Public Media for Central Pennsylvania
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A Frugal, Festive Holiday Meal That Won't Break The Bank

White bean and herb dip with crostini, by Chef Kathy Gunst. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
White bean and herb dip with crostini, by Chef Kathy Gunst. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

If you’re hosting a party this holiday season, impress your guests with a festive meal of white bean and herb dip with crostini, spinach and ricotta lasagna and Prosecco poached pears with cranberries.

This meal is totally satisfying, fully celebratory — and won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Shop carefully. Look for bargains on fresh herbs, Prosecco and cheese.

If you make everything a day ahead of time (which I advise), you’ll have nothing to do the day of your party except heat up the lasagna and prepare for lots of compliments.

Happy holidays!

White Bean and Herb Dip

Fresh rosemary, thyme and garlic infuse this quick, easy bean dip. Serve on crostini.

Serves 4 to 6.


The Bean Dip:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped or thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • One 15 ounce can white cannellini beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
  • 1 scallion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1 small lemon
  • 2 tablespoons hot water

The Crostini:

  • 10 thin slices of baguette or crusty bread
  • About 2 tablespoons olive oil


  1. To make the dip, heat the oil in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the rosemary, thyme, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat. Let steep 5 minutes.
  2. Place the beans, scallions, the herbed olive oil, the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons hot water, salt and pepper in a food processor and whirl. Season to taste.
  3. To make the crostini, heat the oil in large skillet over moderately high heat. Add bread slices and cook about 1 to 2 minutes per side until golden brown, adding more oil if needed. Drain on paper towel. Will keep in an airtight container for 24 hours.
  4. Spread the dip on the crostini.

Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna

Let me be honest: There are several steps involved in making this lasagna, but everything can be done a full 24 hours ahead of time freeing up all your time on the night of the party! So crank the music, get cozy and start cooking in the true holiday spirit.

This green and red lasagna (with a hint of freshly grated nutmeg) is festive and rich and perfect for any holiday meal. And it won’t cost you much to make! Simply bake it in the oven an hour or so before you want to eat and serve with a winter salad of mixed greens, thinly sliced raw fennel and tangerine slices.

Serves 8 to 10.


The Noodles and Tomato Sauce:

  • 1 pound box lasagna noodles, or 1 pound homemade lasagna noodles
  • 3 cups of your favorite tomato sauce

The Cheese Combo:

  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1 packed cup grated mozzarella
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • Salt and pepper

The Ricotta Béchamel Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • About 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg

The Spinach

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch grated nutmeg


  1. Cook the lasagna noodles: Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat. Add the lasagna noodles (add one width-wise and top with one in the other direction to keep them from sticking) and cook 8 minutes. Drain and place on wax paper or a Silpat sheet.
  2. Make the cheese mixture: In a bowl mix the ricotta, half the Parmesan, half the mozzarella, the thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Set the remaining cheese to the side for topping.
  3. Make the ricotta béchamel: In a medium saucepan heat the butter over moderate heat. When sizzling, whisk in the flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook, whisking, for about 3 minutes. Whisk in the ricotta and Parmesan and cook, whisking, until thickened, another 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. If not using right away, place the sauce in a bowl and place a sheet of wax paper over the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until ready to assemble the lasagna.
  4. Cook the spinach: In a large skillet, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute. Stir in the spinach and raise the heat to moderate. Cook until the spinach is softened and tender. Set aside. Cover and refrigerate if not using immediately.
  5. Assemble the lasagna: Place 1 cup of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a 9-inch by 13-inch glass, ceramic or cast iron baking dish. Add 5 lasagna noodles on top, overlapping them slightly. Spread half the cheese mixture on top. Add half the ricotta béchamel on top. Place all the spinach on top, spreading it out to cover all the noodles. Spread on another cup of the tomato sauce. Add the remaining noodles, overlapping them. Add the remaining cheese mixture and top with the remaining ricotta béchamel. With a spoon, spread the final cup of tomato sauce. Tuck any noodles that are sticking up or out of the pan inside. Season with salt pepper and sprinkle on the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and mozzarella. Cover and place in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
  6. To bake: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the lasagna pan on top of a baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake on the middle shelf for about 45 minutes, or until hot and bubbling. Let rest for about 15 minutes before cutting into squares.

Prosecco Poached Pears with Cranberries

Use a well-priced (aka cheap!) Prosecco to make this elegant dessert. The pears are poached in a bottle of Prosecco and simmered with fresh cranberries. The cranberries turn the cooking syrup a gorgeous ruby red. Serve the pears with chocolate, or your favorite holiday cookies. The pears can be made a full day ahead of time.

Serves 4.


  • 1 bottle well-priced (cheap!) Prosecco
  • 1 cup water
  • About 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want the syrup to be)
  • 4 pears, Bosc or Anjou
  • 1/2 cup cranberries (if frozen no need to thaw)


  1. Peel the pears leaving the stems attached. Working from the bottom of the pears, use a small melon scooper or sharp knife scoop out the cores. Cut a very thin slice off the bottom of the pears so they sit flat on a work surface.
  2. In a medium to large pot (large enough to hold all the pears lying on their sides), combine the Prosecco, water and sugar over high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and add the pears, side down. Partially cover and cook for 20 minutes, turning the pears from side to side every 5 minutes or so. Stir in the cranberries and continue cooking partially covered, again flipping the pears from side to side several times, or until the fruit is soft when gently prodded with a small sharp knife, about 30 to 45 minutes total cooking time.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pears (but not the cranberries) to a serving bowl or plate and tent with foil to keep them moist and warm. Bringing the poached syrup to a steady simmer over moderately high heat and cook another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the syrup becomes thicker and the cranberries are soft. Cool slightly and pour over the pears. Serve warm or chilled and drizzled with the room temperature syrup.

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit