was a typical winter weekend in Brussels (ie: one where we don't leave the house, with the exception of the grocery store and the laundromat), we had some time to get creative and make this dinner post.  Normally, we wouldn't do such "crazy" things, but it was a Saturday night and we were up for getting our hands dirty.  A Stuffed Pepper Showdown.  The judges, Paul and me.  Hopefully we can get passed all biases, and avoid an actual showdown.  We are a little competitive (it goes back to when we were in school together).

So we went to the grocery store for the necessities, then we got down to business.
Look at the fresh produce.  I can't wait to start our mini garden.  One thing I love about Belgium, is the fresh herb plants you can buy at the grocery store for 1.39 Euro/each.  It's cheaper than buying the herbs already cut and obviously you can get more than one use out of each.  
 Start by chopping veggies.  For Mexican:  half of a small onion, 4 cherry tomatoes, 1 clove garlic, and shred some cheddar (a Mexican blend or Pepper Jack would be better, but I have to take what I can get living in Belgium).  For Italian:  3/4 cup zucchini, half of a small onion, 4 cherry tomatoes, 1 clove of garlic, and a few slices of fresh mozzarella (buffalo, if you have it!).
Halve the peppers and de seed, but leave the stem on, to create a nice big boat (just cut out the inside gunk).  Steam with cover on until softened a bit, about 8 minutes.

Start browning ground beef, with onions and garlic. For Italian: add chopped zuch.  Also, you can start to preheat your oven.

Now, for the Mexican filling.  See Italian filling below, but for ease of reading (or use, if anyone actually made a recipe!), I will show the filling one at a time from this point forward.
Once meat is browned, reduce heat.  Add cooked rice, black beans, can of tomato sauce, and spices.  Salt & pepper to taste.  Mix.
  Add cilantro and cherry tomatoes.  Mix. Voila, Mexican filling finito!

Italian filling: (I don't have as many step by step photos here, as things were getting a little chaotic!  I may have bit off a little more than I could chew, as a beginner food blogger and cooker in general.  But, it's the ending result that matters, right?)
Once meet is browned, reduce heat.  Add orzo, tomato sauce, oregano and Italian seasoning blend.  Salt and pepper to taste.  (side note: What's missing in our recipe?  Add a quarter-half cup of red wine if you got it!  During the taste test, we both agreed that that would have added a nice flavor to the end result.)
Add cherry tomatoes, and roughly torn fresh basil.  Voila, Italian filling finito!

Now for stuffing!  This step is pretty self explanatory.  
 Line peppers in baking dish, and fill with Mexican, Italian, or both filling (side note: skip the green pepper, I don't think they are meant for stuffing after trying our experiment).
Top with cheese, and put in oven for about 20 minutes. (next time: no red mat... looks awful!)
Once cheese is nice and melted, remove from oven.  Garnish and serve.  YUM.  Definitely will add to our book of recipes, Mexican as is (or maybe with some shredded chicken) and Italian with the tweaks mentioned in the recipe.

Mexican:  serves 4-5
Ingredients: I have doubled what I used, in order to make a full recipe of Mexican Style Stuffed Peppers.
3 red bell peppers
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 cup (uncooked) brown rice cooked
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
can of black beans, rinsed
14 oz. plain tomato sauce (no flavor added) 
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh cilantro
a cup of shredded cheese

for garnish:

Preheat oven to 400.  Slice in half and de-seed peppers (leaving stem to make larger boat, but cutting inside gunk out).  Begin steaming peppers over boiling water until softened a little, about 8 minutes).  Dice onions and garlic.  Cut 10 leaves of cilantro and wash.  Chop tomatoes.  

Begin browning ground beef with onions and garlic.  Once browned, reduce heat.  Add cooked rice, black beans, tomato sauce, cumin, chili powder, and ground coriander.  Salt & Pepper to taste.  Mix.  Add cherry tomatoes and cilantro. 

Line peppers in a baking dish and fill with the filling.  Sprinkle cheese on top.  Bake in oven for about 20 minutes.  

Serving Suggestion:
Tortilla chips

Bon Appetit! 

again, must get rid of the red mat. 

Italian:  serves 4-5
Ingredients: I have doubled what I used, in order to make a full recipe of Italian Style Stuffed Peppers.
3 red bell peppers
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 cup (uncooked) orzo cooked
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 and 1/4 cup zucchini
14 oz. plain tomato sauce (no flavor added) 
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning 
1/2 cup red wine
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
fresh basil
6 slices of fresh mozzarella

for garnish:
Fresh Basil
Drizzle of a good Balsamic Vinegar and E.V.O.O. if desired

Preheat oven to 400.  Slice in half and de-seed eppers (leaving stem to make larger boat, but cutting inside gunk out).  Begin steaming peppers over boiling water until softened a little, about 8 minutes).  Dice onions and garlic.  Cut 10 leaves of basil and wash.  Chop tomatoes.  

Begin browning ground beef with onions, garlic.  Add zucchini after a minute or so.  Once browned, reduce heat.  Add cooked orzo, tomato sauce, oregano, Italian seasoning and 1/2 cup red wine.  Salt & Pepper to taste.  Mix.  Add cherry tomatoes and fresh basil. 

Line peppers in a baking dish and fill with the filling. Put one slice of fresh mozzarella over each pepper.  Bake in oven for about 20 minutes.  

Serving Suggestion:
Garlic bread 

Bon Appetit!

So which was the winner you are wondering?  Both, were so great, try them and see for yourself!

J.K.  Mexican won by a unanimous vote.  (Women are always right.  But good idea, Paul!) 

Pin It