We tend to focus all our attention on pregnancy, on what we can and cannot eat, on the long waiting, on our expectations. When the long-awaited after comes, our attention shifts immediately on that new creature and its needs.
As usual, I considered the issue from another perspective. What are we going to eat, when I won’t have the time, desire and energy to cook?
Here in the countryside there are no takeaways, no numbers to call for a last minute pizza that saves your dinner. There won’t be deliveries riding through our country roads to bring us sushi, or a curry. My mum and my grandmother are my neighbours, though, and this is an advantage that should not be underestimated. Under normal conditions this is a gift, as a new mother it will be a blessing. Mum has already bought chicken and beef to make broths, and I know I can count on her for an unlimited supply of spaghetti with tomato sauce – she has already started bottling the passata made with our tomatoes from the garden -, tuna loaf, chicken and potato meatballs, farro and barley salads, roast beef and potato cheese pie.
I am a cicada, though, a pantry enthusiast, so I needed to be sure that I had a healthy supply of food in my pantry.
I placed an order of whole grains – oat, barley, farro, and brown basmati rice – which will last us a few months. Then I will just combine the cooked grains with some seasonal vegetables, with our eggs, with some meat or fish, or even cheeses, to have balanced and nutritious dishes.
Then we bought a new freezer.
All the friends who had recently become mothers truly appreciated when I showed up with a tray of lasagna, or a ready-made soup. So this year, instead of limiting myself to jams and preserves, I decided to freeze soups, legumes and ready meals. Needless to say, I enjoyed it. Well, actually I got a bit carried away, thanks to a new six-drawer freezer that we bought with my parents and that makes a fine show in the garage.
My supply for the next months
This is what I have been cooking and freezing in the last weeks to get ready for the arrival of our baby girl. We won’t be starving.
Ribollita, a a Tuscan bean and bread soup
A classic Tuscan dish, a comforting soup made with beans, Tuscan kale and stale bread. This thick, invigorating soup gives its best when re-heated and drizzled with good good oil. You can find the recipe here.
Minestrone, the most comforting vegetable soup
As a child I didn’t like it that much. Now minestrone is a comfort food that is perfect all year round, with some beans or pesto. I spent an afternoon dicing vegetables with my grandmother, then I divided the soup into portions and froze it, filling an entire freezer drawer. When I will feel like having a minestrone, I will just sauté some finely minced onions or leeks, and then add the frozen minestrone and a few cups of hot water to simmer down into a thick soup.
Zuppa di orzo trentina, barley and cabbage soup from Trentino
This is a soup from the North of Italy, which lists among the ingredients Savoy cabbage, barley, potatoes and a few cubes of speck, a Northern smoked cured ham. I made it because I had some vegetables left from the minestrone, and as I find barley extremely comforting, with its chewy texture. I froze a few servings for the first chilly autumn evenings.
Lasagne di nonna, my grandma’s lasagna
This is the classic lasagna we make at home, with béchamel, mozzarella, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and meat sauce, our Tuscan ragù, which I simmered for hours, regardless of the heat. I will save it for those evenings when we need an extra hug, some comfort food. I also prepared a few pans of basil pesto and ricotta lasagna. I’m sharing the recipe at the bottom of this post.
Italian and French croissants
Breakfast is an essential meal, I need it to function properly. During the second trimester of my pregnancy I got a crazy craving for croissants, so I baked plenty of them for the months to come. I made both the Italian croissants – those made with butter, sugar and eggs, you can find the recipe here – and the classic French ones, a good excuse to spend a day with my friends Emanuela and Gaia.
The same day we baked the croissants, we also prepared a few servings of puff pastry. It was more for a whim rather than by necessity. I’m going to use it for quiches and strudels bursting with cheese and seasonal vegetables, just like this one.
Beans and chickpeas
It happened twice in the last month. After we baked the pizza in our wood burning oven, we nestled in the hot oven two pots of chickpeas and beans to cook overnight. They don’t even need soaking. The next day, you open the oven and find the best chickpeas and beans you can imagine: well cooked, flavourful, creamy. These ended up into two-portion bags, ready to be frozen.
Basil pesto and meat sauce, the Tuscan ragù
When I prepared my grandma’s classic lasagna and the basil pesto and ricotta lasagna, I made more ragù and pesto than I would need. Once you’re at it… Then I divided all the leftovers into single servings to freeze them. In the next months, I’ll be grateful to be able to quickly thaw some pesto to toss into a bowl of wholewheat pasta, or some ragù, to dress a steaming plate of polenta with a few slices of melted cheese on top. You can find the recipe for our homemade ragù here.
Basil pesto and ricotta lasagna
I started making this basil pesto and ricotta lasagna during the lockdown, as I tended to buy plenty of fresh ricotta from the dairy that delivered meat and cheese once every two weeks. You can make this lasagna in no time, if you have basil pesto and fresh pasta at your hand. They are lighter than a classic ragù lasagna and have the fresh taste of summer. Sometimes I would make this lasagna on purpose to use pieces of leftover cheese, such as scamorza or mozzarella, or even some leftover wild fennel or arugula pesto.
I fell so in love with them that I decided to prepare the ricotta lasagna for the next few months as well, to freeze them in two-serving baking pans. Then, I will just need to remember to remove them from the freezer a few hours in advance: a few minutes in a hot oven and we’ll have dinner ready.
A few words about the ingredients of this basil pesto and ricotta lasagna
This lasagna is quick to make and quite light compared to the classic lasagna prepared with béchamel and ragù. Instead of the béchamel, I used fresh sheep ricotta, softened with some milk and flavoured with grated Parmigiano Reggiano, salt and black pepper. You can choose the ricotta you prefer: cow milk for a more neutral taste, goat milk ricotta if you like stronger flavours, or even buffalo ricotta: with this, you will get a rich and creamy lasagna. I also added some mozzarella, turn into small pieces. An alternative could be thinly sliced scamorza, or provolone.
Even though I am usually an advocate of fresh pasta made from scratch, given the situation, I used ready-made fresh pasta.
In case you want to prepare the fresh pasta for the lasagna, follow this recipe.
As for pesto, this is the most classic basil pesto, I’m leaving you the recipe I followed at the bottom of this post, too. You can buy it ready-made, or make it, adjusting the recipe to your taste and your pantry: use just pine nuts, or try almonds and walnuts, for example. Or you can even try it with arugula or fennel pesto, or even a pesto made with carrot leaves.
As additional ingredients, I tried this ricotta lasagna adding also a layer of pan-fried zucchini blossoms: it was delicious.
As with the classic lasagna, they are even better the next day, so it’s worth preparing them in advance. Bake the lasagna, let it cool down and then store it in the fridge. When you want to serve the ricotta lasagna, just reheat it in a hot oven for 5 to 10 minutes.
You can prepare this basil pesto and ricotta lasagna even in smaller baking pans, or even into single-serving ones, and then freeze them for when you don’t feel like cooking, or for when you need a ready-made comforting meal.
Basil pesto and ricotta lasagna
- 200 g (7.05 oz) egg lasagna sheets
- 700 g (2 3/4 cups) sheep ricotta
- 400 ml (1 2/3 cups) whole milk
- 150 g (1 1/2 cups) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 300 g (10 1/2 oz) fresh mozzarella
- 250 g (8 3/4 oz) basil pesto
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- freshly ground black pepper
- Add the ricotta into a bowl and pour in the milk. Add also the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and stir thoroughly until you get a smooth batter. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
- Tear the mozzarella with your hands into small pieces. Also keep the basil pesto and fresh pasta sheets at hand.
- Now that all the ingredients are ready, prepare the lasagna and heat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
- Start by spreading two tablespoons of ricotta on the bottom of the baking pan, then top it with a few sheets of fresh pasta to cover the entire surface of the pan.
- Cover the pasta with 3 tablespoons of ricotta and 1 tablespoon of pesto, spreading it out evenly. Then add the bite-sized mozzarella.
- Continue making 4 more layers, until you have finished all the ingredients. The last layer will be made of ricotta, pesto and mozzarella.
- Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
- Bake the lasagna for about 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
- You can serve the lasagna immediately, or, even better, let it cool down and serve after a few hours, or the next day, quickly reheating in a hot oven.
Every year my mum plants so much basil. It is the only fresh herb that I will miss in winter, because its scent brings me immediately to summer days, to the easy dinners made of caprese and panzanella, to the fresh tomato sauce and, of course, to my beloved pasta al pesto. The recipe I’m sharing today is for a classic basil pesto, made with a blender, instead of the more traditional pestle and mortar.
Remember that the key tip is to use cold ingredients.
You can also keep the extra virgin olive oil in the fridge for a few hours. Sometimes I also add an ice cube to further lower the temperature of the ingredients. This reduces the oxidation of the basil leaves, giving you a bright green pesto. The other tip is to completely cover the basil leaves with extra virgin olive oil, as to reduce the contact with air, which would cause oxidation.
I used part of this basil pesto to make the ricotta lasagna, and scooped the rest into small plastic cups, large enough to hold two servings, then I froze it for future meals.
- 125 g (4 1/3 oz) basil leaves
- 350 ml (1 1/2 cups) extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove garlic
- 60 g (1/2 cup) pine nuts
- 50 g (1/2 cup) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- 50 g (1/2 cup) Pecorino Romano, grated
- Collect the pine nuts and the clove of garlic in a blender. Blend until you get fine crumbs, then add the quickly washed and dried basil leaves. Press them down and then cover them with extra virgin olive oil, so that all the leaves are submerged and not exposed to the air.
- Process the ingredients in short intervals, as not to overheat the pesto.
- When the pesto is homogeneous and smooth, transfer it into a bowl and stir in the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and the grated Pecorino Romano. Season with salt, if needed.
- You can use the pesto immediately, or keep it in the fridge for a few days, well covered with a film of extra virgin olive oil.