October 13, 2008

Mom's Lasagna

This is the dish I was going to make last night, but opted not to, due to time constraints. As you can see by the written recipe below, it is much more labor-intensive than last night's pizza dinner. I would never accuse this recipe of being a fast fix meal idea. There are a lot of little steps to this recipe that get fairly cumbersome. I generally only make this dish about once or twice a year, because of that reason. With that being said, this is my favorite lasagna ever! Admittedly, it is kind of a pain to make, but it is worth it. A lot of this recipe relies on the cooks' ability to sense when each step is done. It would be much easier to demonstrate how each step is supposed to look while cooking, versus explaining by a written recipe process.
This is the lasagna of my childhood...a hearty, comforting, 'take-your-pants-off-and-take-a-nap-after-dinner' type of lasagna. This is truly my mom's recipe that was passed down from my grandmother, with only one minor nutritional change from me (I added the spinach to the ricotta, due to my chronic vegetable guilt).

Ahhh...lasagna. I cannot wait to eat tonight!

Mom’s Lasagna

1 box of lasagna noodles, cooked
1 Tablespoon of olive oil
2 cans of tomato paste
1 Tablespoon of oregano
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large onion, diced
2-3 cans of water (use empty tomato paste cans)
1/2 can of tomato puree
1 teaspoon of chili powder
1 ball of mozzarella, shredded
1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 container of ricotta cheese
2 tubes of Italian sausage (hot and regular)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon of Italian seasoning
1 package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed/drained of all water
1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
Cooking spray

1)Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9 x 13 glass casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside. Cook and drain noodles, rinse with cool water and then coat with a small amount of olive oil and set aside.

2)Mix ricotta, Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, onion powder, garlic powder, and spinach in a medium sized bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

3)In a large skillet make meat sauce as follows: Brown sausage over medium-high heat with diced onion, garlic, oregano, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Drain grease. Make a space in hot skillet by pushing meat aside. Add tomato paste to empty space in skillet, and let cook for approximately 2 minutes, or until tomato paste starts to brown. Add water and tomato puree. Let simmer for approximately 5 minutes, or until desired sauce consistency is achieved. Set aside meat sauce.

4)Start layering, by adding tomato sauce (just use liquid tomato sauce without meat; separate sauce and meat with a spoon) into bottom of casserole dish, into a thin, even layer.

5)Add cooked noodles over the sauce in bottom of dish, approximately 3-4 whole noodles (covering bottom).

6)Spoon 1/2 spinach ricotta layer over noodles, and spread in even layer.

7)Add ½ of the tomato meat sauce over spinach ricotta mixture, as evenly as possible.

8)Add ½ shredded mozzarella and ½ Parmesan cheeses over the meat sauce layer.

9)Add another layer of cooked noodles, covering meat sauce layer.

10) Add remaining spinach ricotta mixture over noodle layer.

11) Add most of remaining meat sauce mixture, holding small amount of plain tomato sauce (without meat, just liquid sauce) back.

12)Add 3-4 cooked noodles on top (creating a roof).

13)Add remaining sauce and cover with remaining cheese.

14)Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly.

Jen's Notes:
As I mentioned above, this is one of those recipes that you have to cook by using your senses, and not follow the recipe to the letter. All quantities are estimated, and somewhat flexible.

The Result:
This was awesome! I had some issues with ingredients, but I was able to overcome adversity. First, I did not have enough sauce items. I thought I was all stocked up, but when I went to my pantry, I found that the only sauce item I had was diced tomatoes. Ugh. Luckily, I had some improvised pizza sauce from last night left over. I combined that with the diced tomatoes, and I was able to pull off a decent (albeit not traditional) sauce. The result was still excellent. Then, I was short on ricotta so I added a couple ounces of cream cheese to the mix. Again, this was great in a pinch, and tasted pretty darn fabulous! I only used 1 tube of sausage, so the meat was a little sparse...no one seemed to notice. I ran out of mozzarella cheese, so I substituted with shredded Colby jack (talk about non-traditional). I compensated by adding a little more Parmesan that I normally would. Lastly, I did not have enough sauce for the top layer, so I just put cheese over the top layer of noodles and called it a day. Now that I think about it, this was really not like the above recipe at all. This was more of a facsimile of my Mom's Lasagna, since I did not have all the right ingredients. A Ghetto Lasagna, if you please. Ultimately, I will always favor my mom's version, but I think that this was a worthy effort.

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