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music and lasagne, food for the soul

GM and I played hooky from dance practice tonight. We went to a concert of medieval music at Stanford, staring[info]falzalot. It was really very pretty. Italian madrigals are quite different from English madrigals. Uh-oh, I might have learned something.
Got home and found a frantic message from Mumsey, pleading for the Queen of Lasagne to call her and give help. My evil plot to rid the world of bad stoffer's lasgne is coming to fruition, she volunteered to make lasagne for her church group when one of the other ladies threatened her with store-bought.  Heh.


This process resulted in three 9x11 pans of lasagna.
The critical path for a really good lasagna is good sauce. Good sauce will take 3-4 hours of simmering time when you start with jars of pre-made sauce, 6-8 hours if you start with tomatoes. I’m lazy enough to use the shorter method. Nothing in this list is absolutly required, feel free to adjust to your taste.

In a heavy pot over low heat, place ingredients for sauce:
1 cup red wine – Charles Shaw Cabernet Sauvignon
2 heaping tablespoons crushed garlic
1 6oz can tomato paste, buy the low-salt kind if possible
1/4 c balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar if you prefer)
4 26oz jars of red pasta sauce – Classico Sweet Basil and Tomato*
1 28oz can of whole tomatoes, chopped (or chopped canned tomatoes)
1/8 cup dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon dried oregano
fresh herbs to taste (rosemary, sage, oregano, basil, fennel) chopped fine
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small pinch of ground cloves
*Use whatever base sauce you like best. If you don’t normally buy sauce in a jar, read the list of ingredients to make sure there’s nothing weird in it.
If your pot is too small for everything, add the last jar of red pasta sauce when the sauce has had some time to reduce.
In the 3-4 hours of intermittent stirring, you have time to prep the layering ingredients.

Ingredients for layering (by no means an exhaustive list):
2-3 boxes of Barilla no-boil noodles
2 10oz bottles of Classico Pesto (or whatever pesto you like)
2 white onions
2 large shallots
3 zucchini
2 lbs whole milk ricotta (a big container of Precious Ricotta)
3 large portabella mushrooms
1-3 head(s) garlic
2 lbs mild Italian sausage
4-8 oz sliced salami (pepperoni might be good here, try to get the low-salt stuff)
8 ounces of fresh basil
4 lbs cheese (mozzarella, provolone, gruyere, emmentaler, smoked cheeses)
Garlic stuffed green olives, or sundried tomato stuffed garlic
Black olives

You’re going to need a lot of bowls. If you have a willing kitchen helper to chop things, this part is much pleasanter.
Peel and dice the onions and shallots. Dice into slightly smaller than bite-sized pieces. You can sauté them to reduce the amount of water they hold. This will help prevent the lasagna from being too watery later. The onions will lose some of their crunchy texture. If you want to sauté them, use some of the basil-flavored oil from the tops of the pesto jars, or tomato flavored oil from the sundried tomato jars. Drain the onions carefully and place in a clean bowl. Or just use raw onions, if you prefer.
Wash the zucchini. Slice the zucchini into thin rounds, each should be the thickness of two quarters ($.25) held together. Place them in a clean bowl.
Wash and chop the portabella mushrooms. The mushrooms are a difficulty. They cook down, so if you chop them into small lumps, they will become a layer of undifferentiated mushroom. But if you leave them in large lumps, the surface of the lasagna may become lumpy and unattractive. Place them in a clean bowl.
Peel the papery skin from the garlic cloves. Slice each clove into paper-thin slices. Place them in a clean bowl.
Wash the basil, and drain it. If you own a salad-spinner, use it. Remove all the stems and flowers from the fresh basil.
If you have decided to include olives, remove any pits and slice very thin. Thicker than the paper-thin garlic, but thinner than the zucchini.
Break the mild Italian sausage into small pieces and fry. I prefer to use 1/2 mild and 1/2 medium-hot sausage. When fully cooled, drain carefully and place them in a clean bowl. Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel.
Chop the sliced salami into quarters or sixths. Warm in the pan you used for sausage. You just want to remove some of the fat, not cook them crispy.
Grate the cheese, preferably using an appliance. Four pounds of cheese will result in about 10 cups of shredded cheese, so place it in a really big clean bowl.

Other ingredients that could be used in lasagna:
Artichoke hearts – buy the frozen ones from Trader Joe’s, defrost and chop into quarters.
Spinach – if using frozen, defrost and squeeze in a clean kitchen towel to remove as much water as possible. If using fresh wash very carefully and chop. Add to the mushroom or meat layer.
Bacon – cook bacon crispy and crumble into bits. Add to the meat layer.
Real Noodles – if you decide to use pasta that needs boiling, drop a bullion cube in the water instead using plain salt.
Sun-dried tomatoes – buy the jars of julienne sliced tomatoes in olive oil from Trader Joe’s. Drain them well, and chop into bite sized pieces.
Other Mushrooms – you can use almost any kind you want but those closely associated with Asian cooking might put an odd note in the lasagna.
Capers, hot pickled garlic, olive tapenade, look in your refrigerator and see what you have.
Building the lasagna
Set all the 9x11 pans you want to fill on a clean countertop and (if you’ve got room) place the bowls with ingredients behind them. I like to put a sticky note on the cupboards over each pan, if any lasagna has a particular destiny. This reminds me to not add olives to a lasagna for my mom, or mushrooms to a lasagna to be taken to dance practice.
Using a 2 cup measuring cup or a big coffee cup, put a big splotch of sauce on the bottom of each pan. Use a knife or a spatula to smooth the sauce so it covers the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of noodles over the sauce, you can break noodles to fill the edges if you wish.
Open the ricotta cheese and distribute among the pans. Spread the ricotta like frosting evenly over the noodles.
Place the zucchini rounds on the ricotta in a single, non-overlapping layer.
Sprinkle gently with garlic chips.
Add a layer of onions, using a knife or a spatula to smooth them into an even layer.
Sprinkle with a handful of grated cheese.
Add another cup of sauce.
Place the second layer of noodles.
Add the cooked and drained meat.
Sprinkle gently with garlic chips.
Add some sliced or chopped olives.
Open the jars of pesto and drain off the layer of olive oil at the top. Using a fork, lift chunks of pesto out of the jar and distribute among the pans. Spread the pesto into an even layer.
Sprinkle with a handful of cheese
Place the third layer of noodles
Place a layer of chopped mushrooms.
Find a really big basil leaf, and put a bunch of smaller leaves in it. Roll it up like a burrito (hee! I wrote this for my mother, roll it up like a joint!) and cut it (with kitchen scissors) into really thin slices, directly into the pans
Add other veggies as desired.
Here, you can add a fourth layer of noodles if you still have vertical space in your pan.
Depending on what you want your lasagna to look like either add all the remaining cheese and then all the remaining sauce, or add all the sauce and put the cheese on top.

Ingredients for Garnishing:
4-5 ripe tomatoes in pleasing colors, sliced into thin rounds
1 8oz bin of Ciliegine mozzarella balls, cut into slices
1/4-1/2 lb parmesan cheese
Thinly sliced olives
More cheese!
Toasted pine nuts (especially if you used pesto with pine nuts)

To eat right away, bake at 350F for 45 minutes or until the cheese on top is toasted to your liking. 

To freeze and keep for later: Cover the lasagna with plastic wrap, but before you seal up the edges, press the lasagna gently down into the pan. Seal the edges. Put a note on top of the plastic wrap, reminding yourself what ingredients you used (I have friends with allergies, so I make a list of allergy-inducing ingredients every time) or the date of creation. Cover tightly with tin foil and place in the ‘fridge if you intend to eat it in a short while, or on a level place in the freezer if you intend to keep it in storage longer.

To make a vegetarian lasagna, leave out the meat ingredients and use all the optional vegetables ingredients. More cheese and mushrooms will help too.



( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 4th, 2008 07:25 am (UTC)
Sigh. I eagerly clicked on the link, as my sweetie, clovis_t, loves lasagna, and I'm rather fond of it myself. Alas, there are two ingredients in this world which I am convinced are poison and should never be put near food. One of them is wine, the other vinegar. Your lasagne uses both! Oh well, good for me to know, if you ever offer me lasagne, I must politely decline and leave more for the rest of the world.
Dec. 4th, 2008 03:30 pm (UTC)
To make your own, nothing in my list is actually _required_. If anything, leaving out the wine and vinegar reduces the reduction time :)
Dec. 4th, 2008 06:04 pm (UTC)
Do you freeze it before any cooking? If so, what is the cooking time when removed?
Dec. 4th, 2008 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yes, although all the ingredients are cooked. If possible, defrost in the refrigerator (apx 24 hours) before baking. If you must bake a lasagne from a frozen state, you will need to cover with tin foil and bake for about 2 hours. Then uncover and bake for a further 30 minutes. Check the temp with an insta-read thermometer to ensure it is hot in the middle before serving.
Dec. 4th, 2008 06:55 pm (UTC)
Mmmm, sounds very tasty. The only comment I'd offer is that it helps to drain the ricotta overnight first (trick I learned from Lidia's cookbook).
Dec. 4th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
Drain it in cheese cloth? I've never tried that, but will on the next batch.
Dec. 12th, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Marinara, the really non-cheater version. I’m not going to use a lot of measurements because everything is seasonably variable and just because I’ll use two heads of garlic does not mean everyone should.

In the morning, go out and pick as many really ripe tomatoes as you can from the garden. If you care, you can skin them by parboiling for a few seconds and rubbing off the skins. This will improve the result, but if you don't have time you will still have edible sauce at the end of the day. Chop into smaller than thumb sized pieces and remove as many of the seeds as you can. Place all tomatoes in a big pot with at least two cups of liquid, preferably 1 3/4 cups of red wine and 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar. Set the tomatoes to simmer. Stir occasionally for the rest of the day or until the sauce reaches a consistency you like. In a small pan sauté onions and garlic in good olive oil. You can chop or mash the garlic however you like, I’m not religious on that topic. When done sautéing, add the garlic and onions to the tomatoes and stir. Give the sauce a good stir, check the flame under it and go out to the garden again to gather herbs. You will need (as much as you like of each) Basil, Thyme, Oregano, More Basil, Parsley (flat or curly is fine but not cilantro!), Rosemary, Sage (just a little), Fennel (if you like that sort of thing), more Basil and perhaps just a teeny pinch more of basil. Wash the herbs and chop them fine. Add to the pot. From the cupboard you can add dried garlic (yes, both fresh and dried; it provides a roundness of flavor I like), black pepper, a very, very tiny pinch of cloves and whatever dried herbs you didn’t have in the garden. You can also add sun dried tomatoes for a richer tomato flavor. Stir and watch, stir and watch. Chop the veggies. I use more onions, zucchini and whatever sounds interesting. My mother used celery, but GM regards celery as anathema so I can’t. His mother added corn to marinara, which I regard as anathema, so we don’t use that either. Apparently some people, sad lonely people, add roasted peppers or raw bell peppers to their marinara. I don’t know why, it’s not like bell peppers are even a food. I like to add chopped mushrooms, mostly porcini. I tried shitake mushrooms once, but GM thought the result was not “Italian” enough. Whatever. Taste. If it needs salt (and it will, if you have not used any canned ingredients) you can either add grated parmesan or table salt. I like Parmesan better. One of my friends will run the sauce through a blender at this point, but I hate that. If I have to eat veggies, I at least want to know what’s there. Taste, add more wine or vinegar as needed and wait until it is the right consistency.
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )