What Could Be Better Than a Hearty Homemade Lasagna Dinner?


As the More is More Mom® I can’t wait to share with you……more recipes. Last week was crazy with all of the pomp and circumstance involved with Amanda graduating from Our Lady of Perpetual Donations Grammar School. Our day began with a beautiful mass at 9:30am. I was certain I was going to be balling my eyes out (I cry at everything…..I was teary eyed reading my book club book just this morning), but I was remarkably composed (not something I’m always known for…). Then we skedaddled over to a lovely luncheon for the graduates and their parents; making it home by 2:30 in the afternoon. The evening festivities culminated at 7 PM (just in time for our Chicago Blackhawks to play Game 3 of the Stanley Cups Finals. What rotten timing!), so we were in a bit of a time crunch to enjoy dinner with our family.

With very little time on our hands for food prep before our guests arrived, I knew the perfect meal to feed a crowd…..lasagna! You know I am all about being prepared, which is why I adore lasagna; it is made ahead of time. It is really the perfect food because it represents so many of the food groups in one, savory, mouth watering serving; protein, carb’s, veggies and dairy. The only thing missing is chocolate (okay….and maybe fruit. Did the grapes in the wine count?). I love this fantastic recipe from Everyday Italian, by Giada De Laurentiis; Classic Italian Lasagna (pg 92).

I happened to make a double recipe because we were thirteen for dinner. I am going to give you the recipe in the order in which I prepared the ingredients for assembly.

Ingredients, for one tray of lasagna:

Salt

2 Tbsp vegetable oil (I used olive oil, what difference could 2 little tablespoons make?)

15 dry lasagna noodles (about 12 oz)

3 Tbsp olive oil (or 5 and make your life just that much simpler)

1 lb ground beef chuck

Ground black pepper (and lots of it! You know I’m a super fan of the cracked black pepper)

2 ½ cups Béchamel Sauce (recipe to follow)

1 ½ cups Marinara Sauce (recipe to follow, or just use it from the jar.  I’m totally serious, I would insist on homemade when authenticity was vital to the dish’s integrity)

1 ½ lbs whole-milk ricotta cheese

3 large eggs

2 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 (10 oz) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (always a complete hassle, but this time I attempted a technique that worked quite nicely)

3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

¼ cup freshly grated parmesan (or make your life simpler and use more mozzarella. Whatever you’re up for.)

There’s a ton of prep work (but the end result is totally worth it), so let’s get started!

The Béchamel Sauce:

This recipe makes approximately 4 cups of sauce. For a single recipe of lasagna you will require about 2 ½ cups, so you may as well make two trays of lasagna. You could always freeze a tray for dinner another night when your family is particularly busy.

 

You will need:

5 Tbsp unsalted butter

½ cup all-purpose flour

4 cups of warm whole milk

½ tsp salt, plus more to taste

Pinch of ground white pepper, plus more to taste (what’s a pinch? You’ll want way more than that)

Pinch of ground nutmeg, plus more to taste (again…see above)

In a saucepan, warm up the milk. Keep on simmer.

In another sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.

Add the flour and whisk until well blended, no more than two minutes.

Gradually you will add the warm milk, while constantly whisking to keep free of lumps. You will continue whisking while the sauce becomes nice and thick, smooth and creamy. No more than 10 minutes. Don’t allow the sauce to come to a boil. Scalding milk is just plain gross.

Remove from the heat and add the pinch of white pepper (and then some) and the pinch of nutmeg (and then some). Season with salt and more white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Allow the sauce to cool before proceeding to the next step. This sauce can be made up to three days in advance.

Marinara Sauce:

A homemade marinara sauce is lovely, but I don’t think it’s necessary in this particular instance because the marinara is going to be mixed with the Béchamel sauce, and who would know the difference once the flavors are blended and married with everything else?

I’m a fan of the Prego, but if you’re a purist, here goes…..

I make this sauce when the marinara is going to stand on its own and this is delicious.

Ingredients:

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 small onions, finely chopped (I need onion goggles for the chopping, which is a hassle, because I LOVE onions. Oh well, the things we do for love….)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (I press. Am I committing a horrible faux pas by pressing? I think not)

2 celery stalks, finely chopped (Chuck loves celery. I’m not a huge fan, though I like carrots, peppers, snap peas and cucumbers dipped in Ranch dressing.)

2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped

½ tsp sea salt (Love the sea salt, but why only ½ a teaspoon? Shake, shake, shake to taste)

½ tsp cracked black pepper (come on….you know we need way more than that!)

2 (32 oz cans of crushed tomatoes)

2 dried bay leaves

I always use a large sauté pan with a thick lip, to keep all the juicy goodness inside the pan. Heat oil over a medium high flame.

Add the onions and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onions have a beautiful translucent quality.

Add the celery, carrots and a dash or two of salt and pepper. Sauté until the veggies are soft and tender (about 10 minutes).

Add the tomatoes and the bay leaves and simmer for about an hour, until the sauce thickens. Sprinkle on a little more salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be used immediately or the next day. It is really nice and fresh over a bed of pasta with a little freshly shaved parmesan (or, I am always a fan of goat cheese!).

If you are using in conjunction with the Béchamel sauce, once they are both cool would be the time to combine 1 ½ cups of the marinara with 2 ½ cups of the Béchamel for a beautiful, rich sauce.

Otherwise, be a practical cheater and toss in 1 ½ cups of Prego, or so, and you still have your self a very tasty, thick sauce for your lasagna.

Seriously, get organized, and have all of the ingredients prepped for assembly. It’s just so much simpler and makes for a more pleasant process.

 

The Beef:

Okay, the sauce is ready to go, now let’s brown the beef!

I prefer a nonstick skillet for easier cleanup, though my gorgeous stainless steel skillet from Williams Sonoma cleans up like a charm.

Heat 3 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high flame. Add the ground beef a ½ tsp (or so) each of salt and pepper. Break up any clumps of meat and sauté until the beef is nice and brown. Remove from heat, draining any excess fat. Set aside.

The Ricotta Mixture:

Super simple. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, eggs, and some more salt and pepper until well blended. Set aside.

The Spinach:

While tasty and full of rich nutrients, defrosting the spinach is a huge, messy hassle. I removed the spinach from the packaging and placed in a shallow dish. I set the microwave for about 3 ½ minutes and checked its level of defrosted-ness. I repeated the process at 30 second intervals until the frozen blocks of spinach were defrosted enough to work with, but not soggy or cooked.

I placed the spinach on a multiple piling of Bounty Paper Towels (really needed the quicker picker upper action for all of this water). I then squeezed the spinach in the paper towel, ringing it until I had removed as much moisture as humanly possible, and there you have spinach ready for layering!

The Lasagna Noodles…finally:

For prep purposes, I like to have all of the other ingredients ready to go.

Bring a large stock pot full of salted water to a boil. Add the vegetable oil (or olive oil…hello, what’s the difference? It’s just so the noodles don’t stick together.). Add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes, so the noodles are al dente. You don’t want them to get soggy while baking.

If you are doing this step first; drain, rinse under cold water, and lightly cover with a damp towel (to prevent them from drying out).

This is precisely why I like to cook the noodles last. Drain and separate the noodles, lying them on a flat surface (like a cutting board or two, or three, depending on how many trays you are making), so they don’t stick together and are easy to use.

The Layering:

This is it; the final step in the process.

1. Butter the baking dish.

2. Spoon about 1/3 (or 1/6 if you are making a double recipe. Any more trays than that, you should start a catering business.) of the Béchamel-Marinara Sauce over the bottom of your baking dish.

3. Arrange 4-5 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce, overlapping slightly to entirely cover the pan.

4. Spread all (or half, if you have doubled the recipe) of the ricotta mixture evenly over the noodles.

5.Top with the spinach, spreading it evenly over the ricotta mixture.

6. Arrange 4-5 more lasagna noodles over the layer of spinach, overlapping and covering completely.

7. Top with the ground beef.

8. Spoon 1/3 (or, again 1/6 if you are making a double recipe) of the Béchamel-Marinara Sauce over the ground beef.

9. Sprinkle with a ½ cup of mozzarella cheese.

10.  Top with another 4-5 lasagna noodles, overlapping to cover completely.

11. Spoon the remaining Béchamel- Marinara Sauce over the lasagna noodles.

12.  Sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella cheese and the Parmesan cheese, if you are using.

13.  Cover tightly and refrigerate over night.

14.  Preheat oven to 375°

15. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, placing the baking dish on top (just in case there is any dripping goodness from the pan).

16.  Bake for approximately 45 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes before serving to allow for settling, and enjoy…..

I served with a simple green salad dressed with the homemade Parmesan dressing I made for Memorial Day.

Parmesan Salad Dressing:

This dressing is lovely with the fresh basil and grated parmesan. It is special enough to simply toss on a bed of pretty greens. For this particular meal I have enough flavors colliding, that the richness of this vinaigrette doesn’t need to be complicated with a medley of other vegetables. How about that? Simplicity from the More is More Mom®? (Though I would prefer to view it as a well honed matter of restraint.).

 Ingredients:

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ tsp or so of salt
  • 2 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
  •  1 tsp lemon juice (again, since there are so many other rich, fresh flavors, I don’t think it’s worth the time or mess of squeezing fresh lemon juice. Sorry).
  • 3-4 Tbsp fresh, chopped basil (little smells as delightful)
  • ¼ – ½ cup of finely grated parmesan
  • ½ tsp cracked black pepper (I’m going through this stuff like crazy!)
  • ½ cup or so of olive oil

 

With a mortar and pestle mash the garlic with the salt.

Whisk together with the vinegar, lemon juice, basil, parmesan and salt and pepper.

Slowly add olive oil and whisk until well blended.

Toss with greens and serve.

The Final Presentation:

Lasagna, greens tossed with Parmesan Dressing and a slice of fresh baguette bread (of course Nick and Amanda don’t eat lasagna, so they had grilled hamburgers…..what can you do?) 

 

What could be more perfectly befitting a graduation dinner with family……

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