Monday, November 28, 2011

Please welcome my guest blogger

The Mr is the chef in the house, he is renowned in our circle for great Italian food, I begged him to write about my favorite dish ~ Lasagna.
Here goes....

I like to cook.  I find it relaxing and I enjoy creating.  My love for cooking stemmed from Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats”.  The show was directed toward over analytical people like me who don’t want to know just what to put into a good meal, but WHY to put it in.  I have written this as an ode to people who need more than instructions, people who need an understanding of what and why they are adding certain ingredients, oh,  and for people who love lasagna of course.

My Ingredients

1 pound sweet Italian sausage

3/4 pound lean ground beef
1/2 cup minced onion
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
2 (6 ounce) cans tomato paste
2 (6.5 ounce) cans canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil leaves
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
12 lasagna noodles
16 ounces ricotta cheese
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds of mozzarella cheese finely grated

3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Amount Per Serving  Calories: 448 | Total Fat: 21.3g | Cholesterol: 84mg

Step 1 
Chop half of a Vidalia or Sweet Spanish onion into small evenly sized chunks.  Heat a large pan (with a depth of at least 2 inches) on medium to high heat for about 2-3 minutes, then add about 2 tablespoon of Olive oil and your onions.  Constantly stir the onions for a few minutes until they turn clear (or yellow due to the olive oil).  When the onions are yellow (or clear) they are soft and sweet, while they are white they are crunchy and bitter.  Using a good olive oil is imperative; using a cheap olive oil will leave a greasy aftertaste.  In this case use either a combination olive oil (one that is simply a blend of extra virgin and regular olive oil) or a straight olive oil.

Step 2
Finley chop one clove of garlic.  The smaller the better as no one should ever bite into a piece of garlic while enjoying sauce.  To ensure proper cooking make sure that the garlic, (like the onions) are evenly chopped. Add the garlic to the onions and stir.  Cooking the garlic and onions together ensures a good sauce but can quickly ruin your sauce if burnt.  The garlic will give you no sign that it is cooked, just stir and when you start to smell the onion and garlic cooking together they should be done.  This should take no longer than 90 seconds.  If you see any dark brown or black pieces of garlic, throw out everything and start over.  When you smell the Garlic and onions, turn the heat down to medium low. 

Step 3
Deglaze your pan with about a half a cup of red wine.  Stir until the smell of alcohol goes away.  

Step 4 
To the combination of Onions and Garlic add a Half a tablespoon of Salt, Pepper, Basil and Parsley.  Then a full tablespoon of Oregano, and it you have it, a couple pinches of Italian Medley and a pinch of Fennell Seeds (more than a pinch may become overwhelming as most sausages contain fennel seeds already).  Then add a quarter of a tablespoon of crushed red pepper flakes.  This can be upped for a spicier sauce.  Stir the combination.

Step 5
Grab your pound of Sweet Italian Sausage (Can be spicy or a spicier sauce) and cut the meat out of the casing.  The easiest way is to pinch the middle of the sausage and pull.  Drop the meat into a mixing bowl and kneed to crumble.  Sausage is tough to crumble as the more fat in a meat the stickier it is and less likely to crumble finely.  I found that adding some water to the sausage helps make the sausage crumble evenly, (By adding water I mean about a palms full).  Add the Sausage meat into the pan without any water.  Then add a pound of 85/15 Ground Round.  Fold into each other until brown.  Lightly season your meat by adding about a ½ a tablespoon of salt and ½ tablespoon of sugar.

Step 6
Add your Tomatoes.  Add 2 6oz cans of tomato sauce, Add a 28oz can of Crushed Tomatoes.  You can use any brand you want; although I am convinced Tuttorosso Crushed Tomatoes are far superior in tomato taste and consistency.  If you prefer a thinner Sauce you can use Tomato Puree just make sure it is unseasoned.  Fold the Meat into the tomatoes and add a 6oz can of Tomato Paste.  There are a lot of ingredients going on in Lasagna and by adding the tomato paste it should pull out a more “tomatoey” flavor.  There are plenty to choose from at the supermarket so make sure you know what you’re getting when choosing the right Tomatoes for your sauce.  Tomato paste, or tomato concentrate, consists of tomatoes that have been cooked for several hours, strained and reduced to a thick, rich concentrate. It is generally fairly sweet.  Tomato puree consists of tomatoes that have been cooked briefly and strained, resulting in a thick liquid. Tomato sauce is a somewhat thinner tomato puree, and may include seasonings and other flavorings so that it is ready to be used in other dishes or as a base for other sauces, Finally Crushed tomatoes are simply skinned (if you buy a good one), boiled and crushed tomatoes in a puree.

Step 7
Turn the heat down low and add 2.5 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano. Cover the Sauce with a Splatter Guard.  You should NEVER cover your sauce with a lid as the condensation will turn your sauce watery.  

Step 8
In a large mixing bowl combine 16oz of ricotta, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons of FRESH chopped parsley, ½ a teaspoon of salt, 2 tablespoons of parmesan cheese, and half a cup of finely grated mozzarella.  Mix. When cutting the parsley try to get as many leaves as possible and discard the stems.  Although the stems are fine to eat, all the pungent oils hide in the leaves.  Before adding them to the mixture put them in your hands and rub them around, breaking the leaves and releasing the oils.  

Step 9
Boil a LARGE pot of water, big enough to house the 12 Lasagna Noodles.  Add 2 teaspoons of Salt to the water.  Then add about a half a cup of chicken broth.  When the water boils add the noodles and cook until the box says so.  Don’t guess when it comes to lasagna noodles as they still need to cook in the oven and overcooked lasagna noodles is a great way to make your lasagna taste like the lasagna they served in grammar school.  

Step 10
Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process and make the noodles cool enough to handle.  

Step 11
Pull out your lasagna dish (9x13 Pyrex) and layer the bottom with sauce, cover the sauce with mozzarella.  Cover the mozzarella with your noodles overlapping about a ¼ of an inch of noodle each side, Cover the noodles with Your Ricotta Mixture, then Sauce, then cover with Mozzarella, and sprinkle each layer with Parmesan Cheese.  Repeat until you reach the height of the Dish and ending with mozzarella, Parmesan, and sprinkle on very little Italian Seasoning.  Go easy on the sauce as to much makes a lasagna that won’t stand and to little makes a dry lunch lady lasagna. 

Step 12
Slide a knife around the lasagna to ensure space for it to settle while cooking.  Pre-Heat the oven to 355 degrees.

Step 13
Cover with time foil making sure NOT TO LET THE FOIL TOUCH THE LASAGNA!  If you need help try using some toothpicks to rest the foil on.  

Step 14
Bake for 25 minutes then pull it out of the oven, remove the tin foil and set the oven to 300 degrees.  

Step 15
Put it back in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  Timing can differ so at this step turn on your oven light and check on it (without opening the oven) every 5 minutes.  The finished product should look golden on top and the edges of the noodles should be very firm.

Step 16
LET IT COOL for at least 15 minutes.  Don’t cut your lasagna.  You’ve worked so hard for this; don’t ruin it by cutting into the dish before it sets.

Sometimes you will end up with more lasagna noodles than needed.  Lasagna noodles are thicker than other noodles so cutting them up for a traditional pasta dish won’t do.  You can however cut them up into ½ inch squares and put them in a chicken soup.  The extra cooking in the chicken soup will cook the noodles to perfection plus because the lasagna noodles are cut they will act like little sponges and suck up all that chicken and vegetable flavor.  You can also add the noodles to a chucky tomato soup or a minestrone soup, using some of the left over sauce as a base for the soup.

I hope you enjoyed my post, I wish the pictures came out better, it seems the iPhone isn't perfect after all. I'd love it if you make my lasagna and I will wait anxiously for your comments!
Regards, Mike


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