Making the Lasagna

Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

Lasagna is an easy dish to make.  Sometimes I think it’s too easy.  It’s something which is simple to just throw together, the cooking equivalent of mailing it in.  With a little extra care and thought, it can turn into a dish that’s exciting and will leave you wanting leftovers.

I talked a while back about making the sauce.  Homemade sauce is one of those elements which is easy to skip if you’re in a hurry, but well worth it if you can spare the time.  If I know I’m making the sauce for lasagna, I’ll usually kick the spice up a notch, making it in an Arrabiata style.  I like the contrast of the heat with the creaminess of the ricotta.

I know there are folks who like to make a béchamel when they do lasagna.  I prefer the texture of the ricotta mixture, and frankly, it feels a little too sophisticated for this dish.  I like the rustic quality of baked pasta, so we keep our lasagna rough.

INGREDIENTS

1 lb lasagna noodles (the no-boil kind)

32 oz fresh ricotta

24 oz shredded mozzarella-based Italian cheese blend

4 oz freshly-grated parmagiano reggiano

2 eggs

1 tbl white pepper

1 tbl kosher salt

1 tsp freshly-ground nutmeg

12 oz marinara (more or less)

A layer of sauce prevents any sticking

A layer of sauce prevents any sticking

We started the sauce early in the morning.  It had been sitting on low for five or six hours by the time we started assembling the lasagna.  First, I mixed the ricotta (which I had let come to room temperature) and cheeses with the eggs, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, reserving 4-6 ounces of the blend for the top layer. I like a mozzarella-based blend instead of straight mozzarella because it adds an earthier flavor and makes the interior layers lighter.

The first layer of noodles and cheese

The first layer of noodles and cheese

After blending together all the ingredients, I started the layering process.  The first thing is a ladle of sauce in the bottom of the pan, which helps prevent sticking.  Then came a layer of noodles and a third of the cheese mixture.  You can see here I used three noodles for the bottom layer, but you could easily use four if you want.  There’d be a little overlap in the middle of the pan, which is no big deal, but I think going with fewer noodles keeps an already-heavy dish from becoming too heavy.

I repeated the process of sauce-noodles-cheese twice more, evenly spreading the cheese mixture.  The top layer was one more light coating of a sauce, more noodles, another light coating of sauce, and finally the remainder of the shredded cheese.

I cover the pan in foil and put it into a 375F oven for 55 minutes.  I took off the foil and let it bake for five more, until the top was golden-brown.

Hot out of the oven

Hot out of the oven

I prefer to serve any meats on the side, not in the pasta.  Occasionally I’ll layer in some spicy Italian sausage, but for the most part I’d rather have them separate.  This time, just to change things up, I got sweet sausage instead of hot, and instead of grilling them, I roasted them.  I was really happy with the way they turned out.  All I did was put them on a foil-covered pan and brush them with olive oil.  The cooked at 400F for 35 minutes, until the internal temperature got to 160F.  They were finished about half an hour before the lasagna, so I simply transferred them to a skillet, covered them with a little sauce, and kept them on low.  I really liked the browning that roasting them brought, and it might end up as my go-to method for cooking them.

There was garlic bread to go with it as well, but I think that’s a recipe for another day.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I’m fond of pairing wine from the same region as the food, and this was no different.  We poured a 2007 Terrabianca Campaccio, one of our favorite (not to mention reasonably-priced) wines, a Super Tuscan Blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Cabernet Sauvignon.  The acidity of the Sangiovese is a perfect match for the acidity of the sauce.  The tannic heft that the Cab brings makes a nice contrast to the fat in the cheese.

I’ll leave you with one final teaser, the recipe for which will be forthcoming:  Snickerdoodle Ice Box Case with Grand Marinier Marscapone frosting.

IceBoxCake

It didn’t stay like this for long

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About sheldonmenery

Sheldon Menery is a self-taught food and wine aficionado who has circled the globe in search of the riches it has to offer. He's wined and dined at some of the best (and worst) places in the world.
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