quick, delicious dinner idea

I will preface this post by saying: I wish we had Internet at home so that I could post more and put some pictures up. Alas, we probably won’t have access until May/June when we move to a new place, so for now I will try to write creatively so that you can imagine the things I am describing!

I will admit that if I cooked the way I would like, it would mean going European-style and buying fresh food to make for dinner every day. Our lifestyle here in Moscow actually permits me to do that if I want – our local Food Co-op is six blocks from our apartment and just slightly out of the way of our walk home. Some days we stop by to get fresh bread or some random spice that I want for a new recipe I’m trying. The problem with this method, though, is that you must be very focused and not buy any little extras – an extra $5-10 dollar increase in a few trips during the week could mean a substantial increase in your grocery spending for the whole month… and I could very easily slip and do this, actually.

So I am currently proud of myself because our dinner last night was completely based on what we had in the freezer and leftovers in the fridge. We have a pretty full freezer right now due to a huge Costco stock-up trip during Christmas break in Twin Falls, and even though there’s plenty of good stuff in there, I have a hard time remembering to pull stuff out so that it will either be defrosted in time or not sit in the fridge so long that I forget to use it and it gets either slimy or oxidized… yuck.

Yesterday morning, I remembered that we had some Costco five-cheese tortellini still in the freezer, so I defrosted it for dinner. As I was making the tortellini, I realized that I had the perfect opportunity to throw together a casserole! We had two types of homemade red sauce in the fridge (this is not normal… but one was a Bolognese sauce for pasta and one was a basic tomato sauce for pizza) that I stirred together and put part of it on the bottom of an eight-inch casserole dish. When the tortellini were done boiling on the stovetop, I layered them on top of the sauce in the casserole, then layered more sauce on top of the pasta, and finished it all off with a combination of grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. I popped it in the oven at 350 for about 20-25 minutes, and it came out deliciously.

The casserole came out deliciously, and we get to eat it for lunch today too. I think I would deem it a quick fix if you have a hankering for lasagna – it had all the great flavors. If I did it again, I think I actually would have done an additional layer of sauce and cheese between the pasta. But all in all, it was a very successful freezer-and-leftover meal. You could probably substitute other pastas and ingredients and have equally good results.

By the way, here is a kitchen tip: did you know that Parmesano Reggiano cheese (the highest quality Parmesan cheese available) will last longer if it is not kept in a plastic bag? Wrapping it in some kind of paper will keep moisture out of it, enabling it to keep weeks or even months in the crisper drawer of your fridge. You can also wrap plastic around the paper, if you prefer. I have a big hunk in our fridge that has lasted since the beginning of January and I think it’s got at least another month of life left in it! It is very hard though… Make sure you have a sharp grater! (This message brought to you courtesy of the Gourmet Today cookbook, which I received from my wonderful husband for Christmas. Also, you can get Parmesano Reggiano at Costco for a very good price… do it!)

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