Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You know you love someone when you make them lasagna.

It's true - lasagna is the quintessential labor of love. So many components - so much time.
But totally worth it in the end. Don't believe it? Make one.

For the Marinara:
olive oil
1 large onion - diced
4 or so cloves of crushed garlic, depending on how garlicky you like things
2 large cans of crushed tomatoes
1 can of whole peeled tomatoes
3-4 fresh basil leaves
dried oregano - about a tablespoon maybe
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp butter

For the meat filling:
1 large onion - diced
4 more cloves of garlic - crushed
1 pound of ground beef (veal works too)
1/2 pound spicy italian bulk sausage
1/2 pound sweet italian bulk sausage
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

For the lasagna:
2-3 16 oz packages of blended shredded Italian cheeses
1 large container of whole milk ricotta
1/2 pound of shaved parmesan or peccorino romano for the crunchy top - yummm.
1 pound of lasagna noodles
9x13 baking dish

The marinara and meats can be prepared at the same time - just need a big pot for the sauce and a nice large shallow frying pan to brown up the beef.

For the Sauce:
1. Bring your pot to medium heat, cover the bottom with olive oil
2. Saute the onion and garlic. Once translucent, you can add the two cans of crushed tomatoes
3. Follow by filling one of the cans with water (or chicken stock)
4. The whole peeled tomatoes are meant to add just a bit of body to the sauce, so as you add them to your pot, break them up with your hands.
5. Give all of this a stir and add the can of tomato paste
6. Now, season - oregano, salt and pepper, and add that fresh basil. Voila! Let simmer for the next hour or so while you get the other ingredients ready.
7. Just before assembling the lasagna, add the butter to the sauce - the difference is subtle but certainly worthwhile. Just trust me.

For the Meat:
1. Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil.
2. Add the beef and sausage, work at breaking it all up with a wooden spoon while it cooks.
3. Once browned, add the oregano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg
4. Set the mixture aside to cool a bit.

To assemble the Lasagna:
1. Fill the largest stock pot you have with water and set to boil.
2. In the meantime, check out the ricotta - it may need to be loosened up a bit to a spreadable texture, and if this is the case just add one or two ladle-fulls of the marinara to it and give it a stir.
DISCLAIMER: The boiling of the noodles is the most tedious part of the whole process. For one, you can't crowd the pot too much because the pasta will stick together - therefore it feels like it takes forever. But, you must do it right so we'll just encourage you to be patient - it's worth it in the end!
3. Once the water is at a rolling boil, add a heap of kosher salt and some olive oil - this flavors the pasta and prevents it from sticking (to the pot AND each other!). You can safely add 6 or so sheets of lasagna at a time, depending on how large of a pot you're working with.
4. Once that batch of noodles is done (about 10 minutes later), lay them out on a cookie sheet and drizzle with some olive oil to keep them moist. Repeat this process until all of the noodles are ready.
5. Okay, now for assembly! Coat the bottom of the pan with the pasta sauce and then cover with a layer of noodles. Spread the ricotta mixture over the noodles and then add a layer of the browned beef and sausage mixture. Then add a layer of the shredded cheeses, and finish off with a couple of ladles full of your marinara - just to make it a little wet - you don't want it too soupy.
6. Repeat step 5 probably once more to bring you to the top of your pan. You'll have a couple of centimeters left over, so add that last layer of noodles, top with the rest of the ricotta, some sauce, the rest of the blended cheeses, and then coat with the grated parmesan or peccorino - this is just what you need for a beautiful, golden baked top.
7. Cover your masterpiece loosely with tin foil and place it on a baking sheet in the center of a 350 degree oven. There it will bake away and get delicious for about an hour if not a few minutes more or less, depending on your oven. Check it at about the 45 minute mark to see how it's progressing. Once the cheese is bubbling, take the foil off and let the top brown for a few more minutes.

One thing is for certain - forging onward through the lasagna making process will make you a better person. After a solid 2 hours in front of the stove to prepare it, you'll never feel more relieved than when you shove that baby in the oven and walk away while it bakes. And the look on your loved one's faces when you open the oven door and pull your golden delicious cheesy saucy masterpiece out to cool is truly priceless.
Everyone will love you. Guaranteed.

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