Friday, March 7, 2014

Guest Post: Lasagnahhh!

Hello, Impulsive Chef fans!  Ms. Chef here, aka Lisa.

In my first guest post, I mentioned how though I am not a frequent cook, thanks to the wonderful talents of Mr. Chef (aka Brian), I love me some Italian food.  At every big holiday gathering, my mom would make a big tray of lasagna, and over all the years of watching and helping, I absorbed the process, and I can whip them together from scratch without a second thought.

Perhaps for some, making lasagna seems intimidating or even difficult, but I hope this post will show you how wonderfully easy it really is.

So, I start with getting my sauce cooking.  This I also learned from my mom, who would make a big pot of sauce every week.  I certainly don't have a recipe I follow, but it's quite simple.  I start with an olive oil base, to which I add a healthy amount of fresh minced garlic and fresh Italian herbs (I love the refrigerated squeeze tubes of herb "paste" - so easy!), and let simmer on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes (don't let the garlic burn, not that I speak from personal experience or anything!).

I then add tomatoes.  I use crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. I love the texture of the crushed tomatoes - they don't need to be blended - and the tomato paste adds just a bit of necessary sweetness to the sauce.  I stir it all together thoroughly to ensure everything is integrated (especially the oil).

At this stage sometimes I add a little more oil if needed, to thin the sauce somewhat.  And then, the crucial ingredient - milk.  (Or cream, if I'm really splurging.)  We typically have whole milk on hand these days, with my 15-month-old toddling around, so I use that.  Again, no measurement on that - it depends on the size of the sauce batch - but I just pour, stir, let simmer for a few, and then taste - and if it needs more, I splash in more.  Yes, Italian cooking is MY kind of cooking.  Anyway, the purpose of the milk (or cream) is to cut the acidity of the tomatoes.  My personal preference is a slightly sweeter sauce.

So while my sauce simmers (medium-low heat), I brown my meat.  I like to use 95/5 ground turkey, which is a somewhat healthier alternative to beef, and readily accepts however you choose to season it.  I use dried Italian seasoning and a light sprinkle of salt, and cook the meat JUST until it's browned (it will also bake for quite a while in the lasagna).

Next up is to prep the ricotta.  The goodness of fresh ricotta is just amazing, so I don't do much to alter it - just a spoonful of minced garlic and a sprinkling of salt.

How much do I love when it keeps its shape out of the container?  ;-)

Now, it's time for assembly!

I prep my baking dish with a thin layer of sauce, then put down my first layer of noodles (I use the no-boil kind, and it's crucial that they be surrounded/ covered with a moist layer, whether that's the sauce or the ricotta cheese.)  On top of the noodles I spread sauce mixed with the turkey, then comes a layer of ricotta, next fresh spinach leaves, followed by a generous sprinkling of shredded mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.

Upon this foundation I repeat the layering process until I either run out of noodles or out of space in the dish, always topping my creation with mozzarella.

Ready to go!
I then cover the dish with foil, and it bakes at 375° for about an hour.  (Careful not to take off the cheese along with the foil when it's done!)

fresh outta the oven
Try to let it cool for a bit, so you don't burn your mouth as you shovel it in.  ;-)

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