Post # 555 Luscious Lasagna!

December 31, 2017 at 4:41 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

We had guests over yesterday, close friends of Partner/Spouse who we haven’t seen for several years.  They couldn’t stay long sing there was an impending snow storm and there were other people for them to see, but they were staying for a late lunch/early dinner.  I wanted to make something that would be impressive but easy and enticing.  Can you guess from the ingredients?

Yup!  Lasagna!  And since I’ve promised a couple of times but couldn’t find an actual post about it, I decided to take you through the steps on my way to a finished and delectable product.

Lasagna is an Italian casserole dish involving sauce, long flat noodles, and a ton of cheese.  It’s made in layers and the layers can be filled with as many different things as there are cooks.  The sauce can be from a jar, the noodles can be from a vegetable, the cheese can be from something other than dairy.  I’ve always made lasagna in a two day process, but I’ve watched television chefs make it in two step process.  I decided I wanted to make it the way I’ve always done, and since our guests were coming on Saturday, I started the sauce on Friday.

I put a large can of chopped tomatoes in the crockpot with an equally large can of tomato sauce and two small cans of tomato paste.  I added two tablespoons of mixed Italian seasonings with an extra teaspoon of oregano.  Then I crushed a lot of fresh garlic and added it with some powdered onion and some salt,  I also added a half teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes.  You have to be careful with those since their heat can vary from bottle to bottle and brand to brand.  But I felt safe with these since I’ve used them in the past.  At the end, I added a teaspoon of cinnamon.  All this filled my little crockpot nearly to the top, so I flipped it to high and let it cook for several hours.  I stirred it several times to blend the flavors and make sure all the tomatoes were blended together and thickened.  Just before bedtime, I turned it off.  That was day one.

When I make this lasagna, there’s no doing a small portion.  I’ve used such a large pan and some much stuff that it’s weighed in at upwards of twenty pounds.  I even once sold a full pan for $40 to a coworker.  He felt he got his money’s worth.  So the next morning, I knew how I was going to fill it and cook it.  Usually I plan on three layers of different fillings.  I’ve filled them with fresh spinach, mushrooms, ricotta cheese, eggplant, onions, various meats and veggies, whatever I have on hand.  This one, I filled with ground sausage on the bottom, sliced mushroom in the middle, and ground beef on the top.

I didn’t want to get behind the curve on this and feel rushed at the end, so I started early by cooking the sausage, then the hamburger.  The sauce was cold and beautifully thick.  And it tasted GREAT!  I did the sausage first so I could use some of it to make sausage omelets.  Then I did the ground beef so I could use part of that for the dogs’ breakfast.  Then I set up bowls to fill with cheese, a big bowl filled with mozzarella, and a smaller bowl filled with roughly grated parmesan.  That’s what you’re seeing in the pics above.

After breakfast, and Partner/Spouse leaving to take care of a couple of errands, I got down to assembling the dish.  Like any pasta, lasagna noodles need to be cooked before you use them.  Except, somewhere along the last fifteen years or so some enterprising person designed an “oven ready” lasagna noodle.  I’ve never used them before but there they were.  I step saved.

Always start assembling with a thin layer of sauce to keep the noodles from sticking to the bottom.  A slight squirt of non-stick vegetable spray helps, too.  Lay down noodles to cover the sauce with another thin layer of sauce of the top of the noodles.  I put down a layer of crumbled cooked sausage for my first layer, then added two good handfuls of mozzarella cheese spread evenly over all of it with a sprinkle of parmesan over that.  Put another layer of noodles on top of the cheese and spread sauce over the top.  I put down a layer of sliced mushrooms, cheese, and then more noodles.  I finished by putting sauce of the noodles, laying down a good layer of hamburger, and put the rest of the mozzarella on top.  A goodly sprinkle of parmesan finished it off.  I was worried that I’d overfilled my pan, so I decided to cook it on a baking sheet to protect the oven.

There’s several ways you can go about cooking any cheese dish.  The goal is the nice brown and crusty top.  The best way to go about this is to cover the pan with foil and cook at 350-375 for about an hour.  Then take the foil off, raise the temp to 425 and cook for about 20-30 minutes, checking at the 20-, 25-, and 30-minute mark for the best looking browning.

I goofed and left it in about ten minutes too long, so mine looks burned even though it isn’t.

Also, another thing I should have thought through but didn’t is the oven-baked noodles.  Pasta of any kind needs moisture to cook, so the noodles sucked up all the moisture from the sauce and the melted cheeses.  When I served it, it was still warm, the cheese was gooey and stringy, but the lasagna as a whole was bone dry.  It tasted good, but either I should have made the sauce wetter, or I should have used more of it.

And the thing felt like it weighed 20 pounds.

Today, we’re having soup.

 

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2 Comments »

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  1. I haven’t tried the oven ready noodles either and I think I’ll stick to doing it the old fashioned way. Thanks for sharing your experience, Joe.

  2. I’ve not used the special “oven ready” noodles, but just used the regular sort, and added 1/2 cup of water to the sauce before beginning the layering. It depends upon what fillings as to how much water too. Drier fillings that are meat heavy will require more water than the veggie sort. Which four children in 6 years speed in making dinner was always important!


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