Archives for category: Pasta

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Sometimes cooking becomes the daily grind.  You have no creativity and don’t feel like cooking very much.  I was in that place for a little while, a funk, if you will.  I think we all go through phases like this.  I was cooking dinner and just getting by and not expanding my culinary repertoire much.  And then one day I just felt upset, upset that I’ve let something go that I’m so passionate about.

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I thought to myself, I used to go to the Farmers’ Market every Saturday and get inspired, I used to think of how I could start something with food.  I felt sad and felt as though I let myself down.  Why must I doubt myself — why must I get into these phases where I am uninspired?  I’m sure this happens to everyone.  I’m sure I’m not alone in this.  Something that helped me get out of this strange aura I was living in, in regard to cooking was that  my friend Christy asked me to participate in a program/class she is involved with on the first 3 Thursdays of every month called the ELLICSR Kitchen.  This is a remarkable program that works with cancer survivors and patients and introduces them to healing, holistic nutrition.

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When Christy asked me to participate I felt a little apprehensive and scared.  I didn’t know how I could speak ON CAMERA.  When I got there I felt much better – the environment was so warm and friendly and I was a little more at ease (still nervous, though!).  Christy Brissette is a Registered Dietician and Nutritionist who explains nutritional components to dishes and Chef Geremy Capone is a wellness chef who expertly prepares all the dishes.  They chose two dishes from my blog and one new dish I created for the workshop and we prepared them together and I shared a little about myself.  Once I got going I was comfortable and I don’t think I fumbled!  The best part was interacting with the lovely audience.  They were so eager to learn and gave me to positive reinforcement I needed.

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I remember one older lady in particular.  She is living in the hospital and wheelchair bound. She is a regular at the ELLICSR kitchen.  She was the the first to arrive so she could get a prized front-row seat.  She is from India and was excited to talk about the spices we had on display. We made a Potato Radish Salad with a Tarka and she throughly enjoyed it because as she explained to me, she loves raw vegetables over cooked ones.  I’m sure she is over 80 years old and she told me about when she was a child in India.  She would accompany her mother weekly to the fruit and vegetable vendors – she would wait all week for this outing.  She loved all the fresh vegetables and would be in awe of all the activity in the market.  There were other mothers and their children at the market, she told me.  They didn’t seem to enjoy the experience as much as she did.  She plucked fresh peas from the overflowing baskets and ate them raw.  She laughed when she said, “my mother used to call me a goat because I loved to graze on green vegetables like a goat and that I was definitely a goat in my previous life.”  I was amazed at how her memory was so vivid.  She talked about her mother as if she was still a child.  She took my email and told me when she goes home she will get in touch with me.  I hope I hear from her soon.

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Since that day, I decided I wanted to reach out more and hear more stories like this.  We all have something to share and we all have memories that will last for decades and need to passed on.  Just lend an ear and give someone some time and without expectation you can gain invaluable insight.

Back into the kitchen I went.  Cooking more and eating out less.  I recently started to make ricotta cheese at home.  So easy and so good.  I made this pasta because these are flavors I love – sweet corn, fruity red chilies, fresh basil, and creamy ricotta.  It’s summer on a plate and the sunshine colors make it all the more appealing.  Share it with friends or family and learn something new about each other.

Some quickly shot photos from the ELLICSR Kitchen Event:

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Sweet Corn, Red Chili Linguine with Fresh Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4

Ingredients

linguine, or pasta of your choice

olive oil

sea salt

4-5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly

3 mild red chilies, chopped

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies (red chili flakes), optional

2 cups fresh shucked corn, or frozen kernels

fresh ricotta, for serving I used this recipe.

fresh basil leaves in a chiffonade

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

2-3 tablespoons heavy cream

Method

In a large sauté pan heat about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium-low heat.  Add in the sliced garlic and the fresh red chilies.  Allow them to caramelize and almost confit for about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile cook the linguine according to the package instructions and reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid.  Add in the crushed red chilies with the garlic and red chilies, if you are using.

Turn the heat up to medium and add in the corn.  Cook the corn for about 5-7 minutes.  Season with salt, to taste and add in the heavy cream and parsley.  Toss in the linguine and add 1/2 cup of pasta cooking liquid and sauté until it all comes together, about 1-2 minutes.  Add in more pasta cooking liquid, if necessary.  Serve hot and top with a dollop of fresh ricotta and the basil leaves in chiffonade.

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I miss the ocean.  Even though I live right on (literally) Lake Ontario, I miss the ocean.  The lake isn’t the same.  There aren’t any seafood shacks like Champlin’s or Iggy’s.  Every summer in Rhode Island, we order clam cakes, lobster rolls, whole lobsters with fresh drawn butter.  The meat of the lobster is so sweet and succulent.  I always tell my husband that I hate being “landlocked,” that I need to be living on a coastline.  As usual he rolls his eyes and ignores me.  Don’t worry, one day I’ll get my way and we’ll be close to the ocean.

Trying to appease me somewhat, my husband brought lobsters from Halifax after an interview at Dalhousie University.  (Not my first choice of places to live.)  Last year, he was in Cape Breton Island on an elective and did I give him an earful for not bringing back lobsters that time.  This time, I didn’t even mention anything about lobsters and he brought them.

The Rhode Islander in me immediately thought to make lobster ravioli.  Federal Hill, our Little Italy, is the place for lobster ravioli.  Venda Ravioli makes amazing lobster ravioli.  What I wouldn’t give for a heaping plate of those beautiful pillows of flavor right now.  Once when I was at home in Rhode Island, I went to Trader Joe’s and noticed they had some prepackaged lobster ravioli.  I decided to try it out and the guy at the checkout told me that he couldn’t believe how popular the lobster ravioli was in Rhode Island and that he worked in several Trader Joe’s throughout the US and never even noticed them before coming to Rhode Island.

A pasta dish is never complete without a side of bread and garlic and herb infused olive oil.

As much as I wanted to make lobster ravioli, I deemed it as too much work.   My husband brought whole lobsters, he wasn’t bright enough to just get me the meat.  One step at a time.  I had to clean the meat out of the shell, and after that messy ordeal, we were lucky I didn’t just melt some butter and have us eat the lobster plain (even though this way is delicious in its own right).  I decided go with the Federal Hill idea and simply make an egg pasta with lobster that you could find almost anywhere on Federal Hill.  We enjoyed it and it brought me back to my Rhode Island roots and the lobster meat tasted like the ocean, almost making me feel as though I was near the coast.

Federal Hill Style Lobster with Pasta

inspired and adapted from Food and Wine and Gourmet

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

2 1 1/2 pound lobsters, cooked, meat removed and cut into large chunks, and shells reserved

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 shallots, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced

1 bay leaf

3/4 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

5 canned plum tomatoes, crushed with your hands

1/2 cup dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc, Dry Vermouth, Pinot Grigio)

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads

heavy cream, as much or as little as you like, I used 1/4 cup but you can go up to 1/2 cup

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 lemon cut into slices or wedges

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

sea salt, to taste

3/4 a 500 g box of De Cecco pappardelle, or any egg pasta of your choice, cooked to al dente, 1/2 cup cooking liquid reserved

Method

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, heat the oil and add the chopped shallot and let it soften for a minute or two.  Next, add in the garlic, bay leaf, and crushed red chilies, and allow them to infuse the oil for a minute.  Add in the shells (from the tails and claws) and sauté them for two minutes.  Add in the tomatoes and crush them further with a cooking spoon.  Season with salt.  Pour in the wine and 1 cup of water and let the liquid reduce by half, about 10-15 minutes

Once the liquid is reduced, turn the heat to low, and add the saffron and let it infuse into the broth for five minutes. After five minutes, pour in the cream and whisk it so that it does not curdle.  Let the cream reduce for two minutes.  Once the cream has reduced slightly put the cooked lobster meat into the pan and let it warm through for a few minutes.  Add a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid until the sauce reaches a consistency you like.

Check seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Sprinkle in the parsley and drop in the dab of butter and allow it to melt into the sauce.  Remove the bay leaf.  Next, toss in the cooked pasta and place the lemon wedges into the pasta for some brightness in color and flavor.  Drizzle with olive oil and use shells as a garnish, serve hot. You can also carb-load and serve some nice focaccia with olive oil on the side.

If anyone is interested, here’s an article on the “seafood shack” culture in Rhode Island.

I’ve been a little uninspired lately.  That sounds lame, doesn’t it?  Summer is right around the corner and new produce is popping up galore and I’m uninspired.  It’s probably more that I’m lazy than uninspired.  I do love cooking (especially for others) but sometimes you get stuck in a rut.  Some days, I just want to throw in the towel and say, ” let’s go out for dinner”. Usually, I want to hit up a local sushi joint (the best sushi in Kingston, which isn’t hard to accomplish, but they are still pretty good).  My husband can only have so much sushi so this plan doesn’t fly as much as I would like it to.

As many of you know, I sometimes whip random things together when I’m uninspired.  I start without a plan and end up with something that triumphs or fails miserably.  I would like to think I get more hits than misses.  And sometimes, I have to make something because the husband might be on-call and says the hospital cafeteria food is basically mystery meat served under infrared lights.  So, I take pity and whip up something for him.  I know, I know, I deserve the best wife of the year award.

On one of these on-call nights, I literally had 1 leek, 1/2 a bunch of asparagus, 1 orange pepper, a lemon, a little greek yogurt, chives, and parsley in my fridge.  I could see very little rhyme or reason in these ingredients, so I was thinking I would not use those ingredients and make a simple chicken curry, something I’m not really a fan of, but it’s easy and quick.  But, when I flew this idea by my husband it was a no-go.  There I was, left stuck with these ingredients.  I just tossed the asparagus, leek, pepper, and half a bulb of garlic in the oven and let them roast.  I even started photographing them just in case my no-plan recipe actually led to something that I could share it with you all.

Once roasted, I decided to purée and leeks and garlic with the greek yogurt.  Tasting and trying led me to add lemon and extra-virgin olive oil, but it still needed something.  I whipped through my cupboards and thought nuts would make a good addition.  I was making a corrupted form of a pesto.  My gut told me to reach for pine nuts, but instead I went for pistachios.  Thank god, for a well stocked pantry.  Even when there’s nothing I have the staples.  I threw everything into the blender until the nuts were smooth and when I tasted it again I literally exclaimed to myself, “this is soooooo good!”  I even woke up my husband who was napping before his shift and made him try it.  Half asleep and dazed, he loved it too.

I was left with a sauce and some roasted vegetables.  If it was just me, I would have eaten the vegetables tossed in the sauce but my carnivore husband was already going vegetarian for the day and to make him carb free would have been absolutely blasphemous.  I didn’t really have a choice here, it was either pasta, rice, or the tiniest amount of cous cous.  I went with the pasta and boiled it and tossed everything together with the herbs and it all worked perfectly in harmony and unison.  I chopped up a few more pistachios as a garnish for good measure.  Although this is more lunch-worthy than a dinner meal it worked for my purposes and I was happy I came up with something half-way decent.

You don’t need to be an expert cook to come up with a good dish, you just need the instinct and the taste for ingredients and everything comes together in the end.  I love that there is no right or wrong and that cooking can make you feel inspired even when you have no plan or road map initially.  I don’t really follow the rules and who is to say you aren’t supposed to pair a with b or c.  If I had to cook using only classic techniques and ingredients that were “supposed” to be paired together I might not be so enthusiastic about cooking.

Pasta Salad with a Roasted Leek, Garlic, Greek Yogurt, and Pistachio Dressing

Serves 3

Ingredients

1-2 leeks, white and light green parts, cleaned well and chopped

1/2 head of garlic

1/2 bunch of asparagus

1 pepper, any color

3/4 cup of greek yogurt

1 lemon, juice and zest

1/4 cup pistachios, plus some extra for garnish

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 1/2 cups short dry pasta, I used gemelli (cooked according to package instructions)

15 sprigs of chives, chopped

1/4 bunch of parsley, chopped (you can use any herbs you like)

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the leeks, the half head of garlic (skin on and intact), and the pepper on a baking tray tossed with some olive oil and salt and black pepper.  Roast until the leeks around beginning to lightly caramelize about 20-25 minutes.  The garlic should be cooked through, mushy, and just slightly caramelized.  If the garlic is done first, remove it from the oven.  The pepper should be just lightly charred and cooked through.  Remove from the oven. Allow the leeks, garlic, and pepper to cool for 15 minutes.  Once cooled, remove the garlic from the skin and remove the skin and seeds of the pepper and cut it into strips.

Next, toss the asparagus with some olive oil, salt and black pepper and roast in the heated oven for 10-15 minutes.  When it is done, the asparagus should be crisp and not mushy.  When the asparagus to cooked, cut it on an angle into 2″ pieces.

Use a blender of food processor to make the dressing.  Put the leeks, garlic, pistachios, lemon zest, and greek yogurt in the blender.  Start to blend so that they start to come together.  Next, squeeze in the juice of them lemon.  Blend and then add in the olive oil.  Keep blending until there are no large chunks of pistachio in the sauce and it is smooth and creamy.  If the sauce is too thick you can add in some water to loosen it a bit.  Taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasonings, if necessary.

Toss the dressing with the cooked pasta.  Add in the asparagus and pepper strips.  Garnish with the chives and parsley and top with some extra chopped pistachios and a drizzle of olive oil.  This can be chilled for up to an hour.  I thought it tasted best at room temperature.

Thank God, the weather is warming up, it may be too good to be true but I’m going to enjoy it while I can.  A few days ago, when it was frigid outside, (talk about weather schizophrenia) I wanted something slow cooked and comforting.  I am utterly and completely indecisive about what to cook.  Though, I love food and talking about food, it takes me quite some time to figure out what to actually make.  My routine is looking into my fridge then into my pantry for inspiration.  Sometimes, I’ll defrost some meat with no clear idea of what to make and then when it is time to prepare it, I end up with something.  This is just me, sometimes I wish I could plan my meals out in a more organized fashion, but I guess I still get something on the table.

So, back to me needing warmth and comfort in cold weather.  I took out ground veal, thinking I would make aaloo keema, a common Pakistani dish of ground meat and potatoes.  My husband could eat this everyday and it is so easy to prepare, that I probably do make it once a week.  But, I decided I was just not in the mood for aaloo keema.  Maybe, meatballs and pasta?  No breadcrumbs, darn!  (Though I could have made fresh ones—lazy!)  That brought me to bolognese.  It sounded perfect in my mind, simmering over the stove for hours would yield what tastes I was looking for.  Plus, bolognese required hardly any hard work on my part.

Slow-cooked flavors of rosemary, mushrooms, homemade chicken stock, balsamic vinegar all molded into magic.  I love meals that make themselves.  It turned out to be, just what I was in the mood for.

Veal Bolognese

adapted from a CHOW recipe

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

1 pound ground veal

1 red onion, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 bay leaf

5-6 gloves of garlic, chopped

2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped

2 cups mushrooms, chopped (any variety you  like)

1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1 cup chicken stock, homemade or good quality store-bought

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter, optional

half a bunch of parsley, chopped

1 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes, or to taste

2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 box bow-tie pasta

Parmigiano Reggiano for serving

Method

Heat a heavy-bottomed pan on medium heat with the olive oil.  Add in the onions and carrots and allow them to sweat for 5 minutes.  Next, add in the garlic, bay leaf, crushed red chili flakes, and rosemary.  Cook for a minute or two and add in the ground veal, mushrooms, salt, and black pepper.  Break up the veal with your spoon and mix around until it is evenly separated.  When the veal has started to get a little color on it, about 5 minutes, add the tomatoes.  Allow to simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes start to bubble a bit.  Next, add in the balsamic vinegar, chicken stock, and Worcestershire sauce.  Turn the heat to low and let the pot simmer for about an hour and a half.  After the hour and a half, add the milk, butter, and parsley and allow to simmer for another hour or so.  Check for seasoning.  Toss in some parmigiano reggiano and some fresh parsley leaves at the end.  Serve with pasta, potatoes, or whatever you like!

Shrimp scampi is something I can say I have mastered.  Well, for one it’s not something that requires anything special to master and secondly, everyone loves it.  I always have people asking me how I make it, and I sometimes feel embarrassed to say anyone can make this.  It’s so easy but gives the impression that you have actually put a good amount of effort into it.  When I lived with my parents, we would often make this for guests and they loved it.  I think it’s in the sauce; because of its richness.  You don’t even need the linguine I added to it.  The linguine is just an after thought.  Just serve it with some nice crusty warm bread for soaking up the sauce and you’ll be all set!

This dish also offers a lot of freshness.  I adore fresh herbs and always have my fridge stocked.  They just perk up any dish.  If I have people over I simply cannot not garnish my food with piles of herbs.  Even just cooking at home, I will not make something if I don’t have the herbs for it.  It’s just not the same.  I can say that I will judge you if you don’t use fresh herbs *snicker.*  Teasing aside, I think I have made my passion for herbs quite apparent.  Another freshness component to this dish is the lemon.  I use just half of a lemon for it’s juice and half for the zest and the zested half for a nice lemon slice garnish inspired by Ina Garten.  I always use caution when adding lemon juice or zest to something.  To me sometimes recipes call for too much and then all you taste is lemon.  I think I have mentioned it before, but too much lemon reminds me of Pinesol.

I add shallots and tomatoes as well to break away from the norm.  I like the roundness they give to the scampi.  As with most dishes, I add extra spice to mine but use as much as you like.

Shrimp Scampi

adapted from Ina Garten’s Linguine with Shrimp Scampi from Barefoot Contessa Family Style

Serves 2-3

Ingredients

1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (I remove the tails as well)

6-7 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots minced

1 tomato, chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil (plus a little extra for drizzling at the end)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 lemon (half for juice, half zested, and the zested half cut into rounds)

2-3 tablespoons of light cream

3/4 of a teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

1 teaspooon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper, optional

2 tablespoons chopped chives (use more or less)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley (use more or less)

parmigiano reggiano shavings, optional

1/2 box of linguine (I used whole wheat because that’s what I had on hand)

Method

Cook the linguine in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente, about 10 minutes (do not drain it from the water).  Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan on medium heat.  Add the olive oil and turn down the heat to medium low.  Put the butter in the pan and after 1 minute add 1/2 teaspoon of the red chili flakes and allow it to infuse the oil for about 30 seconds.  Add the shallots and allow them to sweat for about 2-3 minutes.  Next add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes, make sure it doesn’t burn.  At this point put it the chopped tomato.  Let it sweat for 1-2 minutes.  Turn up the heat to medium.  When the pan is ready add the shrimp and salt/black pepper and allow the shrimp to turn pink.  This will take about 5-7 minutes.  Do not overcook because they will get stringy.  Turn the heat to the lowest setting and add the juice of half a lemon.  Next, stir in the cream.  Add the pasta directly from the pasta water to the shrimp pan using tongs, so that a little of the starchy water goes into the scampi.  Top with the chives, parsley, lemon zest, lemon slices, 1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes, pamigiano reggiano, and toss.   Drizzle the top with olive oil.

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You could easily step into your grocery store and grab a bottle of “Classico”, heat it up and toss it with pasta.  Sure, we get lazy, sure we don’t feel like cooking every day.  But, making a fresh tomato sauce is almost as easy as opening up a bottle of jarred sauce, and the taste has no comparison.  I know a traditional tomato sauce consists of a mirepoix of carrots, celery, and onions.  To me, a simpler sauce without the onions,carrots, and celery tastes almost like perfection.  I use shallots, garlic, and thyme infused garlic-chili oil inspired by Ina Garten as my base.  The shallots are sweeter and smoother, giving the sauce a softer taste.  The herb infused oil gives the sauce extra boldness and rounds out the flavors.

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Of course, fresh tomatoes are the best.  However, even with all the organic, pesticide-free, heirloom, local varieties of tomatoes available to us here in America, the taste is just not the same as San Marzano tomatoes.  I am a firm believer in eating local whenever possible, but until I find a suitable tomato for sauce I will stick to canned San Marzano tomatoes.  They are becoming more and more common.  Chefs on Food Network always mention them and even budget conscious cooks are embracing them. During an undergraduate spring break, I travelled to Italy, and to this day I remember how sweet and delicious Italian tomatoes are.

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My recipe is simple, the longer it simmers the better.  But, if you don’t have 4 hours to simmer your sauce, an hour should be just fine.  I like to keep the sauce simple.  I sometimes opt to add ricotta cheese to the sauce to give it a little more smoothness, but this is entirely optional and non-traditional.

Tomato Sauce:

Serves 3-4

Ingredients

a glug of extra-virgin olive oil (about 4 tablespoons)

4-5 cloves of garlic, minced

4 sprigs fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilis (or to taste)

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

3 shallots, chopped

1 bay leaf

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano Tomatoes, slightly pureed (if they are not available to you then use the best quality canned tomatoes you can source)

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freshly grated parmigiano reggiano for garnish

fresh torn basil leaves

Method:

Prepare the herb-garlic infused oil by taking a small sauce saucepan on medium heat and adding the olive oil to it.  Let the oil heat up slightly and next add the crushed red chilies and allow to infuse the oil for 30 seconds, next add in the thyme and garlic and allow them to settle in the oil for a minute.  Turn down the heat to low heat (almost medium) so that the garlic does not burn and turn bitter.  Let the flavors come together, about 15-20 minutes.  In a larger pot add the herb-garlic infused oil with the springs of thyme and allow to heat up at medium heat.  Next, add the shallots and the bay leaf allow the shallots to sweat.  When the shallots are translucent pour in the red wine vinegar and move the pot away form the heat.  The vinegar will be burning off, so this may irritate your eyes, use caution.  Once the vinegar steam has settled put in the tomatoes and salt into the pot.  Stir everything together and allow to simmer on low heat for about an hour.  After an hour or so, taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary.  Discard the bay leaf and any thyme stems left in the sauce.  Tear in fresh basil leaves and  mix the ricotta cheese into the sauce until combined.  Serve with any pasta of your choice and top with grated parmigiano reggiano and fresh basil leaves to garnish.

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This sauce can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled, you name it.  It is a basic sauce that is quite versatile.  It be used in pastas, for dipping, on pizza, as a base for tomato soup, in eggplant/chicken/veal parmesan and the list could go on and on.  You can add olives, ground meat, vegetables, or whatever you fancy!