First things first: Happy Birthday Mom! Today is my lovely mother’s birthday and it seems only fitting to mention that there would not be any “What We’re Eating” posts without her. I grew up with a mother that always made the kitchen smell so good and always let her children stir, chop, and create right alongside her, even if we screwed things up (I’m still very sorry about that stand mixer-wooden spoon-chocolate chip cookie incident). When I discovered asparagus, I loved it so much, that when my mom would leave the kitchen to go to the bathroom, I would eat all of it. Every. Single. Spear. And my saint of a mother wouldn’t even yell at me, even though she also loved asparagus and I know she was super upset because she hadn’t finished making the rest of dinner yet. Because really, can you scold a child for eating vegetables? I digress. My mother makes a delicious lasagne, and she taught me to make lasagne anyway I like it, and now I’m going to share my baked, cheesy, tomato-ey noodle knowledge with you!
I love lasagne; it’s one of my top five comfort foods. It’s also such a versatile dish, you can really tailor it to what you have on hand and what you like. I’ve been threatening to make a potato lasagne with cheesy mashed potatoes as the ricotta layer. It somehow seems irresponsible to have that many carbs, so I haven’t done it…yet. I’ve also made noodle-free lasagne using thin horizontally sliced zucchini for the noodles.
Last night I went pretty simple, but I made the sauce with some frozen roasted tomatoes from the farm in Hollis. I had some leftover caramelized onions from a previous meal so I added that for some extra flavor. Which is a great tip, whenever you make caramelized onions, make more than you need; they are a great addition to lots of dishes. I also added in some kale. Trader Joe’s sells frozen kale and this is my first time using it and it’s pretty good. They flash freeze it in little bits so it’s easy to add what you want. I microwaved it for a couple of minutes and drained it. Voilá!
A note about sauce: I don’t eschew jarred sauce, but I do like making my own and I often hack a pre-made sauce with more garlic and fresh basil if I have it. I like Trader Joe’s canned marinara sauce if I don’t feel like making my own. But like I said, I had some tomatoes in the freezer that I’ve been looking forward to using.
I start my sauce with a little olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper. The fresh tomatoes were a little watery, so I let them cook down a bit. I also added a can of tomato sauce because it wasn’t going to be enough sauce for a lasagne. I took a taste and it definitely needed something else. One trick I use is to add a little beef stock. It tends to round out the flavor. Rest assured, if I know you’re vegetarian and I am cooking for you, I will not do this, I promise. Then I added some dried oregano, (too much actually, whoops!) fresh basil since I had it, a little salt, pepper and a teaspoon of sugar. I don’t like sweet sauce, but I’ve recently been converted to the benefits of adding a little sweetness to sauce; just enough to balance the flavor.
Once the sauce is made, it’s pretty easy to assemble everything. I don’t do too much with the ricotta, I didn’t even add an egg this time. I put a 15 oz container of ricotta in a bowl, added some grated pecorino, fresh basil and some pepper.
To assemble, I start with a little sauce in the bottom of glass casserole dish. Then I put 4 sheets of lasagne on top of that, letting them overlap a little bit to fit. I use the noodles that don’t require pre-cooking because I am pretty lazy and I think they end up staying more al dente then the kind you have to cook. Sometimes we make fresh noodles, and by ‘we’, I mean ‘Derek’, and they are mind blowing. So delicious. But he was still at work so, boxed noodles it is! Add some more sauce to the noodles, then add the ricotta. Then I added the kale and the caramelized onions.
I’m not entirely sure why I added the fresh mozzarella to this layer. I don’t normally do that; I usually save the fresh for the top. Maybe I was distracted. Remind me to never actually write a cookbook. This is the most ridiculous recipe. Then, repeat the process. More noodles, more sauce, more ricotta, kale, caramelized onions, whatever.
When you run out of room, or are close to running out of ingredients, make your final layer noodles, sauce and then may I recommend fresh mozzarella for the top? I never used to do that, but it is so freaking good. Trust me. For the middle layers you can use the shredded stuff. I forgot to take a photo of the lasagne before I put it in the oven, so you’ll just have to settle for the end result.
Logan’s Basic Lasagne Suggestions:
- Tomato sauce of your choosing. You could also make a bechamel, but I personally prefer the tomato based lasagnes.
- 15 oz container of ricotta: The noodle packages often have perfectly good recipes for lasagne, and they’ll suggest how much seasoning to add to the ricotta and might even suggest putting an egg in there. It’s up to you.
- Fresh mozzarella: this makes ordinary lasagne so much better, and you’re worth it.
- Shredded mozzarella for the middle layers.
- Shredded pecorino romano: use it all over this dish. It’s one of my favorite hard cheeses
- Cooked vegetables: kale, spinach, summer squash, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, caramelized onions, asparagus, artichoke hearts, potatoes. Really, if you like it, try putting it in the lasagne. Tomato and cheese are complimentary to many ingredients. Pesto is also a tasty addition.
- Meat: We really like spicy italian sausage in our lasagne, so that’s one suggestion. There’s also all kinds of very decent chicken sausages out there that would make a lasagne delicious. We like the Al Fresco Spicy Jalapeño chicken sausages.