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Friday, September 28, 2012

There Are No Bad Lasagnas

My family loves lasagna. It has pet names- La Sanzh, Lazagnee, La Sagna. My mother couldn't make it, we always bought it from the local pizza place. Those yummy squares in a red hot round tin with a white paper top were as welcome as Christmas. It was one of the first dishes I  learned to make from my Stepfather, who was half Italian. When we had our own lasagna system down it became all about perfecting it- which for me was Mrs. Vesuvio's meaty cheesy style. Perfect lasagna is an elusive thing, because a small change makes a big difference. I think I've hit perfection twice. Once with a vegetarian version I made for my cousin and his SO (and boy was I happy) and once with a super-stuffed one that I didn't pay particular attention to making. There really isn't such a thing as a bad lasagna. It feeds a crowd, it ages well in the fridge if there's only a couple people to feed, and leftovers just keep getting better.

Like most Italian food, it starts with the sauce. I make a hearty tomato sauce for lasagna but if you have a favorite jarred sauce, go for it. Just make sure you have enough. The two things you don't want to skimp on are the sauce and the cheeses, so make sure you have plenty. About 10 years ago I stopped parboiling the lasagna noodles (I always hated that part). To make the magic happen I dilute the sauce a bit just before assembly and refrigerate the whole dish overnight. Keep in mind how things work- water soaks in, and when hot evaporates upwards. Put a good layer of sauce in the bottom of the dish and set your first layer of noodles in. This is where I put the wettest layer, too, on those bottom noodles. So whether that's meats in sauce or a couple of packages of defrosted frozen chopped spinach and shredded carrots on top, it goes here, with sauce over the veggies if that's what you're using. Then another noodle layer, and the ricotta-egg-parsley-garlic layer on them with a slight sprinkling of mozzarella. Some people top their cheese layer with sauce, but I like it sandwiched between noodles. And on that layer of noodles goes the topping off, the grand saucing where you fill the pan and check that the sides are sauced. Then the crowning layer of mozzarella. Cover with foil, and refrigerate overnight. The next day all you have to do is pop it into a cold oven set to 350', bake for a half-hour, take the foil off and bake another half-hour to 40 minutes, When everything's bubbly it's done. And it's heaven.

Last week I hit a special at Price Chopper- 2# of whole milk ricotta with 1# of whole milk mozzarella for 6 bucks. With the 28 oz. tins of crushed tomatoes I got on sale for 88 cents each, leftover lasagna noodles that need using (they do go stale once opened) and the chopped spinach that were 2 for a dollar, it's a whole lasagna for under ten dollars. I'll have company over the weekend so I'll make it today and bake it tomorrow, and send some home with my guest on Sunday (probably most of it, he's a big guy). And if I'm sick of it by Tuesday, it freezes perfectly. Defrost it like meat, overnight in the fridge, and pop it back in the oven.

It's afternoon already! I've gotta go start the sauce, which will be nice to have cooking while the cold rain helps prime the trees for Peeper Season. The crabapple across the way is already yellow and gold but there's little else turning colors yet. Another couple of weeks and a little luck and the trees will be breath-taking.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

I make a pretty darned good lasagna, too, so whenever we go visit our out-of-state friends, they ask me to bring a tray. It isn't entirely clear whether they're happier to see US or that tray of lasagna and bottle of chianti. One of our sons went to college in Chicago, and whenever he was able to make the trip home, he asked that lasagna be on the menu. Even on Thanksgiving. (I wonder how many people serve turkey and all the fixings, kielbasa, and lasagna on Thanksgiving?) But as many times as I've made lasagna, I have never tried making it without cooking the noodles first. I'll have to give that some consideration.

Darn it. Now I want some lasagna.

Geo. said...

The Perfect Lasagna --indeed a noble quest. I'd go. Man Of Lasagna. Had Cervantes been Italian...the mind races...not an impossible dream. I love lasagna but it makes me incoherent.

Twisted Scottish Bastard said...

Please stop. I'm drooling over my keyboard and as soon as I've finished typing this, I'm off to raid the fridge.

I love lasagna. I don't know anybody who doesn't like lasagna.

Down here in NZ, many Petrol Stations sell hot snacks. Like sausage rolls, meat pies etc. But most also sell what is described as lasagna.

It's a square of lasagna, dipped in breadcrumbs and then deep fried.

I'ts addictively lethal.

Anonymous said...

It sounds wonderful....I do miss dishes with dairy in them.

Austan said...

Susan- Stopping the ordeal of the wet noodles made my life happier. And it works perfectly, as long as you soak it overnight!
Oh and in case there's any doubt that I screw up plenty, I spilled the cayenne in the tomato sauce, so now we're going to have chili. The ricotta and mozzarella can go back in the freezer.

Austan said...

Geo.- Incoherent? Hahahahaha!!! How does that happen?!

Austan said...

TSB= I don't know anyone who doesn't like lasagna either, come to think of it. But holy mother of god, crumbed and deep fried? I think I'd fall down before getting a bite in me. My knees would just give out.

Austan said...

Lawless- look above, dearie.

The Elephant's Child said...

I really like lasagne as well. It is the vegetarian version for me. I make my own tomato sauce. Much garlic, much love. I no longer make the normal version for my partner since he emptied half a bottle of tomato sauce on the top - before he had tried it. If he wants it, he can make it himself.

Austan said...

EC- oooo, it's galling when people corrupt food you've worked over without even trying it. I used to salt everything before tasting. I learned the hard way, and had to eat a very salty plate of linguini in clam sauce.

SarcasticTestGuy said...


One of my favorites and least seen dishes. I have never seen a recipe for NOT boiling noodles first. Thanks for that! I've been wanted one now that fall is en route; I think I'll try this.

Eat well!

Austan said...

STG- since discovering the soak-it-overnight method I've made it way more frequently. But avoid the boodles advertised for not boiling; they come out like corrugated paper!