Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lighter Fare: Italian Comfort Food

We are not anti-carb by any means. We eat bread, pasta, and rice--no problem, Jack! However, I do my best to ensure that only one of those three items is present in any single meal.

For example, I made a sausage, vegetable, and rice casserole as our main course last night, so I chopped up a nice, green salad to go with it instead of biscuits or bread. With this system, I don't feel completely deprived of my beloved carb-filled foods, but I also don't feel like a walrus either (coo coo ka choo).

Recently, I was craving lasagna. As far as I'm concerned, y'all, the best part about lasagna is the ricotta cheese layer. And while the simplest solution to this craving would have been plain old lasagna roll-ups, I decided to replace the noodles with... collard greens. Yes, you read that right.

Collard greens in lieu of noodles may sound crazy, but not only was it cheaper ($1 for collard greens vs. $2.50 for a box of lasagna noodles), the taste difference was nil. We didn't miss the noodles. The dish was still filling, and yet it was light. Not to mention, full of ricotta cheese. Mmmmm.

It was nice to eat a "comforty" Italian meal and to not feel like the top button of my jeans, in protest of the newly acquired girth around my mid-section, would violently fling itself across the room to take out somebody's eye.

In case you'd like to re-create this meal, let me show you what I did.

I pulled out the last loaf of Ciabatta I had in the freezer. This is our absolute favorite Italian dinner bread. Whether you make your own or find some in a bakery, I highly recommend Ciabatta ("slipper bread"). Maybe I'll do a bread post sometime. :)
I also made our own tomato sauce. I chose to make Emeril's "Viva Las Vegas Tomato Sauce" since we can finally get the first tomatoes of the season. It is super fresh tasting and very simple.
Ok, on to the main dish. First, rinse your collard leaves. Then, prep them by cutting off the biggest parts of the stem. For me, this left a "v" in the bottom of each leaf.
Bring a pot of water to a boil while prepping your leaves. We need to wilt the leaves slightly to make them pliable.
Once you've got the stems cut off, you'll want to grab some tongs that can be plunged into boiling water without melting.
Also, you need a colander. I set mine on an extra dinner plate to catch any drips. Here's the set up. 
Drop collard leaves into the boiling water.
After 1 minute, pull it out (promptly) with your tongs...
... and set it in the colander. Once you've boiled each leaf, it's time to make the filling!
You need one cup of ricotta cheese. Oh, yeah. The good stuff! By the way, I don't use skim milk anything. 
To the ricotta, you'll want to add an egg, salt, and pepper.
And, of course, sautéed mushrooms if you fancy them. Here's a tip: Add some lemon juice or vinegar to your sautéed mushrooms once they've absorbed most of the cooking liquid.
Oh, yeah. Stir in that mushroomy goodness.
Time to preheat your oven to 350.
Put 1/3 - 1/2 of your tomato sauce in the bottom of a sprayed 9x13.
Then, add a spoonful of the ricotta mixture to each wilted leaf.
Roll each up as best you can.
And place them on top of the sauce in the 9x13.
Once you've gotten all of the ricotta rolled up in greens (I got 10 roll-ups total), top it with the remaining tomato sauce.
And 2 cups of mozzarella shreds.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, and voila! FYI-- This lasted us for two meals. I ate two roll-ups at each meal, and my husband ate three.
If you're really "on the ball," you can follow up this meal with those carrot cake cupcakes you baked this morning. That is, unless you got hung up making boxes out of old magazines and Elmer's glue instead. (Oops!)
No need to fear, though; you can whip these up in no time if you've got the ingredients on hand. (I know the recipe says "for one," but for the two of us, it was enough for, well, two. Also, I subbed carrot juice for the carrots and cut back on some of the other liquid ingredients in the recipe.)
Top each cupcake with a cream cheese, coconut milk, and powdered sugar icing, and you are all set, my friend!
Happy cooking, friends!
--Mrs. D.