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Upping the lasagna ante. October 17, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. Lasagna isn’t typically the first thing that springs to mind when you’re thinking about healthy eating. But it’s actually easy to make a lasagna that’s as good for you as it is good (without sacrificing cheese or olive oil). And the results are so delicious, you may find that lasagna is your go-to healthy meal!

It all starts with a rich, luscious spaghetti sauce. My go-to sauce includes lots of sweet onion, garlic, mushrooms, green peppers and diced zucchini sauteed in olive oil, with crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and diced fresh tomatoes (any I have on hand, including cherry tomatoes), tons of herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, etc.), salt (we like RealSalt or sea salt), and chipotle hot sauce, plus dry red wine to finish, cooked over low heat for a long, long time until it’s rich, thick, and practically caramelized.

This sauce is packed with veggies, nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories. And it’s the richest, most delicious spaghetti sauce I’ve ever eaten. (Type “spaghetti sauce” in our search bar at upper right for the full recipe.) It also makes the perfect base sauce for lasagna and pizza, so when I make it, I make sure to make plenty so I’ll have lots left over.

So you’re already starting with a super-healthy sauce for your lasagna. How else can you up the health ante? One way is to use plain Greek yogurt instead of ricotta cheese. I discovered this when I’d promised our friend Ben I’d make lasagna for supper, then discovered when I was ready to put it together that I didn’t have any ricotta, but I did have plain Greek yogurt. I decided to take a chance, and it really paid off. The yogurt was thick and creamy, not grainy like ricotta, you don’t need to add an egg, and of course the yogurt has all those good-for-you live cultures. I’ve never looked back.

I’ve also found that you can add an additional layer of veggies for an even healthier lasagna. I’ve added sauteed eggplant or blanched kale or spinach with fantastically flavorful results. Even kale-haters like OFB wolf down their servings and ask for more.

I still use plenty of shredded mozzarella and some grated Parmesan in my lasagna, and yes—I’ll admit it—“oven-ready” lasagna noodles. We don’t have a dishwasher here, and saving a big pot really makes a difference when it comes to cleanup. After a number of very disappointing tries with “quick” lasagna noodles, I’ve found that San Giorgio’s “oven-ready” lasagna pasta really holds up well. It has body, stretchiness, and some chew, just like real lasagna noodles, rather than disintegrating into the sauce during baking. (Eeeew. That’s not lasagna!)

No doubt you could make this lasagna even healthier by using multigrain or whole-wheat pasta. But frankly, my version’s healthy enough for us, and I love that the flavor and texture are so authentic and delicious. We love our lasagna with a big, crunchy salad. If OFB is craving bread with the meal, I’ll thinly slice a fresh multigrain baguette and serve it with a bowl of dipping oil made from extra-virgin olive oil, lots of fresh minced garlic, and an Italian herb mix. Yum!

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Winning the lasagna wars. February 16, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. As faithful readers know, I love to cook. And one of the things I really love to cook is pasta. But for some reason, lasagna always intimidated me. It seemed so complicated. And I’d been served so much really bad lasagna—watery, gummy, too much cheese, not enough cheese, not enough sauce, bad sauce, bad ingredients, you name it. (I love spinach, but keep it out of my lasagna, please. And that goes double for weird veggies and white sauce. Eeeewwww!!!)

Anyway, much as I love lasagna, I’ve never dared to make it. I guess I have fear of lasagna the way people have fear of heights or fear of flying. But boy, do I love to eat it! So when my friend Dolores invited me over for a “Girls’ Night In” and volunteered to cook, then asked what I’d like, I said “Lasagna, please!” Dolores makes the best Caesar salad ever (even rubbing the salad bowl with a cut garlic clove). Her Caesar salad and homemade lasagna seemed like a pairing made in Heaven.

“I don’t know how to make lasagna,” Dolores told me. “How about stuffed shells?” Well, I love stuffed shells, too, so it took me a nanosecond to agree. But I was thinking, maybe it wasn’t just me. Maybe other people were intimidated by lasagna, too! It was clearly time to face my fears head-on. The lasagna wars had begun!

To make things as easy on myself as possible, I began by buying a box of the kind of lasagna pasta that you don’t have to pre-boil before assembling the lasagna. I chose Barilla, and noted that the box said “lasagne,” not “lasagna.” Now, if I remember my Italian classes, the plural of a noun that ends in “a” ends in “e”. So I’m assuming that “lasagne” refers to the sheets of pasta and “lasagna” refers to the dish unless informed otherwise.

Anyway, the Barilla box not only had a recipe on the back, but it had directions for assembling the lasagna. However, I was damned and determined to make a mushroom lasagna of my own devising, and it was clear that the folks at Barilla weren’t exactly thinking of my 9-by-13-inch Pyrex baking pan when they wrote those directions. As usual, I decided to use their recipe as a guideline and forge ahead on my own.

Since I’m posting it, you’ll probably have guessed that my lasagna recipe was a huge success!  I’d decided to invite a crowd for the initial tasting (at least, a crowd for our little kitchen table)—our friend and fellow blog contributor Richard Saunders, his girlfriend Bridget, and our friend Rudy were going to join our friend Ben and me for the repast (which included cooked spinach as a side dish and a big, colorful salad). I figured if it turned out to be horrible, I could always send OFB out for an emergency pizza.

As it happened, everyone loved the lasagna and it vanished in a flurry of second helpings. So I’m going to post the recipe in case you need to win the lasagna wars, too. If you’re an accomplished lasagna master and have a favorite recipe to share, I’d love to hear about it, and I’m sure other readers would, too!

One thing I’ll say about this lasagna: I wasn’t totally pleased with the no-cook pasta. It didn’t strike me as assertive enough. (Though, when I repeatedly asked everyone else, they all said it was great, so decide for yourselves.) I want a bit more fight in my lasagna pasta, I guess. I want it to stand up and be counted as an ingredient. So next time I make this, I guess I’ll break down and buy the sort of lasagna pasta that you have to boil to al dente before layering in the dish. I suspect it’ll be worth the extra step.

Finally, here’s the recipe. Try it, you’ll like it!

                 Mushroom Lasagna a la Silence

For the sauce:

2 large onions, diced

2-4 cloves garlic, minced

2 large cartons of mushrooms, sliced

1 large can tomato paste

1 large can crushed tomatoes

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

1 teaspoon lemon pepper, or black pepper of your choice

1 tablespoon Trocamare, Real Salt, or salt of your choice

1 tablespoon Pickapeppa, Tabasco Chipotle, or hot sauce of your choice

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup red wine (Chianti, Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, whatever you have on hand)

Extra-virgin olive oil

Saute the onions and garlic in ample olive oil until clarified. Add the herbs, spices, and hot sauce. Add the mushrooms and cook until soft. (I had hoped to use a mix of mushrooms, and recommend that you do—I plan to next time I make this—but I only had button mushrooms on hand. They were just fine.) Add the tomato paste and crushed tomatoes, stirring well to blend. Add the sugar and wine. Continue cooking on low heat until quite thick and fragrant.

For the filling:

1 carton (15 ounces) Ricotta cheese

2 large eggs

2 cups shredded Mozarella cheese

2/3 cup shredded Parmesan and Asiago cheeses, mixed

1 teaspoon Trocamare, Real Salt, or salt of your choice

Beat eggs with a wooden or bamboo spoon. Add Ricotta cheese and beat well to blend. Add salt and shredded cheeses, again beating well until thoroughly incorporated. The filling will be quite thick.

To assemble the lasagna:

Pour a layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9-by-13″ ovenproof pan. Top it with six sheets of lasagna, overlapping them as needed to fit them in. Top the sheets with the Ricotta mixture, spreading to coat the pasta sheets evenly. Add another layer of tomato-mushroom sauce, another layer of overlapped pasta sheets, another layer of sauce, and a final layer of shredded Mozarella to cover. Cover with aluminum foil, place on a cookie sheet (also covered with a sheet of foil in case of spills during baking), and bake at 375 degrees F. for an hour. Uncover for the last five minutes.

Remove lasagna from the oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before cutting it into portion-sized squares and serving. Serves six if most of them want second helpings, or more if they can manage to eat a single portion. Keeps and reheats well.

Okay, I’ll admit it: When I was dishing this up, I hid a couple of servings so our friend Ben and I could have it for supper later in the week. I’m already looking forward to it!

                ‘Til next time,

                            Silence