I was idly clicking away at links today, when I came across this on Peter R.'s site. It's the section of the Old Farmer's Almanac that gives out recipes, presumably old farmers' recipes.
So, being a pasta guy and a half-decent dabbler in the kitchen and always on the search for new recipes or ways to improve on the ones I use, I checked out the recipes for lasagna.
The ones they had looked ... well, edible, I suppose. By somebody. Not by me. Maybe an old farmer.
For one thing - and this was told to me by an ancient Italian woman, and I by God believe it - "No Ricotta cheese, no lasagna. Period. Thassa eet." There are other, less egregious sins in the recipes, but it's far more constructive to instead, pass along my own personal recipe for absolutely killer, delicious, stick-to-your ribs lasagna.
Now, a note before we start: if you are a vegetarian or a vegan or have a problem with any of the ingredients, please feel free to substitute your own. I fully support your right to make choices about what you eat, and wouldn't dream of criticizing those choices. Your recipe may or may not end up tasting similar to mine. It won't be the same, but your conscience will be clear, and that's worth something.
I'm not a vegan or vegetarian. I am an unrepentant omnivore with no food sensitivities and not a single shred of ethical dilemma about what I choose to eat. Your mileage, as they say, may differ, and that's fine by me.
This recipe is NOT rated "heart healthy". I am NOT a purist when it comes to ingredients - if you really really like a certain brand of pasta sauce in a jar, for God's sake use it. This recipe has evolved into something that is easy to make, tastes delicious, and is even better (if that's possible) after being frozen and resurrected. It's not what you serve the Queen when she drops by. Which is a pity, because I think she'd ask for the recipe.
Over the years, I've developed shortcuts. In a spiced meaty sauce, I don't believe I can tell the difference in taste between freshly sliced mushrooms and canned sliced mushrooms, for example. So I opt for the canned, because I'm all about being lazy and getting the same results. Feel free to chop up mushrooms, if it makes you feel better or if you think it will dramatically improve the taste. They're your taste buds.
And where I used to buy a little Mozzarella, a little Asiago, some Provolone, and other cheeses and shred them individually and mix them together, I find it's much more convenient to buy the pre-mixed Italian blend bags of shredded cheese.
Nilbo's Killer Lasagna
2 (two) 28 oz cans of diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
1 can sliced mushrooms
Approximately 2 pounds (900 g) lean or extra lean ground beef
3/4 cup grated Romano cheese (Parmesan is an acceptable substitute, but not a first choice)
1 baseball sized onion, chopped fine so the kids won't notice it
1 tbsp marjoram (I'm not so exact; I use the palm of my hand)
1 tbsp oregano
1 tbsp parley
1 tbsp italian seasoning
1/2 tbsp garlic salt
Other salts (onion, celery, plain) and pepper to taste
3 or 4 whole chilis
1 large container Ricotta cheese
Parmesan or Romano to sprinkle on top
Oven ready lasagna noodles (so much easier than cooking up the noodles yourself!)
Fry beef until brown and crumbly; drain off fat. While it's frying, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, mushrooms, chopped onion, chilis and various spices into a pot and stir in the Romano. Then add the meat and stir it all up. Your kitchen already smells heavenly. Wait till it's been simmering a while. I let this whole thing simmer for as long as I can - an hour, two, an afternoon, whatever - just don't let it burn. Stir often.
Just over an hour before supper has to be on the table, start assembling everything. In a LARGE lasagna dish (duh), put a thin layer of sauce, then a layer of noodles, then another, thicker layer of sauce. Now spread on a layer of Ricotta - use it all. Sprinkle with a thin layer of the shredded cheese, and dash on some Parmesan. Now repeat everything: another layer of noodles, the last layer of sauce, a thick layer of shredded cheese, and sprinkle with Parmesan. (Note you've used all the Ricotta in the first layer, so the last layer of cheese is all the remaining shredded stuff. It helps the whole thing keep its shape later.)
All this layering sounds complicated. It's really not. Just ladle the stuff on. Be sloppy. Who cares? It will all flow together once it starts baking anyway. And since we're there ...
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 45 minutes or until cheese starts to brown and bubble. Once you take it out of the oven, do NOT just attack it with a spatula, no matter how hungry you are and how delicious and irresistible it smells. Let it set for 10 or 15 minutes. Then it cuts neatly into whatever serving size you want.
When I'm at the grocery store, I always buy a few of those single serving size foil loaf pans. After everybody's had their fill, put the leftovers into those. Perfect for lunches or quick, delicious suppers.
Serve with Caesar salad and French bread with garlic butter. Yum.
Let me know if you like it. And if you have an improvement to suggest, let me know that, too. Bon appetit!