Friday, March 25, 2011

Lasagna!!! And Salad Whatchacanfind.

Who doesn't like lasagna, really?  And if you don't like lasagna, it's because you haven't made it yourself yet.  Lasagna's great because you can change so many things about it and still have it be lasagna.  Unless you don't like pasta, or red sauce, you can make lasagna to your liking.  Don't like the mushrooms in your grandma's lasagana?  Leave them out.  Love your mom's meat-lover's lasagna but belong to PETA?  Substitute tofu.  Win, win, win, win, win.

This is my mother-in-law's original meatless recipe and I gotta say it's pretty gosh-darn yummy, not to mention quick and easy.   I know us mommies always need a few things in our repertoires that we can make ahead of time.  I'll also share a few ways you can tweak it.

Half a box uncooked lasagna noodles (any kind; "oven-ready" doesn't mean anything.  I like the whole grain for the added nutritional value)
Small tub ricotta cheese (any fat content you prefer, we use skim)
One package sliced mozzarella
One package sliced provolone
 - You can use shredded but slices are easier to layer.
Two handfuls grated parmesan cheese.  Parmigiano Reggiano is best but the stuff in the green can will work in a pinch.
A very large jar or two small jars of your favorite red sauce.  You can even experiment with flavor combinations and use two different flavors.  I've had to do that and it turns out yummy as long as they're both tomato-based.  Of course, if you want to try an alfredo my guest.  Let me know how that works out for you.
Oregano, basil, parsley, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, and any other Italian herbs or spices you enjoy.
2 whole eggs

Stir the eggs and herbs into the ricotta cheese in a medium bowl and begin layering your lasagna.  The eggs help to thin out the ricotta so you can spread it into layers, and they add a little protein.  I suppose you could use water if you have an egg aversion. could use baby food!

Start with the sauce.  Spread a thin layer in the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Then add a layer of uncooked noodles.  (The noodles can be uncooked as long as you are making this ahead of time.  They need to sit in the sauce for at least a few hours before you bake it in the oven.  If you need to bake it right away, you may need to boil the noodles first.  I usually make this the night before or during morning naps.)  Break the noodles to fit in the pan.  Remember you're going to be cutting it into portions when it's done, all ooey and gooey, and no one will be able to tell if the noodles were broken when they went in.  Next comes the ricotta cheese.  Spread a layer of the ricotta mixture onto the raw noodles.  Top it with a single layer of sliced mozzarella and provolone.  Then start again with the sauce.

Continue layering like that, sauce, noodles, ricotta, mozzarella/provolone; until you get close to the top of your casserole dish or you run out of something.  To finish it off, your layer ordering can change based on your remaining ingredients, but make sure the noodles are completely covered by sauce.    Otherwise the exposed portions of noodles will remain hard after they're baked.  It's best to finish with sauce and the grated parmesan.

Store in the fridge for 2 to 24 hours and bake at about 400 for an hour or until the cheese on top melts and the edges start to brown.  Sometimes I adjust the temperature towards the end so I can stick some bread in the oven too.  Tonight it was crescent rolls.  You never want your fridge to be empty of canned bread products.  *grin*

I also threw a salad together because my husband is on a weight loss kick so I felt the added pressure to make it a complete meal.  I didn't have much so I just threw some spinach, carrots, pecans, and shredded mexican cheese in a bowl and served it with oil and vinegar.  It would have been better with a little raspberry vinaigrette and chickpeas and craisins, but I didn't shop for the salad so this is just what we had on hand.  With some peach preserves I could have made a mean salad dressing.


Lasagna is so great because it's so versatile.  You can add meat to this by adding browned ground beef or turkey to the red sauce before layering, or adding it as its own layer.  You can also use tofu.  I like to add spinach.  If it's fresh, I give it its own layer.  If it's frozen, I defrost it, drain it, and stir it into the ricotta before layering.  This is the perfect dish to sneak veggies into for the kids.  Puree whatever you have and add it to the sauce, or use jars of baby food and give them each their own layer.  Perfect.  My kids devour this every time.  Change the herbs around to fit your tastes, use crushed tomatoes instead of prepared sauce, anything you want to make it to your liking.

If I'm in a hurry, I make what I call "Fake Lasagna."  I may have blogged about it before.  Use all the same ingredients but substitute a short-cut pasta, like penne, instead of lasagna noodles.  Cook the pasta, and put it in the casserole dish with all the other ingredients.  Stir it up, bake it, and you've got fake lasagna.  Same ingredients, same taste.    This is great for when you were planning lasagna for later in the week but suddenly have guests coming in 45 minutes and have to throw something together that will feed a lot of people.

The original recipe is also great to make for someone else, if they've had a baby or just moved in or something.  Get one of those disposable lasagna pans from the grocery store, prepare the whole thing, and they just have to stick it in the oven.  Keep in mind that the disposable tin will hold a lot more than your average casserole dish so you may have to double the recipe.  It's also a little pricey for a food gift, but people in need really appreciate it.

If you want to get fancy, and you have some adorable little ramekins or individual casserole dishes, you can make individual lasagnas.  You do want to cook the noodles first, and cut them to fit your adorable little ramekins.  Top it with fresh basil and shaved parmigiano, and no guest will leave unimpressed.

So there it is!  Get experimenting.  The cheeses even last a little while in the fridge, so you can keep this stuff on hand for whenever you have the time or inclination.  Happy Lasagna Night!!