April 26, 2008

April Showers

So I've been a bad blogger, I realize that. But sometimes life gets in the way of peaceful moments to myself when I can sit and type and revel in foody things. I haven't been completely off my game, it's not like I've stopped cooking. I've made a few nice lasagnas - hubby's fav food and all, and I have a minute to sit and reflect on the art of making lasagna. I used to think that it was an involved process, but really, they're quite simple to throw together. I've picked up a few tricks along the way that I'll share.

First, the noodles. You have slight variations in noodle shape, but nothing drastic. Pick your favorite dried pasta. I've been using whole wheat pasta noodles because I try to watch my fiber intake and keep it at a good level- which can be easier said then done, but I don't find it effects the lasagna negatively. I don't pre-cook my noodles. Now don't get me wrong, I used to, but honestly, now I can't be bothered. It comes out just as nice without the pre-cooking. The trick is to thin down your sauce a bit with extra water, and then let the lasagna set after cooking, and you're good to go.

I like to use italian sausage as my meat of choice. I'm just not a big fan of ground beef, but I do love meatballs. Go figure.

I like to use spinach mixed with caramelized onions and eggplant cooked in olive oil and garlic as nice vegetable additions. I don't even get murmuring from the kids on this- probably because they don't know it's in there. haha

I use ricotta cheese, and if that's not possible I use homemade chenna cheese made from a gallon of milk and a few tablespoons of cider vinegar. It's super easy to make and makes a delicious alternative to ricotta. Please don't even think cottage cheese. No kidding, I once ate a lasagna that was made with cottage cheese and pimento spread (ten points if you know what that is). No, I am not making this up! However, if we're sticking to a sort of traditional version, you'd be better off with the ricotta or chenna.

Sometimes, I like to mix the ricotta with a little salt, beaten egg, parsley, things like that. Sometimes just a little salt. Sometimes a bit of garlic. Sometimes some parmesan or grana padano or chevre.

Ok, the assembly. Put in a generous amount of your watered-down sauce on the bottom of your pan. Put in the dry noodles, don't worry if they don't meet the whole way, they will expand so it's ok to allow for that.

Next is the meat layer. The meat is usually the heaviest component and if you put it up top it will press on your other stuff and squish it out. Now you can leave it just a meat layer, or put some veggies on top of the meat, or some cheese if you want a 2 cheese layer, a little more sauce, it's up to you.

Next, another layer of noodle. Put your ricotta, then sauce.

Top noodle, sauce and then shredded mozzarella.

Cover with foil and bake at 350* for about an hour. Try and tent the foil or it will stick to the cheese and that's a sad thing. After baking, let it set, I'd say at least an hour. The longer you let it set the better, as it will firm up considerably and not be all oozy when you cut into it. I've even made a lasagna a day in advance, reheated it before serving the following day and it was perfect. But whatever you decide, leave enough time for it to set-up properly or you won't be happy with the results.