Because the best things in life are simple

Tag: Lasagna

A Christmas Eve Dinner Fit For A Pitstop By Santa Claus

A Christmas Eve Dinner Fit For A Pitstop By Santa Claus

Santa is coming. Time to light the stove.
Santa is coming. Time to light the stove.

The menu is set.

Santa Claus may travel around the world in one night but I like to travel more leisurely: eating and drinking and then recreating some of my favorite dishes. Here’s what we’re having tomorrow night, Christmas Eve. The dishes are ones I collected in my travels: from New England to France.

Something to Pick On:
Pub Kettle Chips, from Union Station Brewery, Portland, Rhode Island.

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First Course:
Shrimp Saute, from Joshua’s Restaurant, Wells, Maine.

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Second Course:
Patata Ball in Tomato Sauce, from La Zucca Magica, Nice, France.

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Third Course:
Lasagna, from Figs Restaurant, Boston.

Lasagna, from The Figs Table

Lasagna, from The Figs Table

This lasagna has a crunchy top, but a soft middle.
This lasagna has a crunchy top, but a soft middle.

Chef Todd English makes a good lasagna.

I still remember one I had at his Olive’s Restaurant in Boston that was made with veal.

He has a knack for taking an old standard and then being innovative, without being preposterous, paying more attention to the flavors of a dish than the flair.

On Sunday I made one of his lasagnas from his other restaurant, Figs. Figs is more casual and family-friendly, and so is this lasagna.

He deviates from the traditional lasagna recipe by using no-boil noodles, Fontina cheese and fresh mozzarella. But I have a confession to make: I bought the standard, rubbery, mozzarella by mistake, instead of the fresh balls of mozzarella, and the result was still very good.

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • Olive oil (1 tbsp.)
  • Garlic cloves (5, thinly sliced)
  • Onion (1 small, chopped)
  • Sweet Italian Sausage (1 1/2 pounds, casings removed, and crumbled) (English says you can experiment here with different types of sausages and recommends trying spicy chicken.)
  • Diced Canned Tomatoes (6 cups). (I actually used a box of diced tomatoes; a can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, chopped up; and one large fresh tomato from the farmers market, chopped.)
  • Fresh Basil Leaves (1/2 cup, chopped)
  • Kosher Salt (1/2 – 1 tsp.)
  • Black Pepper (1/2 tsp.)
    For the layers:
  • No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (About 1 1/2 boxes)
  • Fresh Mozzarella (1 1/2 pounds, cut in large dice)
  • Italian Fontina Cheese (3/4 pound, sliced thin)
  • Part-Skim Ricotta Cheese (2/3 pound)
  • Fresh Basil (1 bunch; several leaves)
  • Kosher Salt (2 tsp.)
  • Black Pepper (1 tsp.)
  • Parmesan Cheese (1 to 1 1/2 cups, freshly grated)

What I did:

To Make the Sauce:

Stir occasionally as needed.

Add oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and toast it for about 3-4 minutes. Add the onion and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes.

Add the sausage and cook until fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper and discard any excess fat.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 30 minutes.

Add the basil and cook until the mixture begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.

Fresh basil adds a bright lift to the flavors in this dish.
Fresh basil adds a bright lift to the flavors in this dish.

To Assemble the Lasagna:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Put a light coating of olive oil on a 9 x 12 roasting pan or lasagna pan.

Fill a large bowl with hot water. Dip the noodles and then drain.

Cover the bottom of the pan with noodles.

Spread some sauce over the noodles.

Top with a little mozzarella cheese (it does not have to cover completely)

Top with a little Fontina cheese (it does not have to cover completely)

Top with small dollops of Ricotta cheese. Place pieces of fresh basil on top.

Sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Repeat this five times.

Top with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Sprinkle lightly with parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven until golden brown, hot and bubbly, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve immediately or put in refrigerator to eat later.

This lasagna took a few hours to make but was easy.
This lasagna took a few hours to make but was easy.

Lasagna often takes best the second day. To reheat, put in a 350 degree oven and cook until heated through, about 30-40 minutes.

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Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

Vegetable Lasagna Masterpiece

Tricia is thrilled to come home and find a masterpiece lasagna waiting for her on the RootsLiving stovetop.
Tricia is thrilled to come home and find a masterpiece lasagna waiting for her on the RootsLiving stovetop.

(This recipe is based on a spinach lasagna recipe from Pomodoro’s Restaurant in Boston’s North End. However, I incorporated some techniques learned from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and added some tricks of my own — the addition of tomato sauce to the bechamel sauce and pine nuts to the spinach mixture — to make the perfect lasagna masterpiece.)

When I started this blog nine months ago, I wrote that this wasn’t a site for “those who want to do things perfectly, following a monotonous list of instructions like a passionless Martha Stewart.” However, I have to concede that anal retentives do serve their place in the food world.

Case in point is the most anal of all cooks, Christopher Kimball, and his “Cook’s Illustrated,” magazine. For this recipe, I borrowed a technique that was perfected in his test kitchen to make “no-boil” lasagna noodles taste nearly as perfect as homemade so that the finished lasagna is not soggy and not too dry.

After laboring for days and testing numerous methods for making the perfect lasagna, here’s what they came up with:

  • Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick).
  • When assembling the lasagna, make sure the sauces are not hot; room temperature is best, but warm works too.
Lasagna tastes even better the day after cooking, but it's hard not to eat it on the first day.
Lasagna tastes even better the day after cooking, but it's hard not to eat it on the first day.

Using these techniques, here’s how to create your own masterpiece:

Ingredients/Shopping List

For the white (bechamel) sauce:

  • Butter (3 tbsp.)
  • All-purpose flour (3 tbsp.)
  • Milk, heated (2 1/2 cups)
  • Nutmeg (1/8 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)

For Red Sauce and Spinach Mixture:

  • Onions (2 cups diced; about two large onions)
  • Carrots (2 cups diced)
  • Tomato paste (1/2 can)
  • Sun-dried tomato paste (Several squirts from a tube)
  • Porcini bullion cube (1)
  • Kitchen Ready Tomatoes, chunky-style (1 can)
  • Olive oil (2 tbsp.)
  • Frozen chopped spinach, thawed and water squeezed out (2, 10 oz. packages)
  • Part-skim ricotta cheese (1 pound)
  • Parmesan cheese (8 tbsp.)
  • Dried basil (1 tsp.)
  • Dried Oregano (1 tsp.)
  • Salt and pepper (to taste)
  • Pine (pignoli) nuts (2 oz.)
  • No-boil lasagna noodles, Barilla works well (12)
  • Part-skim, mozarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

What I did:

To make the red sauce, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a pot and add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots.

When onions and carrots are tender, add 1/2 can of tomato paste and 1/2 cup of water. Add several squirts of the sun-dried tomato paste and the can of kitchen ready tomatoes.

Crumble the porcini bullion cube into the sauce and stir. Add 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper and stir.

Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally  and then take off the heat.

To make the white sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a medium sauce pan. Add the flour and stir with a wire whisk for about 1 minute. Gradually stir in the hot milk.

Increase the heat to medium-high, cooking and stirring until the sauce thickens and comes to a boil. Lower the heat immediately and cook, whisking occasionally, for five minutes. Whisk in nutmeg, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

To make the spinach mixture, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Add 1 cup of the onions and 1 cup of the carrots and cook until tender (about four or five minutes).

In a large bowl, mix together the spinach, ricotta, onion/carrot mixture, 1/3 cup of the white sauce, four tbsp. of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, 1/2 tsp. of basil and 1/2 tsp. of oregano, salt and pepper.

You should add just enough red sauce to the white sauce to turn it orange.
You should add just enough red sauce to the white sauce to turn it orange.

To assemble and bake:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the no-boil lasagna noodles in the 13 x 9-inch pan and cover with hot tap water for five minutes (agitating the pan occasionally so they don’t stick). Place the noodles on a kitchen towel and pat dry.

Empty water out of the 13 x 9-inch lasagna pan and dry the pan. Drizzle olive oil in the pan and grease the pan using a paper towel. Make sure to coat the sides and top of the pan so nothing will stick.

Spread about 1/2 cup of the white sauce in a thin layer over the bottom of the pan.

Add enough red sauce to the remaining white sauce to make the white sauce turn orange (I used all of the red sauce except for 1 1/3 cups; Put the 1 1/3 cups of red sauce in the refrigerator and save for another day.)

Place three stips of lasagna noodles over the thin layer of white sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan. Cover with about 1/2 of the spinach mixture and three more of the lasagna noodles.

Then cover the lasagna noodles with half of the remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover completely. (Note: The white/red sauce will dribble over the sides.)  Cover with three more lasagna noodles. Add remaining spinach mixture and enough of the white/red sauce mixture to cover.

Top with remaining three lasagna noodles and remaining white/red sauce.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and remaining four tbsp. of parmesan cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 35 minutes.

Remove foil and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for an additional 20-25 minutes, until the top starts to brown and the lasagna is bubbling hot.

Let stand at least 5-10 minutes before serving.

Serves six or more.

Find more recipes in the Food section.

(Note: If you’d like to print this recipe, click on the headline on this post and then use the print button at the bottom of the post. In other words, print from the “permalink” not from the homepage.)