Monday, March 16, 2009

Lasagna like Mom's

My mom made the best lasagna. I didn't think it was all that exciting at the time (I did not like tomato sauce as a kid), but as I got older and tried other lasagnas, whether homemade or in a restaurant, I came to realize that her's had something special about it and it wasn't just the love and energy that went into feeding our large family. Mom's tasted so good because she started off by making a slow simmered meat sauce. You just don't get the same flavor from a jar or from making a quick, meatless marinara (sure, they have their time and place but lasagna isn't one of them!).

Mom's recipes don't include how much of each ingredient to put in. And rarely did she bother to write instructions other than "cook all day on the stove". It's a little frustrating when trying to make something of hers for the first time, but it also makes me laugh because now that I make up a lot of my own recipes, I'm finding it's hard for me to write down exactly how much of something I'm using, because I just toss a handful or a pinch of something into the pot and cook until it tastes good like she did. So, here, I take her original ingredient "list" for lasagna and have added real measurements, directions, as well as plenty of my own substitutions and I think I've come up with something that tastes almost like my mom really did cook it on the stove all day. The best part is that you can eat off it all week and you'll have a ton of extra meat sauce to freeze for another meal.


Serves 6 - 8

*feel free to substitute turkey or chicken for the pork sausage and ground beef. It'll taste just as good for less calories!*

1 lb lean ground beef
1 lb hot Italian pork sausage, casings removed
1 large onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 cloves minced garlic, separated
2 large cans whole tomatoes
1 large can tomato puree
1 small can tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 egg
1 large container part-skim ricotta
2 tablespoons dried parsley, or 1/4 cup fresh
6oz fresh mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cubed, 1/2 thinly sliced
1/2 -3/4 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese
9 lasagna noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
additional kosher salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Brown the ground beef and sausage until there is no more pink. Remove the meat and drain the liquid/fat over a bowl. Put about 1/4 cup of the beef and pork fat back in the pot and cook the onion and green pepper for 3-4 minutes, then add the 3 of the cloves of minced garlic and cook for another minute.

Next add the meat back in, all your tomato products (2 cans whole tomatoes, 1 can puree, 1 can paste), the bay leaves, sugar, basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, kosher salt and pepper and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours. 2 1/2 hours will give you a thicker sauce, which means a firmer lasagna. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. The whole tomatoes should have broken down. If they are still mostly whole, take a potato masher and break up a little.

While the sauce is simmering, in a large bowl, lightly beat the egg. Mix in the ricotta, last clove of minced garlic, parsley, cubed mozzarella, half the parmesan and salt and pepper to taste. (I always use fresh mozzarella and grate my own parmesan. I think pre-grated and shredded cheeses are too dry and lose a lot of their flavor. Buying it whole and cutting/shredding yourself is more work and costs a little more, but the flavor is stronger so you'll actually end up using less.)

When your sauce is almost ready to use, heat a large pot full of water to boiling. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook your noodles for about a minute less than the box directions say to. Drain and spread out on a couple of kitchen towels. Cover with a damp towel.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Pour a large ladle full of sauce in a 9 x 13 pan (9x11 is okay too, but you may need to trim your noodles to fit them), and spread out. Now layer 3 noodles, 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, 1 or 2 ladles of sauce, 3 noodles, 1/3 ricotta, sauce, 3 noodles, the last 1/3 ricotta mixture and another ladle or two of sauce. Press down after each layer of noodles. Top with the thinly sliced mozzarella, tearing with your hands if needed, and the rest of the parmesan cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes. Turn the broiler to 500, leave the oven door open slightly and brown the top of the lasagna for 3 or 4 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes (The longer it sits, the easier it will be to remove from the pan). Serve with some crusty bread and a salad.
All text and photographs © 2008, 2009 Food is to love / Andrea Quigley