Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Lasagna: You Can't Make Just a Little

I like lasagna to hold its shape 
    I never ate lasagna until I was in college. Then I had some on a date and was hooked for life. It took me years before I could ever make any that was even half as good as what I had back in 1962, but after much trial and error I succeeded.

    Made from scratch, lasagna really can trash a kitchen. First of all, it has numerous ingredients, steps, and containers. Second, everything seems to dribble or spatter, but perhaps that's just me. I sometimes make the sauce one day and the rest the next day, but other times I just spend half a day and do everything sequentially.

    I have tried many variations for the sake of health and I have found some that work and a few that don't. Substituting turkey for beef or pork makes little difference, at least to me. Using low-fat ricotta is a recipe for trouble, as is substituting cottage cheese for the ricotta.

   Because lasagna has so many ingredients, you cannot make a small amount. So I often go whole hog and make a double batch. That way, I only need to make it once or twice a year. It freezes beautifully and is one of the few foods not ruined by microwaving when you want to reheat it.

    There are many different recipes for lasagna, but here's the one I use. First, I make a rich tomato sauce. I like mine with meat. I used to make it with ground beef and Italian sausage; nowadays I use ground turkey and poultry-based Italian sausage or turkey plus pork sausage.

Using a large frypan, saute in olive oil until soft:
  • 1 - 2 large onions, chopped fine
  • 1 or 2 green peppers, chopped fine
  •  mushrooms if you like
  • 4 big cloves garlic, diced

 Once cooked, throw the veggies into a large pot. Then, in the same frypan, cook the ground turkey and the sausage. If you're using turkey sausage, chop it; it pork sausage, remove it from its casing and crumble.  Once cooked, add these to the vegetables in the large pot. Then put in:
  • 2 large cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can tomato paste
  • 1 or 2 large jar marinara sauce
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 1 bunch parsley chopped

Cook approx. 1-2 hours. Add salt to taste at end.  Can make this a day ahead. When the sauce is done, start boiling water for lasagna in a tall pot. Add TBSP salt. Drop in lasagna a few pieces at a time until box is empty. Cook until done (read package--usually 9-10 minutes. OK if slightly underdone) While it's cooking, mix in a large bowl:
  • 2 lbs ricotta
  • 3 beaten eggs
  • about 3/4 of a one-lb. mozzarella chunk, cubed. (Save the uncubed part for the topping.)
  • 1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan
  • 1-2 boxes chopped spinach, thawed, drained, and squeezed 

ready for assembly as soon as the noodles drain
After the lasagna noodles are cooked, drain them well. Then assemble this way:
Smear olive oil on the bottom and sides of two 11 x 17 pans. Pour about 3/4 c. tomato sauce in bottom of each pan. Add a layer of lasagna noodles to each pan.
Using about half the ricotta mixture, drop spoonfuls on top of noodles. Just make blobs, since they will melt. Neatness doesn’t count. Sprinkle all the spinach on top of cheese, and then in each pan pour about 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce over everything. Then add another layer of lasagna, rest of the ricotta mixture, and more sauce. If you have any noodles left, put those on top and then spread sauce around to cover the noodles. Shred or chop remaining mozzarella and sprinkle on top.
Bake at 350 for an hour. If serving right away, bake 15 minutes more. If making a day ahead, which is better, let it sit and cool. Then either freeze or refrigerate. I usually freeze a few single-portions as well as a larger piece. Remember that it takes hours to thaw. You can cook it frozen, but that takes a long time as well.

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