Friday, November 26, 2010

When the moon hits your're dead

Well, that was a downer. But Fabulous Todd wants lasagne, and apparently the white vegetarian version I've already offered is not manly enough for him. So I'm going to share my secret lasagne recipe that was given to me years ago, and which I've made so many times you'd think I wouldn't have to look at the card to see which layer's go in what order. NOT. It's a nice basic recipe, with no pretension and would probably make Mary Ann Esposito turn her "authentic Italian (really? Her name is ESPOSITO...) skyward...but do I care? No I do not. If you have met me you already know that I am as about as far from pretentious as a meadow of lavender scent is from an outhouse. Unless of course it's situated in the middle of a field of lavender.

I've dabbled in some non-professional (i.e. cleared about 27 cents an hour for my time) catering in my time, and have made this in big foil turkey roasting more times that I can count. They freeze up nicely, cooked or not, and making them ahead can save you a lot of time for the last minute things when you cater an event. Like buying a ton of parsley to garnish trays of food that you end up not using so cram down the customer's aunt's fancy Lake Oswego home's garbage disposal during clean up which you find out later required the services of a plumber to un-cram after parsley started showing up in all water bearing devices and faucets in the house. I don't use parsley anymore.

My daughter was in a play called "Quilters" in high school, and she suggested to her teacher that I might want to assist in catering dinner theater for one of the nights it ran. A simple meal of lasagne, bread and salad was a piece of cake....or should have been. I decided to enlist the aid of a family member who shall remain nameless (MOM) who, while mixing the very large vat of cheese filling announced that she was "out of salt". To which I cracked three vertebrae in my neck snapping my head around to see her holding the empty salt container as she stirred the CUPS she thought the recipe plainly marked TABLESPOONS irrevocably into it. I believe that was TEN POUNDS of cottage cheese....I used it anyway, and the consumption of water during the dinner theater was enough to put out a fully engulfed lumber mill. That was the last time I enlisted untested aid....

As I am a recipe fiddler, you can do what you like with this - use your own sauce, replace the meat with veggies, use thin sliced layers of eggplant or squash alternately with the pasta, use a mix of cottage/ricotta, or use different kinds of meat...whatever turns your crank. I just know this is good, and I will occasionally make a simple Bechemel sauce and mix it with the meat sauce - it gives it a nice orangey-pink color and a creaminess that I like sometimes. With a nice tossed salad and maybe a roasted garlic Romano bread with little dishes of olive oil w/balsamic and a touch of fresh ground black pepper this will blow anyone's socks off! So feed to teenage boys at your own memory of my male offspring's footcoverings recollects that the odor could kill a charging buffalo in mid stride.

My Lasagne

1 lb. Italian sausage (use hot if you want, I prefer to add my own heat)
1 T. olive oil
I small onion, diced
2 celery ribs, cut in half lengthwise and sliced thinly
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (it's the big can, and they are packed in sauce)
6 oz. can tomato paste
3-6 oz. cans hot water
1/2-1 can red wine
1.5 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. each thyme and basil
1/4 tsp. rosemary (powder if you got it, I hate those pine needle thingies)
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. lasagne noodles
Cheese Filling:
1 lb. cottage cheese (a pint/2 cups)
2 eggs
1/2 C. Parmesan
Pinch of salt and pepper (a PINCH, not a CUP)
Cheese layers:
1 lb. mozzarella, shredded
3/4 C. Parmesan, shredded (don't use the powder...PLEASE)

Remove casings from sausage, fry in olive oil in a stock pot or very large skillet with veggies until onion is tender. Add rest of ingredients, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer at least 30 minutes.

Start a pot of water boiling for the lasagne, or you can use the no-cook ones but you need to add more water to your sauce, or the kind that you just dip in hot water to soften...Barilla brand I believe. Don't put oil in the water - it will keep the sauce from absorbing as well into the pasta, and if you stir the snot out of it (CAREFULLY), it won't stick as long as you use a LOT Of water. When it's al dente (read the label...just under cook by about 2 minutes), strain, then dump back in the pot and fill with cold water.

For cheese filling, beat eggs with a fork, dump in rest of ingredients and blend. You can do it....but don't taste it, it will be gross with raw eggs in it.

Strain the cooled pasta and put all your ingredients around you, get a 9x13 pan or dish and spray it will stick around the edges and this helps with clean up later. Put about a cup of sauce in the bottom and spread it around, put one layer of noodles, cutting off what you need to to make them the same length as the pan and just slightly overlapping. It will take 3-4 regular noodles to do that. Use whole ones - if a lot broke/tore, save those for the middle layers - the top and bottom need to be whole. Layer with 1/3 of the cottage cheese, drop by spoonfuls and spread around evenly, 1/4 of the remaining sauce (eyeball it), and sprinkle with a 1/4 of each mozzarella and Parmesan.

The put on another layer of noodles (you should lightly press each layer of noodles to even it out and so it won't go above the top of the pan), cheese filling, grated cheeses;

Then another;

Then the last layer of whole noodles, remaining sauce and grated cheeses on top (that is why you use 1/3 of the filling, it doesn't go on the top one). Sprinkle with a little parsley (dried, not the fresh disposal killer) for the colors of the Italian flag, and bake at 375 covered for 30 minutes (spray the inside of the foil cover!), then uncover and bake another 15. Let rest for 20-30 minutes so it can solidify AND not melt your face off. This should make 12 servings, which in our house translates to 6 because no one can eat just one. But we are not normal, just large.

So there you go Todd - and if you quit your job, start your own catering biz and start making a lot more than 27 cents an hour using my recipe, I will hunt you down....Ciao Italia!

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