July 27, 2008

Lasagna Challenge

Like a lot of people, I really like lasagna. So I made it a personal challenge to make some. As will surprise no one who has actually put a lasagna together from raw materials, it's quite a lot of work. I'd give the recipe here, but to be honest, after two hours of preparation and assembly, I don't remember everything I used or did.

I can tell you that for each ten-by-sixteeen baking pan (I made two) I used a box of lasagna; half a pound of ground turkey browned with onion and Italian herbs; two reduced jars of tomato sauce base doctored up with some good red wine, garlic, more herbs, and a variety of cheeses; a pound of mozzarella cheese mixed with a generous grating of Parmesano Reggiano; half a head of spinach mixed with a pound of ricotta cheese, garlic, and more mozz-parm mix (bound together with an egg) and looking sort of greenish from the spinach. All told, the ingredients for these two brick-like food structures probably totals a hundred dollars.

I can tell you that grating the hard cheeses with a mini-planer is a good way to scrape off some of that skin you didn't need on your knuckles and that layering hot pasta in a baking dish is a good way to cauterize those wounds (after you've washed the blood away, of course). Finally, I can tell you that if you're not the sort of person who just plain enjoys two hours in the kitchen making something that you won't be able to eat for several hours after you're done, you'll be just as satisfied buying a frozen lasagna in the grocery store and baking it. It's a lot of work and if cooking is not a labor of love for you, you'll be unhappy with it. Me? I had a great time.

Also, I can be assured that no matter how good the lasagna turns out, it will not compare with my mother-in-law's lasagna. The Wife remembers her mother's lasagna as the best thing she made. How can I compete with that? Personally, I don't know whether my own mother, or her mother, makes better lasagna because their recipes and techniques are similar (and they form the foundation of my own) and they are insanely good. This being my first solo lasagna undertaking I'll be looking for ways to improve aside from adding height to the dish once I get a bigger baking pan to make it in. For now, I'll be satisfied if I get a gooey, creamy, tangy, and savory taste and all the pasta has a uniform texture.


Michael Reynolds said...

Been there. I remember my confidence when I went after my first lasagna. I thought "how hard could it be?" Turns out, pretty hard.

Fern Driscoll said...

With all due respect, you will have a far more fantastic product if you make your own pasta, or buy fresh. Those boxed 'lasagna' noodles are an atrocity - too thick and too doughy. Many stores now sell fresh lasagna sheets. If you can't find them and you truly enjoy cooking, it is pretty simple to make your own pasta - semolina, water, and that's about it. It's kind of fun to roll it all out in one of those pasta machines - they even have power ones now to make it easier, I think.

Where I live pesto lasagna is the order of the day. You cook up a bunch of sheets of fresh pasta and layer it with pesto, ricotta and bescemele (if you can't get it packaged it's really easy to make: melt 2 tbl butter, stir in 2 tbl flour, cook and stir, then slowly add one cup milk, cook until it thickens), a sprinkling of pine nuts, and grated parmigiano or grana cheese. Yum. It's a relatively easy preparation and the result is delicious.

I love your idea of spinach right in the lasagna - sounds very good. Buon appetito!

Michael Reynolds said...

Fern is clearly trying to destroy you by adding one more level of difficulty.

Burt Likko said...

Fern, you're right about the box pasta. But it's enough work as it is to put together what I did. I'm pretty good at rescuing my pasta while it's still al dente, but of course fresh pasta is better than the dried stuff from a box.

My problem turned out to be not enough wet stuff on the bottom, because the pasta dried and toasted from insufficient sauce and cheese to keep it moist during the baking process. It turns out to be very difficult to perform surgery on the bottom layer of a lasagna. Oh well, you learn by trying.

Fern Driscoll said...

I bet it was delicious anyway - you had a lot of good flavors there.