Thursday, November 04, 2010

Fall food frenzy: lasagna!

Cold weather has come to the Pacific Northwest, which means it's time to pull on the fleece, heat a mug of hot chocolate, and shovel in some comfort food. Ha! Who am I kidding. I do all of those things whether it's November or June.

Still, it's definitely lasagna time and I have a recipe that I've been using for several years now that is just plain old good and filling on a cold day. I've been refining it since first finding it on the side of a pasta box in the supermarket. It looked pretty do-able, yet  tasty, save for the opening instruction: brown your beef in butter. I checked the other sides of the box, but there was no coupon for half-off a heart bypass or buy one defibrillation, get a second one free or anything.

So my first modification was swapping one of the two pounds of ground beef (!) for ground turkey. I switched the second for ground italian sausage, which, while not much heart healthier, is at least more flavorful to me.

The rest of the recipe is pretty standard and definitely not for the lactose-intolerant: 32 ounces of ricotta and four to five cups of shredded cheese. I usually opt for a mix of italian cheeses, but occasionally throw in some gruyere or Dubliner. Wanting to get a few more veggies in the mix, I mix two boxes of frozen, shredded, cooked, seasoned spinach in with the ricotta and sometimes add or substitute one half to a pound of sliced, sauteed brown mushrooms for the sausage.
The latest and most time-saving change I discovered just in the last year: what scientific and industrial food production genius came up with no-boil lasagna noodles? And where have these been all my life?! I. Love. This. Product. Yeah, I'm talking about you Barilla.
Smattering of sauce on the bottom of pan, topped with 1st noodle

These things cut the number of pots and pans I use for this dish to two and my prep time to next to nothing. No guess-timating how many noodles to include or cooking too many or not enough. No timing the noodles so they're done when the fillings are but not done so early that they start to dry out. You just place them in your lasagna pan, layer with sauce and filling and bake as usual. 45 minutes to an hour later, cheesy, meaty, fall food goodness. Here's how I put it together.

 That's a the pot of sauteed turkey, sausage, mushroom, onion, garlic and tomatoes, next my 9" x 13" lasagna pan. When I was a reporter, I was lamenting to my foodie photog (also a former priest, but that's a whole other story) that I needed to find a bigger lasagna pan because it boiled over every time I made it. A few months later when I bought my first house, he brought me this as a housewarming gift. How thoughtful was that?! It's been about 10 years (!) and I think of him everytime I make this.
The layers go: noodles, sauce, ricotta mixture, cheese, repeat twice. This is the first layer of the ricotta, eggs and spinach mixture.
 The first two or so cups of cheese...

 Lather, rinse, repeat...

 Bake at 325 for 45 minutes to an hour...

And you get a deep dish, cheesy, meaty, veggie lasagna that the whole family loves and that makes your husband say, "Oh... Oh yeah. That is good." At least mine does. Serve with a green salad and slices of toasted, buttered peasant bread of choice. Got a go-to comfort food dish that you've refined over the years? Hit me up. I'd love to hear.

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