When mulling what to cook for this Tribune Cooks go-round, I went a little over-ambitious and decided on a smoked brisket. I have a smoker on my back porch, bequeathed to me from previous tenants, and figured I should put it to use. But as the deadline neared, I found myself without the necessary 12 hours or so to prepare the slow-roasted and tender meat, so there went that.
I decided to try another first-time dish for me - lasagna. Most other Italian classics are under my belt - in more ways than one - but I never got around to making a lasagna. It seems daunting - all those layers. You almost need a construction foreman in the kitchen.
I mish-mashed a few lasagna recipes, including the Pioneer Woman's "The Best Lasagna. Ever." But instead of the breakfast sausage some of the recipes used, I went with DiRusso's Italian Sausage, since it's easier to find around here than Bob Evans'.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Sarah Sepanek
Making homemade lasagna is a bit like being an architect as you assemble all the layers of the dish. It’s great when served with Ciabatta Garlic Bread, shown at top and with the lasagna at left.
Another element that made lasagna the better choice was the fresh loaf of ciabatta bread I had brought back from West Side Market in Cleveland. If you ever need cook-spiration, that place has it in abundance. Plus macarons. The ciabatta loaf would make wonderful crusty garlic bread.
I mixed the meat, and used the juices to sautee the garlic for the meat sauce, draining about half of the fat afterward. In went tomatoes - both canned and fresh whole ones - and the seasonings. I added some thyme mostly because I'm trying to get rid of it.
The lasagna noodles are tricky; you don't want them to stick together or to the pan, so the olive oil added to the water is a must. After draining, I had to carefully peel them apart, ripping a few. I made a couple extra strips to allow for any that got massacred.
1-1/2 pound ground beef
1 pound ground Italian sausage
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (14.5 ounces) whole tomatoes
2 cans (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups ricotta cheese
2 whole beaten eggs
1/2 cup grated (not shredded) Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound sliced mozzarella cheese
1 package (10 ounces) lasagna noodles
(add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil to pasta water)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet or saucepan, combine ground beef, sausage, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat until browned. Drain half the fat. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons parsley, basil and salt. After adding the tomatoes, the sauce mixture should simmer for 45 minutes while you are working on the other steps.
In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, beaten eggs, grated Parmesan, 2 more tablespoons parsley, and 1 more teaspoon salt. Stir together well. Set aside. Cook lasagna until al dente.
Arrange 4 cooked lasagna noodles in the bottom of a baking pan, overlapping if necessary. Spoon half the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Spread evenly. Cover ricotta with a layer of mozzarella cheese. Spoon a little less than half the meat/sauce mixture over the top.
Repeat, ending with meat/sauce mixture. Sprinkle top generously with extra Parmesan.
Either freeze, refrigerate for up to two days, or bake immediately: 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until top is hot and bubbly.
Ciabatta Garlic Bread
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 bulb of garlic
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 handful fresh parsley, chopped (or chives)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the ciabatta in half lengthways and put it on a baking tray
Peel the garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and then crush in all the cloves of garlic from the bulb. (If you don't have a garlic crusher, then finely grate them in advance and add the grated garlic to the butter) Let the garlic cook in the butter for a few minutes then spread the buttery garlic mixture all over the ciabatta.
Grate the lemon zest and scatter the sea salt over the top of the bread.
Bake in the oven for about 10-15 minutes or according to the package instructions.
When it is ready, the garlic should be a golden color. Take it out of the oven, grate a little extra lemon zest over the top for freshness and then snip over chives or scatter freshly chopped parsley over the top.
The layering actually went pretty well. It was like building a noodle house. The ricotta mixture smoothed over nicely, and the colors looked neat through the side of my Pyrex dish. Easy peasy.
Hot and bubbly, the lasagna tasted great. Cheesy and robust, with the sweet sausage and tomatoes. Mop up the leftover sauce with a piece of buttery garlic bread. And, my favorite, it required very few dirty dishes. Simple, delicious, and no one was hurt. Cook some up for Sunday supper and freeze some for lunch.