Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lasagna - The Decadent Housewife Way

My first encounter with real Italian food was a Spinach Lasagna in Quebec City during Winter Carnival back in 1970 something. At the sight of green noodles my astonished friend and I nearly sent it back. What did we know about noodles. We'd grown up on nasty canned spaghetti. But the teacher in charge of this school trip assured us it was safe to eat. And eat we did. Aside from the cold, all I remember from that outing was that lasagna, a Boeuf Bourguignon, some crispy potato wedges and a cute French Canadian boy who didn't seem to notice the cold at all.

My second encounter was the remarkable cooking of a post-college roommate. She did Gnocchi and Tiramisu long before anyone made it trendy. With a few simple ingredients, Rosanna produced winner after winner every single time. On occasion she would make lasagna. I remember thinking, "What an awful lot of work fussing with that pasta and making that scratch sauce and assembling it all."

Until one day, it occurred to me that the only thing pasta needed to prepare it for eating was water and heat. So what's keeping me from skipping boiling the pasta, go directly to the casserole dish and add some water? Nothing. I tried it and it works. Many years later "oven-ready lasagna noodles" appeared on grocery shelves. I tried them. THEY WERE AWFUL. I went back to the way I'd been doing it all along.
Purchase regular lasagna noodles. Even Rosanna did this, but said her mother would frown on it. Do not pre-cook them, but just place them directly into the casserole dish and add water when the dish is completely assembled. A few times I've run out of lasagna noodles and substituted handfuls of spaghetti noodles laid down to about the same thickness as the lasagna. That works too, hungry men don't notice and candlelight works wonders.

The second thing I do is divide the process into two days work and simplify the sauce-making. When we have spaghetti, I make a large batch of sauce, earmarking the excess for lasagna. Later that week I extend the sauce for making lasagna by adding another two cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce or diced tomatoes. I usually have enough for two 9 x 13 pans...one to eat right away and one to freeze. Sometimes when there's nothing else to do, I'll make a huge amount of sauce producing six or more lasagnas and freeze all but one for supper. This comes in handy over the holiday season when wolves and their accomplices are prowling my kitchen more than usual.

Purists, no doubt, would gasp. But let it be known that the leftovers of this particular lasagna brown bagged it off to work with GG. He called me from work to say his boss, (I can't remember his name, but it sounded as beautiful as Luciano Pavarotti), walked into the office and announced, "There's lasagna in here. Somebody has lasagna." GG shrugged, opened his tote, pulled out the little plastic lunch bag tucked inside another plastic bag, peeked into the heavy lunch container and replied, "You're right. I have lasagna." Now I don't think GG shared his lunch with his boss, but at least Decadent's Lasagna smells authentic.

Sauce: Enough for two 9 x 13 pans.
I started with this:
  • 2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 4 -680 ml. (24 oz.) cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • several crushed and minced garlic cloves
Saute the onions and garlic with a bit of oil. Add the beef and brown. Add the commercial spaghetti sauce.
From this, six people had a fine spaghetti supper. I had about 2-3 liters of leftover sauce.
The next day I did this:
Add another:
  • 2 -680 ml. (24 oz.) cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce
The Rest of the Ingredients for Lasagna
  • 1 - 500 gram container cottage cheese
  • 2 - 520 gram bars of mozzarella (it won't necessarily get all used up)
  • parmesan, as much as you like :)
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups chopped frozen spinach
  • 2 eggs
  • lasagna noodles, the casseroles pictured here used 3 layers, can use 4
  • 1 cup water
Ladle 2 - 3 ladles of sauce into the bottom of two 9 x 13 casserole pans.
This is how I assembled the casserole.
  1. Meat sauce.
  2. Noodles.
  3. Meat Sauce. Mozzarella. Cottage Cheese and Egg with Spinach.
  4. Noodles.
  5. Meat Sauce. Mozzarella, Cottage Cheese and Egg with Spinach
  6. Noodles
  7. Meat Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmesan.
Sometimes, I use a deeper casserole dish and will use a 4th layer of noodles. I freeze in foil 9 x 13's, pop the frozen unbaked lasagna out of the foil pan into a glass casserole, let it defrost somewhat and bake as usual.

Break up the spinach.
Beat the two eggs.
Mix the cottage cheese into the beaten eggs.
Mix in the spinach. This made 3 1/2 cups.
Evenly divide and spread the spinach mix over the first and second layers of noodles.
More sauce.
Shred mozzarella directly onto the lasagna.
More noodles. See. These noodles are not green. They're not made with spinach.
More sauce.
Here Decadent is crumbling previously frozen mozzarella directly onto the lasagna. Cheese when frozen crumbles. Freeze cheese when it goes on sale. No one will ever know the difference when it's cooked.
Here I am shaking parmesan onto the lasagna.
All assembled, now pour 1/2 cup of water into each of the casseroles. If adding an extra layer of noodles, add just a tad more water...but not much.
Ready to go...cover it tightly with foil.
Bake in preheated oven 350 F x 1 hour. Remove the foil covering for the final 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the casserole rest about 10 minutes before cutting into it.


Confusifying Linguification said...

This is almost my exact recipe! The main difference is that instead of cottage cheese and egg, I use ricotta cheese. Also, when cooking the meat (I like ground chicken - less grease), I throw in a little red wine, and am quite liberal with the rosemary.

Next time I make it, I'll be sure to blog it too!

Jamie said...

Thank you! Made this tonight and all enjoyed.