Posted by: Sarah | March 1, 2016

My Lasagna

Lasagna Finished Whole Cut

So, usually, I make this for Christmas and thaw one for Valentine’s Day, but this year we traveled and couldn’t host either a dinner party for friends, or Christmas Dinner for the family.  So, it got made for Valentine’s Day.  Which is, actually our tradition.  Usually, we also invite anyone we know over who’s single or bored, too, or who doesn’t otherwise have plans.  No one qualified for that this year.  At least not here.

And seeing as my sisters have repeatedly demanded I tell them how I make my lasagna…. Guess I’ll have to pass this along to them, too.

So, early Valentine’s morning, or 10AM-ish, I started getting the sauce together because it is better if it sits in the slow-cooker all day long… er… cooking slowly.

Misto and Ninja

Got my trusty Ninja Cooker, and my Misto sprayer.

Oiled Slow Cooker

Sprayed the interior…

And now, time to start making the meat sauce.  If you don’t want to have two large pans, you’ll want to do some math and half or quarter this recipe.  (My freezer is now full of lasagna.)  And I will include reheating instructions.

First, you need proper supervision.  Arya officially approves all kitchen activities in our house. (Yes, I have a giant bag of bags.  Ignore that.)

Proper Supervision

Second:  two pounds of ground beef of your choice.  I prefer the extra lean type.

Two pounds raw ground beef

I’d have gotten leaner, but I was short on time the day I went shopping and the line at the butcher’s counter was long.  Put that in the slow cooker with two tablespoons of EVOO.

EVOO

(I love those huge plastic bottles.)

whole onion and garlic

You need one medium onion and let’s call it a shit-ton of garlic.  (The shit-ton, when chopped up came out to 1/2 cup.)

Ninja Chopper

And because we’re short on time (we were leaving at noon that day to go see open houses — Nothing says Happy Valentine’s Day like Find Me A Place To Live!), we’re gonna chop these fast.  (Really hope these pics aren’t coming up sideways or anything.)

Chopped onion

I quartered the onion and threw it in there.

Garlic

Cut the ends off the garlic and did the same.

Sauce ingredients

And here you see the base for the sauce.  If you have spare tomatoes you’d rather use in place of the canned, go for it. (I sometimes do that just to get rid of tomatoes that are perhaps not bad, but are certainly not fresh enough for a salad.)  The ratio I stick to is 2 large tomatoes (beefsteak) equals about one can of diced tomatoes.

It ended up being more liquid than I wanted, so I added two more cans of paste, for 5 cans total.

Empty Paste Cans

Don’t worry, it won’t be too sweet or bland.  Because you’re not done.

Fresh Herbs

You’re going to add a lot of herbs.  Dried can be used in place of fresh.  I’ve certainly used dried basil a number of times.  I wouldn’t use dried rosemary, though.  It tends to be less…. rosemary-ish… for lack of a better descriptor.  (The ratio for fresh to dried is 1 tablespoon fresh to 1 teaspoon dried).

Basil leaves whole

Rinse your basil and rosemary.  Don’t pat dry.  Coarsely chop the basil.

Basil

I used a 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of the leaves.  Good thing I had a lot of basil.

Rosemary

One and half to two tablespoons rosemary.  Depending on your preference.

oregano

Two tablespoons oregano.

Wine

And now, the final ingredient.  I prefer to use a Cabernet, a Chianti, or a Toscana in my lasagna.  I’ve tried Merlots or Syrahs and they tend to be too strong for the sauce.  Use 3/4 to 1 full measuring cup of wine and stir in last.

Ready to cook!

And now, after stirring it all together, you’re ready to slow cook for six to eight hours, depending on how long the open house tour takes.  I set it for six hours, and we came home with ten minutes on the clock.  I reset the slow cooker for another hour and started on my ricotta cheese filling.

Labeled Pan

I also, pre-Christmas, grabbed two of these pans.  They have domed plastic lids – not my favorite, but I can’t seem to find the kind with the flat aluminum lid any more.  So, we make due – after the spare was frozen solid, we took the pan out, covered it with foil and used the plastic lid as the base to keep it from scratching my new freezer.  But… getting ahead of myself.  And since these have been sitting around a while, gathering dust, I washed them really quick before spraying them down.  Not because I care about keeping them, but because the base noodles will stick to the pan and make it very difficult to take out when serving.

Oiled Lasagna Pan

I had to make the ricotta filling in a hurry.  We were both starving, not having stopped for lunch — because LASAGNA — and the house smelled like the meat sauce the dogs were drooling.

ricotta filling ingredients

One thing I wished I knew the first time I made lasagna was that the egg to ricotta ratio is important.  It’s not just there to make it all stick together as my mother mistakenly explained to me when I was a teenager.  You’re making a creamy-cheesy filling.  You need one egg for every 16 ounces of ricotta.  And I have 64 ounces of ricotta.  (I actually have twice that.  I made two pans, remember?)  Normally, I’d also grate my own Parmesan.  But I was really tired and I knew I’d be really tired when I went grocery shopping that day. So, I bought the pre-shredded.

Sometimes, I actually plan ahead. Speaking of planning ahead…. Preheat that oven to 450. (375 if you’re only doing a single layer.)

Before you start the filling, check your lasagna noodles.  I buy the kind you have to boil first.  I have never had good luck with the ready-to-bake type, so I go with what I know.

Raw Noodles

I ended up using the whole box, give or take two broken ones which my husband grabbed out of the strainer to munch on while the lasagna was in the oven.  I did salt the water, not to make it boil faster, but because unsalted pasta is just blech.

And now, get a large mixing bowl.  I don’t have one that will allow me to mix both 32 ounce containers of ricotta at once (it’s in storage), so one at a time will have to do.

Beat 2 of those eggs.  (Or 4 of them, if you’re doing all 64 ounces at once.) I used a fork.  If you want, a hand mixer works well, too.

2 beaten eggs

Carefully fold them into the plain ricotta.  I just realized I don’t have a picture of that step, despite doing it 4 different times.  /facepalm.

Mix well, until creamy and the egg is no longer visible.

Fold in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and 1/4 cup of the parsley.  (If you’re using fresh, reverse the ratio above.)

(And I still forgot a pic of the final product in the bowl.  grr.)

noodles!

When your noodles are done, place them in your prepared pan like so.  Doesn’t have to be pretty, just covered.  I got mine a little more done than I wanted, I usually try more for al dente than this, but I also don’t spend all day house-hunting so that I’m still assembling lasagna at 7pm on Valentine’s Day either.  (At this point, Hubby’s in the background mixing the last two batches of ricotta filing because he can tell I just want to get this done.  And we’re both starving.)

The Meat Sauce

The meat sauce has been driving us nuts and is ready to put on the bottom layer.  Spread liberally, you have plenty of sauce, and make sure the noodles are covered.

middle of the first cheese layer

Whoops!  Almost forgot a picture.  As you can see, the first meat layer is quite thick, and the first ricotta layer (it is the full first 32 ounces of ricotta cheese) spreads to cover it completely.

first cheese layer

Now…. if you only want one layer, you can skip to the mozzarella section.  But this will be a two-layer lasagna.

second noodle layer

Layer the second level more or less centered.  (I had to rearrange a bit after the pic.)  And don’t worry about tears or rips.  Just match up as best you can.  No one’s going to see it anyway.

Adding the 2nd cheese layer

Layer the meat just as thick as you did on the first level, making sure the noodles aren’t visible.  And then, time for the next layer of ricotta.  In my case, the next 32 ounces.

mozarrella

And while I was assembling the lasagna pans, my husband was slicing two bricks of mozzarella fresca for us.  (One per pan.)  He got them as thin as he could, about 1/8″.

Lasagna Partially Assembled

And I arranged them across the top of the pan in rows.  Shredded low-moisture mozzarella also works well, it doesn’t produce quite the thick crust this does, but it’s cheaper and faster. (And your husband’s not behind you asking if he got it thin enough. He was very sweet to help.  I’m teasing.)

Lasagna Finished Assembled

If you have any spare Parmesan, or any shredded mozzarella, sprinkle that across the top to close the gaps in the medallions.

After 35-45 minutes, though, frankly, I’d check every 20, because the oven in this rental sucks and I don’t remember how long it would take back in Houston off the top of my head, your lasagna should be done.  The sauce should be bubbling up through the cracks and the cheese crust should be golden brown.

Lasagna Finished Whole Cut

I’d let it rest for about 10-20 minutes.  Don’t worry, it’ll still be plenty warm.  But if you serve it too soon, you’ll get a soupy mess instead of a solid square.  (I didn’t wait — we didn’t care about the soupy mess)

Lasagna Finished Whole

See?  The liquid will be reabsorbed back into the meat and cheese layers and be far more solid when you do serve it.  Our leftovers certainly were quite solid when we had them.

And if you’ve ever cleaned a lasagna pan, you know why I use the disposable ones.  They never really come clean.

OK.  If you made the second pan along with me….

Don’t cook it for the full time.  Take it out before the top is totally brown and let it cool completely.

Lasagna Finished Whole Uncut

As you can see, just the edges are browned.  This is your reserve pan.  I’ve given to people who’ve just had a death in their family, to those who just had chemo for breast cancer, to friends for a present. I’ve given it to my parents. And broke it out for a dinner party sometimes, too.

To reheat, thaw completely.  Usually takes overnight in the fridge and then sitting out on the counter on a towel all the next day to thaw.  Heat in an oven at 400, with foil around just the edges, for about 30 minutes.  Remove foil and continue for about 15, till the sauce is bubbling and cheese is completely browned.  Ovens vary, so use your discretion and keep an eye on it.

Usually, I serve with a salad such as Spinach Caprese (Spinach, fresh basil, tomatoes, mozzarella, EVOO & balsamic vinaigrette) salad and thick-sliced French bread with plain butter.

 

 

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