Regardless of where you travel, you will likely be able to find a good Italian restaurant that serves traditional meals. When we were in Tuscany we ate many different meals and, unlike other cuisines, the food was pretty much the same as what we find everywhere. When we were in Rome, we actually ate lasagna at a couple of different restaurants and they were both delicious. We have our own family recipe for lasagna that we have enjoyed for years. It is very versatile and can be done as a vegetarian dish or with other meats like ground pork. We make our own spaghetti sauce, but using a favorite store bought brand is certainly perfectly fine. We always make a large batch and then enjoy the leftovers later or even freeze it to pull out on a cold day. It is definitely a meal that gets even better over time.
1 box Lasagna Noodles – Either oven ready or cooked to the package directions
1 lb Ground Beef
1 tsp Dried Italian Seasoning
1 tsp Garlic Powder
7 cups Spaghetti Sauce – homemade or store-bought
2 cups Ricotta Cheese
3 cups Mozzarella Cheese – shredded
2/3 cup Parmesan Cheese – shredded
Salt and Pepper to taste
In a large skillet, brown the ground beef with the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Heat the spaghetti sauce in a large sauce pan, add the ground beef, and simmer for about 20 minutes until the meat is fully seasoned. Spoon just enough of the meat sauce to cover the bottom of a large casserole dish that has been sprayed with a non-stick spray. Put a layer of lasagna noodles over the sauce, being sure to overlap the noodles slightly. Cover the noodles with more meat sauce. Using half of the ricotta cheese, place spoonful’s across the meat sauce. The cheese will spread out as the lasagna cooks. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Repeat with another layer of noodles, ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan cheese. For the final layer, add noodles, a lighter coating of meat sauce, and the remaining 1/3 mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes.
Alamosa is a small town in southern Colorado that has a lot of historic charm. We enjoyed spending a weekend there while we visited the Great Sand Dunes. As is typical of the region, there are plenty of Mexican restaurants, but there are plenty of other choices as well. It was very hot during our visit, so having a cold beer that was locally brewed was also a must. In addition to the restaurants, there was a local fair going on and we enjoyed walking through it and visiting the various tents.
We went to a casual Italian restaurant that is actually in an old movie theater that has been redecorated to become a quaint bistro. We had read before going that they offered half portions on their pasta, providing the opportunity to share two different options. Considering the size of the half portions, a full portion would have definitely been too much for the two of us. We had homemade lasagna as well as a very spicy Caribbean with shrimp. Both were very delicious and we took the leftovers from the Bistro Rialto back home with us.
We stopped at the San Luis Valley Brewing Company a couple of times and enjoyed their Alamosa Amber as well as their Valle Caliente, which is a lager soaked on Hatch Chile. The lager had a little heat to it, but overall the taste was very smooth. We did, of course, visit a very popular Mexican restaurant that actually served an all-day buffet. We don’t eat enough to take advantage of an all-you-can-eat buffet, so we ordered a pork burrito, but the food on the buffet was fresh and very popular. It was our last meal before leaving Alamosa and in some ways we wish we would have found Calvillo’s sooner.
One thing that we enjoy about visiting smaller towns are the locally owned restaurants that use fresh food grown in the area. There are always a few chain restaurants, but we avoid those whenever possible. Having the opportunity to taste locally brewed beer that represents the tastes of the area is a definite benefit and almost expected in Colorado these days.
One of the dishes that we truly enjoyed while we were staying in Europe was Moussaka. Although we went to Athens, Greece, it was in Frankfurt that we ended up trying Moussaka for the first time. Most of the staff at our favorite restaurant were actually Greek and although it was a French Bistro, they sometimes put something Greek as their special of the day. We are not typically big fans of eggplant, but this is one recipe that makes us forget that it is even in there. We are attempting to recreate some of our favorite meals from our time in Europe and this is one of our first attempts. We modified a recipe that we found on the internet and the biggest difference is that it didn’t put sauce on top of the moussaka. It may not be quite as good as what the Greek chef at the restaurant made, but it was really delicious. Because it is just the two of us, this is a smaller recipe, but you can easily increase the amounts to make a larger batch.
2/3 lb Ground Lamb
1 Large Eggplant
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/3 Medium Red Onion – chopped
2/3 Clove of Fresh Garlic – minced
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1/8 Lemon – sliced into thin rings
1 Small Handful of Fresh Parsley – chopped
1/8 tsp Ground Cinnamon
2 tbsp Tomato Paste
8 oz Crushed Tomatoes
3 oz Feta Cheese Crumbles
1/3 cup Fresh Parmesan – grated
1/3 cup Bread Crumbs
Salt and Pepper
Cut the stem off of the eggplant and peel the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the eggplant lengthwise into 1/2 inch slices (You should have 6 slices). Salt and pepper both sides of the eggplant slices. Heat about 2 ounces of olive oil in a large skillet and heat to medium-high heat. Cook the eggplant slices in the skillet until golden brown, about 3 – 4 minutes per side. You will likely need to do this in a couple of batches as you don’t want to crowd the slices in the pan or they won’t fry properly. Remove the slices from the skillet and let them rest on a paper towel to drain. Add some more oil to the pan and add the onion, lemon, garlic, oregano and parsley. Cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Add the ground lamb, making sure to break the meat up, and season with salt and pepper. Add the cinnamon, tomato paste, and crushed tomatoes and continue to cook until the lamb is brown and the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
Pre-heat an oven to 350 degrees. Select a casserole dish that is about the size of two of the eggplant slices laying side by side. Spray the bottom of the small casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and layer two of the eggplant slices on the bottom, trying to cover as much of the bottom of the dish as possible, but ensuring that there are no gaps between the eggplant slices. Add half of the meat mixture, then half of the feta cheese, and finally half of the parmesan cheese. Layer two more eggplant slices and repeat layering the meat and cheese. Place the final two slices on top and sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes and the bread crumbs have turned golden brown.