I promise to write something about non-Italian food soon, it’s just that Italian food is so accessible to most people, you can buy spaghetti at almost any store, and you can get a pretty good price on it too.
Yesterday in a surge of anger about the crappy food served at my school, I ventured to Trader Joe’s for some ingredients. Some tomato sauce (in a jar… yes I know, I could make it myself, but I only have so much time), lasagna noodles, beef, ricotta… you see where this is going. I made a delicious lasagna for myself, and now I have a ton left over, so no more complaints about the food they serve here. Let me tell you, my boyfriend’s house isn’t great for cooking, but I think my dorm kitchen is worse. First of all, it’s gross. People don’t clean up after themselves, and it just doesn’t make for a pleasant environment to work in. Second of all, it’s small, and there isn’t much there. Third of all, the oven is like a puzzle that has no two pieces that fit together. It’s a tough situation, but I still figured out how to work around it.
I’m gonna try a simple recipe layout for this lasagna, since there wasn’t much “fate” to it besides that which the oven determines upon the cooking time.
1 jar of marinara basil sauce (something simple… don’t get like mushroom surprise or garlic central, the flavors are too overpowering in those sauces)
1 can of tomato paste
1 small package of ground beef (I always get the most lean beef, this is an optional ingredient)
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 package of ricotta cheese
1 bag of shredded mozzarella (or you could buy a log of mozzarella and shred it yourself)
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 package no-boil lasagna noodles (contrary to popular belief, these noodles work)
fresh ground black pepper
dill (dried or fresh)
paprika (extremely important)
olive oil spray
So I make my lasagna using several bowls.
Bowl # 1: First I dumped the entirety of the jar of tomato sauce, and the can of tomato paste in a mixing bowl. I then added a tablespoon of paprika and 3/4 tablespoon of dried dill. I put about a tablespoon of butter in a frying pan and I cooked my onions until they were golden brown, I then poured them into the sauce bowl, and cooked my meat in another tablespoon of oil. I cooked these separately only because I have a small frying pan, but they can be cooked together. When cooking ground beef, I use a wooden spoon to break it up. If that’s not kosher for you, then designate a spoon for beef, because the wooden spoon works BEST. I’ve tried many many different kinds of spoons/spatulas, and the wooden spoon reigns supreme. Once the beef is cooked, and broken up, drain any excess liquid out of your pan and then mix it into this sauce bowl. This is the sauce portion. Again, if you don’t eat beef, you can use ground turkey, ground chicken, ground pork, sausage products, or even a hearty vegetable would work… like squash or broccoli (cut into small chunks). The beef, or any meat/vegetable substitute, is not necessary, but the onions add a nice touch.
Bowl #2: Spoon the entire ricotta package into a bowl, mixing bowls are fine, but a small bowl will do, and add the three garlic cloves (after mincing) mix this up well and set aside. This will not only mix the garlic into the ricotta, but it will infuse the garlic flavor throughout the bowl of ricotta. It’s delicious.
Bowl #3: Mozzarella. Some people add an egg to their mozzarella, I just use mine straight. It’s fine, and it melts better.
Bowl #4: Breadcrumbs. I put about a tablespoon of butter (or olive oil if you prefer) in a frying pan and let it melt, then I add my breadcrumbs. To the gently browning breadcrumbs I add a teaspoon of black pepper, 1/2 tablespoon of dill and 1 tablespoon of paprika. I do not let these breadcrumbs blacken, they do not even need to “Fry” all the way, they just need to infuse with the flavor of the spices and herbs. You can also try dried parsley with this, and if you want more onion or garlic, you can use the powder equivalent of both.
Once you have all of these ingredients ready to go, you can start layering your lasagna. I start by spraying my baking pan with olive oil spray, or cooking spray, or you can rub it down with a bit of butter. Here is the order of my layering in lasagna. This order is from top to bottom in sequence, so if you’re gonna layer it from my directions, then read from bottom to top.
Then pop it in a 375º oven for 30-45 minutes. My oven, well I had no idea what temperature it was at the entire time I baked the lasagna, but it cooked in around 40 minutes. You can also read what the packaging of your noodles say about temperature and cooking time. If you are going to buy boiling noodles, the cooking time may vary.
Unfortunately I didn’t buy any vegetables to eat with this lasagna (sorry mom). I would actually recommend a salad. Lasagnas can be kind of heavy, even the vegetarian ones. It’s probably the amount of cheese you are eating, and plus the sauce (if you have beef) will really weigh it down.
Consider a light salad, some chopped up romaine with a few slices of cucumber and a light dressing with olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. Something simple, because what do you really want to do after making a lasagna… except eat.
The breadcrumbs help the top of the lasagna reach a level of crispiness that some like. My cheese burnt a little bit on the top, and in the corners (probably because of the makeshift oven), and so the breadcrumbs were nice, plus they add a layer of flavor that is delightful.
Unless you have adventurous kids, this lasagna is NOT kid friendly. I used to be a nanny, and I made lasagnas for kids all summer long, and let me tell you, those kids are picky about how their lasagna tastes. If you want to make a lasagna for your kids, I would recommend leaving out the extra spices, not putting garlic in anything and chopping the onions really small (they’ll never know).
Lasagna is a great thing to make with your kids, they love doing the layers, and I highly recommend it as a family kind of thing. If you get small baking pans, everyone could make their own lasagna. Who never heard of a lasagna party?
Love and Happy Spatulas,
PS: That photo is not of my lasagna.