Saturday, October 25, 2008
Jack asks: "Since when has lasagna been shrouded in mists?"
But you have to admit, there are a lot of ways to make it. That's good: there are many possible themes and variations, including the bechamel sauce variety. The first thing to realize, when demystifying lasagna, is that it's just noodles, cheese, and sauce.
The second thing: don't bother precooking those noodles. It's uneccesary and makes a sticky mess requiring you to stir devoutly and/or peel apart glued-together noodles. You don't need to purchase "precooked" noodles either. Just try Bionaturae "made with bronze die-cast molds" organic noodles. (I'm not fishing for a job with this company, honest. A trip to Tuscany? Sure!)
When making Lasagna elenabella, I usually don't mess around with meat. I do go through the cheeses we have on hand, and use up any stray bits and pieces: options include mozarella (fresh is great), parmesan, ricotta, farmer cheese, sour cream, feta, cheddar, romano, and goat cheese. Find a balance that tastes nice, grating and mixing these together.
I use a lot of greens in my lasagna. Spinach, or red or gold chard (especially at this time of year, when chard is still abundant at the farmers market). Chop a big bunch of chard or spinach and cook until wilted, salting it slightly. When you remove this from your wok or pan, you'll have a delicious, nutritious liquid left behind. Drink it!
I process the cheese and greens together: this becomes the cheesey layer of the lasagna. If I have an egg, I throw that in, too (but it's not absolutely necessary).
Chop and sauté some onions, red and/or green peppers, and garlic. Add a jar of tomato sauce, cooking with the onions over medium heat for a few minutes. This time I used a Seeds of Change Romagna 3-cheese sauce, which I buy in part for the lid on the jar. (Can you tell that I am a consumer who is very influenced by packaging? But I make something out of those lids that I'll divulge another day. And I love a journey to the Seeds of Change websites: the food site and the seeds site. Lots of great information there, beautifully presented). Add fresh chopped herbs: basil, oregano, marjoram.
So there is the sauce. It's a bit thinner than a sauce made with tomato paste. That extra liquid helps cook those uncooked noodles.
Sometimes I cut thin strips of zucchini to layer in with everything else. To assemble: oil a favorite lasagna pan, put down a thin layer of tomato sauce, then a layer of noodles. I like to grate a bit of parmesan onto the noodles, then add a layer of cheese and greens, then the (uncooked) zucchini, then another layer of tomato sauce. Continue until the pan is full and your ingredients have all been used. Grate some parmesan cheese on top, and add a handful of chopped fresh Italian parsley. You might sprinkle with a few red chili seeds, to give it a little heat.
Cover with foil and cook at 350º until the cheese melts and bubbles appear in the sauce. Let cool for a few minutes before serving. Enjoy with a nice red wine, a salad, and some crusty bread. Make enough so that you can enjoy this cold for lunch the next day. You can even freeze this lasagna ahead, if you make 2 pans.
There you go: nothing too mystifying about it!