Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Meatless Lasagna and Shrimp Creole

It seems I spend more time looking through cookbooks during Lent than the rest of the year. My behavior could be hunger-driven, since I'm denying myself in eating, I'm making up the denial in other senses. But I think the actual reason isn't gluttony, but more of a practical nature. Because of our family's resolve to be more frugal, to eat out less, and to have more meatless meals during Lent, it requires some planning on my part. With my own personal resolution to have a meal plan and make the presentation of my meals as a loving act, not just duty-driven, I need to "hit the books" for more creative and tasty ideas.

One of the latest cookbooks I use for my inspiration is Cooking Up a Storm: Recipes Lost and Found from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans by Marcelle Bienvenu and Judy Walker. After Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, so many lost their collection of recipes. This is a project of trying to rebuild the collections. There are some wonderful recipes, and here are two that will be wonderful for those meatless, penitential days (including the Ember Days of Lent, which is this Wednesday, Friday, Saturday).

The following recipe can be made ahead and just save the baking time (1 1/2 hours) for later. A recipe fit to serve to guests on Friday.

Meatless Lasagna

Makes 6 to 8 servings

2 (15 ounce) containers low-fat or nonfat ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons crushed garlic (from jar)
1 pound part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
4 3/4 cups prepared pasta sauce, without cream or cheese (Classico was recommended, but homemade is also acceptable)
12 lasagna noodles, uncooked
3 medium zucchini, sliced (lengthwise) 1/4 inch thick
1/2 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, egg, spices, and garlic, and stir in about one-fourth of the mozzarella cheese.

Spread one-third of the pasta sauce evenly over the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Layer with 4 noodles, half of the ricotta mixture, half of the zucchini, and one-third of the remaining mozzarella. Repeat the layers. Top with the last 4 noodles, the remaining sauce, and the remaining mozzarella. (The recipe may be prepared up to this point and refrigerated for several hours or overnight.)

When ready to bake, pour the water around the edges of the lasagna and cover the pan with foil. Bake for 1 1/2 hours.
This next recipe originally came from a column by Marcelle Bienvenu in the Times-Picayune, January 1997:
Shrimp Creole, or Shrimp a la Creole, was for years a mainstay on most restauant menus in New Orleans. It was often served in homes on Fridays during the Lenten season, in keeping with the Catholic rules of fast and abstinence....I embarked on a week-long research project.... This is the result. It's quite simple and quick to prepare. You can make it your own by adding personal touches, so use it as a basic recipe.
With the Shrimp Creole I serve a green salad and either Southern biscuits, cornbread, or French rolls. For allergy reasons I skip the roux step (we can't have flour) and add corn starch (or Filé powder, also called gumbo filé) at later stage before serving if the sauce needs to be a bit thickened.
Shrimp Creole

Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
3/4 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes or chopped canned tomatoes with juice
1 cup shrimp or chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
Hot cooked rice for serving

Melt the butter in a medium heavy pot over medium heat and add the flour Cook, stirring, to make a blond roux, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and lightly browned, about 6 minutes.

Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, shrimp stock, salt, and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves and add the parsley. Serve over rice.
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