Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gastronomy: Classic Lasagna






Recently, I had a rather hearty laugh reading about the very-Italian Matilda Cuomo (the mother of politician Andrew Cuomo) and her thoughts on Andrew's longtime girlfriend’s rendition of lasagna. Sandra Lee, Food Network’s notoriously awful cook and host of Semi-Homemade, believes that lasagna is prepared with cottage cheese and canned tomato soup. Supposedly Mr. Cuomo's favorite meal, his mother commented, “…that’s not the way lasagna should be made.” You need not be Italian, a famous chef, or even a consummate foodie to make that statement. Sandra's version of the classic dish sounds plain awful. Unfortunately, she is not the only person to be under the evil assumption that lasagna is a layering of grisly ground beef, a jar of Ragu, and cottage cheese.

Lasagna done wrong is one of the world’s most terrible casseroles and lasagna done right (and there are many renditions) couldn’t be more delicious. Here is my recipe for lasagna and a classic, easy marinara sauce—both can be prepared a day in advance. Made with three fresh cheeses, olive oil, and wine-rich sauce, this dish is still easy without having to subject your family to bland, curded cheese swimming in a sea of Campbell’s.

Basic Tomato Basil Sauce

4 T olive oil
½ can tomato paste
4 handfuls or 1 c chopped fresh basil
4 large cloves minced garlic
2 T finely chopped fresh oregano, or 1 T dried
4 28 oz cans tomato sauce
1 c red wine
¼ c grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat olive oil in a large pot over low to medium heat. Sauté garlic until translucent, 4-5 minutes. Stir in basil and oregano. Add red wine and reduce until almost completely dissipated. Add tomato sauce, cheese, and paste. Bring to a heavy simmer. Cook over medium-heat, one hour; cook over low-heat additional hour, stirring occasionally.

Sausage Lasagna

1 lb mild Italian sausage
1 package (16 sheets) no-bake lasagna pasta
2 eggs
1/2 c grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
15 oz container of fresh ricotta cheese
2 T chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
½ lb sliced mozzarella cheese
1 recipe Basic Tomato Basil sauce
1 c chopped bail (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together eggs, ricotta, shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and parsley until blended.

Spread 1 ½ cups of sauce on bottom of 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Layer four uncooked lasagna sheets, 1/3 ricotta mixture, half of the sausage, ½ of the sliced mozzarella, and 1 - 1 ½ cups sauce.

Layer four more lasagna sheets, 1/3 ricotta mixture, and 1 - 1 ½ cups sauce.

Layer four more lasagna sheets, the remaining ricotta, the remaining sausage, and 1 - 1 ½ cups sauce.

Layer the last four lasagna sheets, 1-1 ½ cups sauce, and the remaining mozzarella slices.

Bake covered with foil for 60 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 5 additional minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting. Spoon warm sauce over each piece, dust with chopped basil, and serve.

Serves 8.

Helpful hints:

• Make sure sauce is thoroughly cooled, if not chilled, when assembling casserole.
• If you make the dish the night before, take out of fridge for 30 minutes prior to baking.
• When layering lasagna, spread ingredients to edges to seal in pasta during baking.
• Sausage may be replaced with 2 cups of fresh, uncooked, chopped spinach for a delicious, vegetarian alternative.


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3 comments:

haydesigner in SD August 7, 2010 at 1:53 AM  

Lasagna used to be one of my favorite dishes, but I have never been a huge fan of ricotta cheese. So I used to squeeze out some of the ricotta while upping the mozzarella proportionally :)

[once in awhile, I would swap out the mozzarella with provolone, too.]

Sarah August 7, 2010 at 7:01 AM  

haydesigner--I feel like you can definitely add more mozzarella or less ricotta and still have a yummy lasagna. I have made a "white" lasagna using a similar formula but substituting bechamel for marinara and mushrooms for sausage--delish!

Anonymous August 13, 2010 at 3:23 AM  

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