Friday, May 31, 2013

Apéritif Friday - Luscious Lasagna

There's a staple in our house. And it isn't in the office, on the desk, in a contraption that binds papers together. It's in our freezer. At least, it is now. But it wasn't there four weeks ago. So we had to fix that little problem. Because when we ride for six hours in the car coming home from the cabin, sit in traffic during the last hour, are frazzled to the bone and just ready to retreat from each other, the last thing on the face of the earth that I want to hear is this:

"Mom, what's for dinner?"

I truly fear for my children when they ask that question. I have dreadful thoughts of their limbs being removed from their bodies.

Several years ago, I made a giant pan of lasagna but everyone got sick of eating it for three days, so I froze the leftovers in individually wrapped packages. It makes for a quick and easy hearty meal, loaded with vegetables and beef and sausage and gooey cheese. My kids love it, it's one of Mr. Musky's favorite meals, and I love the fact that I can assemble it all, put it in the oven, and sit with my feet up while I sip wine until it's done. The wine is the best part.

The recipe itself isn't difficult, but it does take about an hour to make, then an hour to bake. I like to make this on a Sunday when it's a bit dreary outside. The smells alone drive us all insane. It's a recipe that I've perfected over the years, combining elements from 3-4 different sources. So I can definitely call it my own.

We recently purchased an attachment for our Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and I've got a verifiable Italian in my midst now. Mr. Musky might just be renamed Mr. Pasta Maker. He uses the pasta recipe found in the Kitchen Aid pasta attachment booklet, but I'm sure you can find scads of recipes online if you want to make your own. Or you can use the store-bought kind (gasp). But the homemade is truly fantastic, fresh, and is now (another) new staple in our pantry.
Is there anything sexier than your man cooking for you? I think not. I love his ambition. Oh - and him.
And the noodles he's taken a fancy to.
We had to get creative with our drying method. We've advanced since this pasta making session, and have a sophisticated mechanism now. A $10 clothes drying rack from Menards. Boom!

Here's what you'll need for my Luscious Lasagna:
Carrots, Onion, Celery, Green Pepper, Garlic, 1lb Ground Beef, 1lb Italian Sausage (I like 1/2 pound mild, 1/2 pound spicy), Red Wine, 2-28oz cans Crushed Tomatoes, 8oz Tomato Paste, Oregano, Fennel, Rosemary, Basil, a Bay Leaf, 2 cups Ricotta Cheese, an Egg, 3 T Chopped Parsley, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese, Lasagna Noodles, two packages of Creamed Spinach, EVOO, Sliced Mozzarella Cheese, Salt & Pepper.

Start by chopping the celery, carrots, onion, green pepper and garlic. Proportions are up to you. I usually use the entire onion, then gauge the rest from there to be equal to or less than the amount of onion. And I use anywhere from 4-6 cloves of garlic. Love that stuff!
Saute the vegetables in a couple of tablespoons of Olive Oil, until they begin to soften. Push them all to the outer edge of the skillet,

then add the ground beef and sausage to the middle, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat to cook. 
Once the meat is fully cooked, drain off any excess grease, then glug some red wine around the pan a few times (about 1/2 cup). Shove your face down close and inhale! Mmmmmmm. Let the wine reduce and shimmy up and into the meat mixture.
Add the crushed tomatoes, the paste, a bay leaf, and palmfuls of rosemary, oregano and basil (about 1/2-1 Tablespoon each). Crank some salt and pepper over the sauce, and if you've got one of these handy little suckers, 
grind your fennel up to emit that savory, anise-smelling aroma. Now it should really start to smell like something fantastic is happening in your kitchen!

Let the sauce simmer on medium low for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and spray your giant lasagna pan with cooking spray. If you don't have one, don't sweat it! Use an aluminum 9x13 or 11x14 pan.

While the sauce simmers, combine two cups of ricotta cheese with an egg, 3/4 cups of parmesan or romano cheese and 3T of freshly chopped parsley. Cook the two packages of creamed spinach according to the directions.

Finally - Assembly time!
It really does help to have all of the layering ingredients in front of you. I've been known to make bonehead moves in the past, completely forgetting some minor ingredient like CHEESE in the layers. Don't do that! First put a ladle of sauce on the bottom of the pan. This is going to help cook the first layer of lasagna noodles, because steam will get under there and do its magic.
And I haven't mentioned this yet, but another reason why I love this recipe? THERE'S NO BOILING OF THE NOODLES! Yep - you heard me. Doesn't matter if you made them homemade like my Italian wanna-be husband or if you bought some at the jewel. Don't boil. Join me in the revolution! I promise your lasagna noodles will cook in the steam we're gonna create.

Layer the noodles over the sauce, breaking the little suckers if necessary to get coverage in the nooks and crannies. Then spread 1/2 the ricotta over the top of the noodles.
Spread half the creamed spinach over the ricotta layer.
Top with sauce and sliced mozzarella cheese. Repeat all the layers. If you still have room in your pan and sauce left, top with another layer of noodles, sauce and mozzarella cheese. In my pan, I had two full layers of everything, then another topping of noodles, sauce and cheese. I also ended up filling in those gaps on the top layer with more mozzarella.
Before you get all excited about that glass of wine, don't forget the next step. It's CRITICAL! Spray the dull side of aluminum foil with cooking spray, then place it over the dish cooking spray side down and cover tightly.
This will seal all the moisture and steam in so the lasagna noodles can cook. And the layer of cooking spray will allow you to remove the foil without the cheese sticking to your cover, which would be monumentally tragic.

Place the covered lasagna on a cookie sheet and bake for an hour, then remove the foil and cook for another 10-15 minutes, until brown and bubbly. Depending on your oven, you may need to turn the broiler on to fully brown the casserole, but be sure to watch it closely.

Then let it rest. The resting is the hardest part. Wine helps, which is the only apéritif we need when making lasagna. A little Sinatra crooning in the background assists with the resting nonsense too. If you can tolerate it, let it sit for 30 minutes before cutting into it. 
Miller dies a slow, torturous death on Lasagna night. And prays to the doggie God to make him a human, for just one meal. His drool grows to impressive lengths thanks to the smells emanating from the counter above.
Finally - DIG IN! This is some seriously, ridiculously gooey and mouth-happy stuff. Especially with the ciabatta garlic bread that Mr. Musky made in his spare time.
The next day, cut up the refrigerated lasagna into individual portions, 
wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and place in a large freezer baggie for an awesome treat when you'd rather feed your children to lions than cook a meal. You'll be so happy you took the time on a dreary Sunday months earlier to make this dish.

Enjoy, friends. And Happy Summer!


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