Apr 11, 2012

Lasagna Brick and a Hello Kitty Step Stool

First official cooking post, we'll smell up the kitchen tonight with ingredients I picked up yesterday from Graziano's.  Let's make a lasagna.

Prep:  30 minutes
Bake:  45 - 60 minutes at 375 degrees
Difficulty:  Simple but slow, my brat helped cook this beast and said it's easy peasy lemon squeezy
Appetite:  Serves 12, less than that if you're like me and eat like a hog
Leftovers:  Excellent, refrigerates nicely and feeds us lunch for several days
Cleanup:  Utter Disaster, scads of greasy pans everywhere and somebody launched a marinara bomb on my backsplash:


Time Tip:  Lasagna takes 90 minutes to assemble and bake, so consider splitting it up into two days.  Cook the ingredients and layer them the first day, stash in the fridge, then bake the second day.

Tools:  9"x13" baking dish (glass or aluminum), boiling pot for noodles, saute pan for meat and veggies, knife, cutting board, cheese grater, one small child and a Hello Kitty step stool.

Ingredients: 
  • 1/2 lb. Italian sausage
  • 1 jar marinara sauce
  • 1 lb. lasagna noodles
  • 1 - 2 lbs. cheese - Up to you on type and amount.  Fresh-ball soft mozzarella, regular mozzarella, aged provolone and wet ricotta died in the making of this meal.  And I usually tip heavy into the colon-clogging zone, mucho cheese please.
  • Italian seasoning and garlic
  • A spoonful of olive oil and cooking spray 

Modifiers:  You can easily tweak the ingredients to fit your taste.  I've made these changes on past bakes:
  • Meatless
  • Substitute hamburger for sausage or crossbreed the two
  • Add onions, mushrooms and zucchini
  • Shave an orange block of cheddar into the pan, just to get rid of it

Thaw
If your meat is frosty, plop it into a bowl of room-temp water to thaw.  I never defrost in the microwave, that dries it out.  Dry meat's weak.




Cheese

I'm a cheap-ass, but not when it comes to cheese.  Do it right and don't skimp, nobody likes limp lasagna.

Try and purchase it in balls, blocks or wedges.  Bags of pre-shredded cheese are coated in anti-caking cellulose, which muffles taste and texture, so flee from those. 
 
Here's a cheesy rundown of what I use and why:




Fresh mozzarella is a wet ball of lard.  Not much taste, but it keeps the noodles moist during the oven firing:




Aged provolone offers a lot of flavor, it's what you think of in the phrase who cut the cheese.  Soils the kitchen with a sharp moldy scent as you grate it down.  Respect this potent curd, don't overdo it or your dish will taste like a greasy fart.  Six or eight ounces is plenty.







Ricotta hints of sweet cream and adds texture between the noodle layers.  Beg your butcher for a fresh wedge, it cooks down better than a typical plasti' tub of mass-branded ricotta.






Plain old mozzarella rounds out the quattro formaggio club.  Tuck this between layers and on top to bring a stringed gooey mess to each bite.




Fork apart the mozzarella ball and ricotta:




Then chop by knife:


Grate the stinky provolone and regular mozzarella:




Meat
Aim the blue flame at your saute pan:




 Pour a shot of olive oil:



 Brown the pork:




Bust up the meat block with a metal spoon.  You want each bite of food to contain little bits of all the ingredients, rather than large blobs of meat.  This step's important, take an extra couple minutes to crumble it down.




I found a red onion lurking in the fridge, dice and drop into the pan as the meat simmers.  No need to add any salt or spices yet, the Italian sausage takes care of that.




The meat's lean enough that it doesn't need to be drained.  Don't overcook, just enough to remove the raw-red and brown it a bit.



 Sauce




Turn the burner on a large pot of water, we're about ready to boil macaroni.  As that's heating, dump a jar of marinara sauce over the cooked sausage and onions.  I usually go with a plain red sauce and jazz it with iSeasoning and garlic.  Be sure to add precisely 2 dashes and 1 pinch of each.  If you have the time, a scratch-built sauce is best.












Mix the flavor and heat until it burps your counter with lava splatter:









Noodles

Make sure the water's hard boiling, noodles like it hot.  This dish eats three layers of three noodles each, so I count out 11 (a couple extras in case they break):





Sling 'em into the vat, the tops will stick outta the water for a minute:








As the noodles begin to soften, carefully nudge them in with a fork so everything's below the waterline.  I don't add salt or oil to the water, but some people do.




The noodle instructions say to cook them for 10 minutes, but we only need to go 5.  They'll cook to completion in the oven, and the noodles better absorb the red sauce and flavor if you don't fully boil them.

Five minutes are up, turn off the burner and rinse pasta with cool water:













Toss them back in the pot and fill with cold water.  This will keep them from sticking together or breaking.




Assemble
Now's the fun part, pull in child labor to slap this puppy together.

Spray the pan:






Ready your noodles, sauce and cheese:

 




Don't forget the Hello Kitty step stool:





Pave 3 noodles across the bottom of the pan:





Smile:






Spoon saucy meat mounds over the noodles.  You want the sauce (and not the cheese) coating the noodles, this allows the marinara to bake in and flavor the pasta orange:






Smooth it out.  Uncovered noodles dry out during the bake, so sauce-coat the ends and corners well. Pigtails talks non-stop:










Set aside a stout pile of shredded mozzarella, you want to save off extra for the top.  Add ricotta, provolone, fresh and shredded mozzarella atop the sauce:








I snatched a photo of the ricotta going on, but not of the other cheeses.  Pretend you see all four cheeses on each layer:






First layer complete, repeat:  3 noodles across, sauce bath, cheese on top.




Again until you amass three layers.  Cap it with an extra puff of mozzarella and Italian seasoning on top:

















Bake
Preheat the oven to 375.

You want to bake the lasagna just until done, but no more.  It'll dry out if you blast it too long.

Cover with foil so the cheese doesn't brown:




I usually pull it from the oven and check it at the 40 or 45 minute mark.  Remove the foil and let it cook another 10 minutes to melt the cheese.  Keep an eye on it, heat until the center of the lasagna is bubbling, but don't tarry or the top will brown.

Comes out looking like this:

 



















Plate it, pair with greens, dig in!













 




-Beard

46 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, was pretty satisfying sliding down the hatch.

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  2. Michelle McCormick4/11/2012

    It looks amazing and I can't wait to try it. Granted, I'm sure I'll have a lasagna disaster on my hands and it won't be near as good as yours, but I'll give it a shot! Thank you so much for the cooking posts, can't wait to read more!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for forcing/pushing me into putting up a cooking post. Let me know if your eyebrows are still intact after you give the lasag' a try.

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    2. Michelle McCormick4/12/2012

      I'm good at forcing men to do what I want them to, just ask my husband haha
      j/k :)

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  3. Anonymous4/11/2012

    My husband asked me why I was laughing out loud just now as I was reading your cheese descriptions. I'm a grown woman and yet a 'fart' joke gets me every time. I enjoy your posts, and now I'll have to make lasagna this week!

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    Replies
    1. My daughter and I think fart jokes are hilarious. Men never really grow up, and I'm fairly sure my daughter thinks it's normal to belch at dinnertime.

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  4. I always start with a veeery thin layer of béchamel sauce so the noodles stick to it and keep moist. Adding ricotta sounds like a great idea, too, though!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good idea, I'll try it on my next bake. If you have a recipe for the white sauce, please e-mail it my way: beardandpigtails@gmail.com

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  5. I think I am going to have to make some lasagna myself this weekend. Although I usually do roasted veggies instead of meat, and a smaller pan because its only me. You know, I never thought of sprinkling the spices on top, but I bet that adds to the flavor! And I've got some Herbs de Provence when I was in France that would probably be just as good as the Italian spices... The gears are now in motion! now to find some fresh ricotta.... :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I usually am just as happy with the meatless sauce, get the right veggies in there and people don't really miss the meat. The spices on top add color and fill the kitchen with a hefty oregano scent while it cooks.

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  6. That looks easy enough..and way more healthy than the store bought...BTW, I had no idea pre shredded cheese had "stuff" coating it...can we say Ewwwwwwwww !

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    1. It is simple to make, really just noodles, sauce, meat and cheese. Other than taking awhile to make, this is one of my favorites since it feeds us for several days.

      I bet you'll notice an improvement in taste if you shred your own cheese, give it a try, plus it costs less!

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  7. Looks amazing! What a great idea to put the spices on top!! Is it wrong of me that when I saw the dishes in the sink I wanted to jump in and clean up your beautiful kitchen? Thanks for the tip on the pre-shredded cheese, makes sense but it's not something I knew.

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    Replies
    1. Ah, that's nice Jill, can you project that helpful attitude to my kid for clean-up time?

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    2. Sweetie (and I mean that is a nice way since I am old enough to be a young aunt or way older sister to you)......you are on your own. My 13 year old daughter is awful with clean up and keeping her room straightened up. I keep my place clean and organized, but she has no interest in it. sigh.

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  8. My kids and I are drooling at your pictures. We can't wait to try this. Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. It'll turn out great, post up another comment when you've given it a whirl.

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  9. Debbie4/12/2012

    a pinch of red pepper flakes is also a nice addition to the spice cache.

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    Replies
    1. The Graziano's Italian Seasoning contains red pepper flakes, this batch was good 'n spicy.

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  10. Our approaches to lasagna are fairly similar, but I don't boil my noodles & I assemble the lasagna the night before I bake it. That way the flavors have time to work their way through and the sauce softens up the noodles (which cook perfectly to done). Geez, now I'm going to have to make lasagna...says the Czech girl. :)

    BTW...new follower. Love the blog.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We'll give the no-bake a try next time, since you say it turns out just as well and saves time/dishes.

      I'd love to try some Czech recipes, send 'em my way if you have any: beardandpigtails@gmail.com

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    2. One word...klobasniks (also referred to incorrectly as kolaches). Find yourself a good, old-fashioned Czech bakery and try 'em on for size. A true klobasnik will have quality smoked pork sausage (please, do NOT think that Hillshire Farm or Eckrich make a quality sausage) and the pieces will be approximately 1-1.5" in length. The pieces of sausage will be completely encased in a slightly sweet dough that has been brushed generously with butter. If you're looking at a little smoky sticking out of each end of a flattened out biscuit, then you're looking at a pig in a blanket...totally different creature. I'll see if I can dig up Grandma's recipe and send it to you. I'm passionate about my klobasniks (and kolaches, but that's for another time).

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  11. wow! that looks good! hungry, now...

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  12. Lasagna is so yummy. I am lazy and always use the no cook lasagna noodles. I make a mixture of ricotta, parm, mozarella, and an egg as a filling. It is super yummy! I found the recipe on the back of my no cook noodle box. Score!

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    Replies
    1. Are the no-cook noodles any different than regular noodles? I think G up there in the comments uses regular noodles but doesn't cook them.

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    2. You are correct. I use regular noodles. Another benefit of not pre-cooking the noodles is that my lasagna doesn't turn out soupy. I take it out of the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving it.

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  13. Love a good lasagna. I find it helps to add one or two spoon-fulls of sauce to the pan before putting down the first layer of noodles. It keeps the noodles from sticking.

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    Replies
    1. Agree, I usually do that, but was a bit short on sauce to have enough to stash below the base layer.

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  14. Foolproof even if there were no directions :) coz of the awesome pics !!! Am so glad your'e blogging food coz you are the best foodie photographer I've seen. Wish I could borrow you for my foodie posts :) Keep cookin up delishiousness ....

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sue, you and Michelle were the two that planted the seed to go ahead and try the cooking posts. I think it'll work, and I'm open to trying some tasty recipes if you send them my way.

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    2. Michelle McCormick4/14/2012

      You're welcome!!! I'll email you some recipes of mine that I use on a regular basis, maybe you can put your own Beard spin on them and take beautiful pics :)

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  15. OH YUM!! mmmmmmmmmmm, droooooling!

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    Replies
    1. Oh great, you got drool all over your keyboard again.

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  16. Anonymous4/12/2012

    *sigh* That looks SOOOO good! I just don't enjoy constructing lasagne. It seems so laborious & with a family of 5 there are never any leftovers. If I ever do want to give it another whirl, be sure that I will try yours, because it does look simple & delicious! Enjoyed the cooking post, keep 'em coming! Angela.

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    1. With 5 in the house, you should have plenty of help. Cook the noodles and sauce, then have someone else help piece it together in a pan. Make two pans at a time and you should be good to go!

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  17. Anonymous4/12/2012

    Lasagna: Beautiful, beautiful! Yum, yum, yum

    Depiction of "greens": Truly frightening. Misshapen albino iceberg or tiny alien corpse on a teeny blankie? You don't have to answer that.

    No bake noodles = bake noodles + recipe modification + clever marketing team

    You have a very nice blog. What a lovely snippet of life

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    Replies
    1. Ha, that salad was pathetic. I was burned down after spending 2 hours cooking and photographing stinkin' noodles, so got lazy on the greens. #icebergfail

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  18. Wow! Doing cooking posts are almost as exhausting as cooking, eh? That's a really different recipe for lasagne, I like it! I usually do mine with a bechamel sauce and add eggs in a creamy ricotta mixture with spinach. I do like the addition of Italian sausage vs. the regular ground pork/beef mixture I do use if I'm making a meat "meal" version. Never tried provolone either - I do love provolone! This has inspired me to do a cooking post again...maybe.

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    Replies
    1. I'll do a meatless white sauce next time, your spinach idea also sounds scrupt-diddly-ocious.

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  19. Oh, I also use fresh lasagne. Not because I'm posh, because I'm lazy - I can't be bothered to have yet another pot/colander to wash! Plus they never get "crusty"

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    1. Where do you find fresh noodles? Make or buy? I haven't been able to find any in these here parts.

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  20. Impressive. I do agree on a mix if cheeses though with my lasagne we put ricotta cheese with some cottage cheese and provolone and mozzarella cheese between the noodles. Lots more cheese than even you! But I enjoyed the pictures and the humorous instructions. Keep laughing!!!

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    1. Sounds like you use ungodly amounts of cheese, must clog you up for weeks.

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    2. Nope! Running does the body good. Actually in total a larger container of ricotta, 16 oz of cottage cheese mixed together with handful of provolone, handful of mozzarella plus chopped fresh spinach-which the kids aren't huge fans of. This goes in the three layers and sauce on bottom (no need for spraying pan this way) then two handfuls of mozzarella on top of sauce. I also use 12 lasagne noodles. Four sets of three noodle layers. Not at all OCD or anything...

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    3. Courage, you're somehow are making me hungry for lasagna again, how is that possible? #tapeworm

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