Monday, February 19, 2007

Lasagna Reconsidered

Lasagna -- layered with massive quantities of ricotta, mozzarella, sausage and ground beef -- was always a great idea for feeding a crowd at a big family event. You could make it ahead of time, and it was heavy and filling. It was so enormously time consuming, we rarely made it, so it was always a treat. Since I've been cooking just for two, lasagna hasn't appeared on the menu. But the recent extended spate of sub-freezing weather inspired a craving.

The introduction of no-boil noodles has shortened the preparation time immensely. Cooking noodles doesn't sound like such a big deal -- it's just boiling water, isn't it? But that step easily adds an hour to the process. I know the no-boil varieties have been around for awhile, but this was my introduction.

A big difference in the recipe: the no-boil noodles require a huge quantity of sauce, so a regular 9 X 13" pan uses only 3/4 of the box. You'd need a 3" deep pan to hold all that extra sauce and the extra layer of cheese and noodles. As it was, the sauce came very near to boiling over into the oven.

Barilla's recipe also yields a lighter meal than I recall. Lasagna will never be mistaken for a soufflé, but the recipe on the box was excellent. It calls for only 15 oz. of ricotta for a 9oz. box of noodles, so the layers are considerably smaller than our old family version.

I was originally going to make fewer servings, using a loaf pan, but the uncooked noodles looked way too small to work. It turns out the flat noodles swell enormously as they absorb the moisture from the sauce, so next time, I'll have to experiment.

Barilla's recipe:
Preheat oven to 375F

9oz uncooked noodles (regular box, which looks like it's half the size of the traditional curly-edge noodles)
2 eggs
15oz ricotta cheese
4 C (16oz) shredded mozzarella (divided)
1/2 C grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb cooked, crumbled Italian sausage
2 jars (26oz each) sauce.

Beat eggs in medium bowl. Stir in ricotta, half the mozzarella, and the Parmesan.

For a regular 9 X 13" pan. Spoon half a jar of sauce in the bottom of the pan, and layer with four sheets, overlapping if necessary. Spread half the ricotta and meat, and remaining half jar of sauce. Add 1 C mozzarella. Layer 4 more sheets, remaining ricotta and meat, and half of 2nd jar of sauce. Top with 4 sheets, remaining sauce and one C mozzarella. (You will have 4 sheets left over.)

Cover tightly with foil. Bake, covered, until bubbly, 50-60 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes before cutting. Recipe makes 12 servings.

Of course, I couldn't follow the recipe -- I reduced the amount of mozzarella, used less sausage, added 10oz of frozen chopped spinach, thawed. And made my own sauce from 2 28oz cans of tomatoes, one whole, one crushed.

Barilla has an enormous recipe cache on its web site, if you are looking for any inspiration -- seach by sauce type, noodle type, vegetarian... or browse a huge list.

For the rest of February, the company is also offering free downloads of The Celebrity Pasta Lovers' Cookbook. The company pledged $100,000 for Second Harvest, donating $1 for every download until they reached their goal. That took barely more than a week. The PDF booklet includes some meatless recipes. One that caught my attention was Mario Battali's Pumpkin Sage Butter Tortellini -- it sounds like a great launching point for some experimenting, since there is no way I could ever make a pasta sauce using a half pound of butter and a half cup of pumpkin purée.

1 comment:

Kevin said...

I've never taken to those no-boil lasagna noodles either, EXCEPT, if you par-boil them for about two minutes they're perfect for making proper manicotti.