You can’t make this stuff up. The meat-eater goes to college and falls for a vegetarian. Now he’s extolling the virtues of leafy greens and whole grains.
That’s fine, but what to do when he decides to bring his significant other home during break to a house where meals are centered around meat?
The last thing you want is to make a bad impression with a mediocre meal, so testing recipes ahead of time is key when entertaining important guests. As you’re making new dishes, cook half and freeze the rest for cooking and enjoying later. These ready-made dishes tucked safely away in the freezer can become lifesavers during the weekday crunch and when hosting unexpected overnight guests.
“Southern Living Fix It & Freeze It/ Heat It & Eat It: A Quick-Cook Guide to Over 200 Make-Ahead Dishes,” by the editors of Southern Living magazine (Oxmoor House, $19.95), shows what to freeze (casseroles, soups, stews, chili and meatloaf), how to freeze it and for how long to ensure maximum quality.
Here are highlights from the book on cooling and storing dishes:
• To chill soup or stew quickly, pour it into a metal bowl and set in an ice bath – a larger bowl filled halfway with ice water. Pour into containers and freeze.
• Store foods in small servings, no more than 1 quart, so they freeze quickly. This also allows you to defrost only what you need.
• For casseroles, line the bottom and sides of a casserole dish with heavy-duty aluminum foil, allowing 2 to 3 inches to extend over sides; fill with prepared recipe.
Cover and freeze two to three hours or until firm. Lift the frozen casserole from the dish, using the foil sides as handles, and freeze in a labeled zip-top plastic freezer bag. You’ll need an extra-large 2-gallon bag for 13-by-9-inch baking dishes, and a 1-gallon bag for 9-inch square baking dishes.
To serve, remove the foil from the frozen casserole, then return casserole to the original baking dish; cover and let thaw in the refrigerator (allow 24 to 48 hours). Let stand 30 minutes at room temperature, and bake as directed.
• Baked goods can be frozen in a single layer in a jelly-roll pan until firm, and then transferred to an airtight container or zip-top plastic freezer bag.
• Use a permanent marker to label each container with the name of the dish, volume or weight if you’ve measured it, and the date you put it in the freezer. Include baking or reheating instructions. It’s easier to write on plastic freezer bags before you freeze them.
Lasagna: 5 pounds butternut squash, peeled and seeded
¼ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
2¼ pounds spinach, washed
3 tablespoons butter
Generous grating of nutmeg
8 to 12 lasagna noodles
4 ounces Parmesan cheese
Canned spaghetti or pizza sauce
6 cups whole milk
1 bay leaf
2/3 cup butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Peel and slice the squash. Cut into chunks, put into a roasting pan, drizzle on the oil and season. Toss and roast until tender and slightly charred, about 40 minutes.
For the béchamel sauce, put the milk in a saucepan with the peppercorns, onion and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and leave for 45 minutes to infuse. Strain.
Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan and add the flour. Over a low heat, stir for 2 minutes or more. Remove from heat. Gradually add the milk, beating well after each addition and adding more only when completely smooth. Bring to a boil, stirring, until thick. Reduce the heat and cook for four minutes, then season well, adding the nutmeg.
Put the spinach in a saucepan with the water that clings to it after washing. Cover and put pan over medium heat. Wait for 4 minutes, turn spinach. Squeeze out the water, chop the spinach and put spinach in a frying pan with 1 tablespoon butter. Heat gently, tossing, add nutmeg.
Use the remaining butter to grease a 1½-quart gratin dish. Add a layer of squash, then a layer of spaghetti or pizza sauce. Lay lasagna noodles on top, cutting so they don’t overlap. Add a layer of béchamel sauce, half the spinach and half the cheese.
Now put in another layer of lasagna and the remaining spinach. Add a layer of squash, a layer of red sauce and a final layer of béchamel. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.
This recipe is adapted from “Plenty,” by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley, $29.95).
Artichoke Heart-Stuffed Shells in a Béchamel Sauce
18 jumbo pasta shells (about half a 12-ounce box)
1-3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
12 ounces frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup finely grated Romano cheese
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt, plus for pasta pot
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cook shells according to package directions and toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil. Melt butter in a heavy 12-inch skillet and cook until nutty and brown, stirring occasionally to keep the solids moving. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, then the onion, and cook until lightly brown and caramelized, for about 7 minutes. Add the artichoke hearts, and cook them until they are softened a bit, for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook until it evaporates.
Remove pan from heat and cool slightly; transfer artichoke mixture to a food processor, add both cheeses and the remaining ingredients and pulse until well-chopped but still coarse.
Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the milk slowly while whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add garlic and bring sauce to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the ricotta, lemon juice, salt and black pepper. Adjust seasoning.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pour 2 cups of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Place 1 tablespoon artichoke filling in each cooked shell and nest each pasta shell in the sauce seam side up. Dollop a spoonful of sauce over each shell. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 15 more minutes. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. Serves 4. From “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook,” by Deb Perelman (Knopf, $35).