Sunday, December 4, 2011

Food: Lasagna my way

It's lasagna night, oh yes.  Before I go into the intricacies of how I make my (totally inauthentic yet delicious) version of lasagna, I must establish my paradigm from which I'm cooking:

  • I'm Irish-German but grew up in a village that has a large Italian population, so Italian food is no stranger to me.
  • I don't cook my lasagna noodles, ever.
  • My dad was famous for his lasagna, even before we moved to said Italian-American village.
  • I'm a fussy eater who refuses to eat mushrooms in any form, so if you want mushrooms in your lasagna, be prepared to be disappointed.  Also be ready for not many bell peppers in this recipe.
  • I have not had much "authentic" lasagna because the one time I had it in one of those hole-in-the-wall restaurants that has a cute little old Italian lady making the secret-recipe red sauce, I was disappointed.
  • I like a lot of sauce and cheese.  My lasagna weighs at least 10 pounds.
So with those in mind, I bid thee to keep reading my process.

First, we need sauce, and a veritable ton of it.  To begin, brown your ground beef in a LARGE pot:

And add about this much chopped onion:
When the beef begins to look like this:

See?  The beef is crumbly, but not brown all the way yet.

After that, add a bunch of garlic:
at LEAST this much.  You can pop it through a garlic press, mince it, or do like I do and SLAP-CHOP it!
Make sure all that garlicky goodness is in that pot.   Ohhhh, yes.  YUM.  Stir.

Next, add the cast of (simple) seasonings: seasoned salt, black pepper (freshly ground of course), and "green stuff" (also known as Italian seasoning).  Do it to taste.  I have no measurements for this process, but do remember that the flavors deepen slightly after you bake the lasagna.

Next, it's time for the sauce.  I always make too much sauce while creating lasagna, but this is the sauce-mix ratio that I find most pleasing (and you can always use the leftover sauce for a terrific sauce for spaghetti later):

For those of you who don't have Wegman's around you, more's the pity.  But "Grandpa's Sauce" is simply a tomato sauce with Italian Sausage, roasted red peppers, and wine.  It is oh, so good.  If you can't find Prego traditional, I'm terribly sorry and question your grocery store.

Pour it all in:

YUM.  Turn the heat off because you don't need to simmer this long, as long as you let the lasagna rest a few hours before you pop it in the oven.  If you're cooking it all at once, simmer this sauce for a good 30 minutes.

Next, it's time to assemble the ricotta cheese mixture.  This is a very simple mix of ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, and two eggs.  Mix 2 pounds of ricotta with about a cup of parmesan and the two eggs until it looks like this:

Now that you have your sauce and your cheese mixture, get out your big huge lasagna pan (mine is actually a turkey-roasting pan), your noodles, and your (8 cups of grated) mozzarella.

Assembly goes like this.
First, coat the bottom of the pan with sauce:
Add noodles:
(the reason I love this pan is because it fits 6 noodles perfectly with room to expand in the cooking process.)
And spread a third of the ricotta mixture on the noodles:

Cover that with some of the mozzarella.  Continue in this fashion:
  • generous amount of sauce (cover that cheese!)
  • noodles
  • ricotta
  • mozzarella
  • sauce
  • noodles
  • ricotta
  • sauce
  • the rest of the mozzarella
Finally, you should have a full pan and a lasagna that looks like this pre-oven:

Wow, the lighting sucks on that photo.  But that's how full it is and that's what it looks like.

According to a chef my mother-in-law knows, this whole she-bang is supposed to rest in the fridge overnight. I don't necessarily rest it overnight, but I do let it sit for several hours.  This saves me sauce-simmering and lets me cook the lasagna in advance of the dinner party I'm having, so I can greet my guests with a glass of wine and the lasagna happily in the oven.

Now, for baking.  I do it at about 300 degrees F, for at least 90 minutes.  Keep it covered with foil for at least the first hour, and then take off that foil to allow the top layer o' cheese to brown up a bit.  And remember!  Let it sit for about 5 minutes OUT OF THE OVEN before you serve, otherwise your poor lasagna will run all over the place!

Ohhhh, yes.

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