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Thursday, January 6, 2011

My Newly-Perfected Lasagna

Over the summer, I made a boatload of my favorite lasagna sauce out of tomatoes I picked at our CSA's farm (37 pounds to be exact)! I spent the better part of three days cleaning, peeling, and quartering the tomatoes and then making the sauce (out of mostly local and organic vegetables). I then froze it--enough to make nine lasagnas!

I made my fallback lasagna a few weeks ago, and it just wasn't exactly what I wanted. My husband agreed and suggested I add a bechamel sauce to it. I did, and the results were great! I am proud to announce that I have now perfected my lasagna. I have to warn you, though, that this lasagna is time intensive. I suggest you make extra sauce the first time you make this and freeze it so that the first step is already taken care of when you want to make your next lasagna. This lasagna also freezes well, either before baking (just defrost it before you want to use it and bake as directed) or after baking. If you freeze it after baking, you can cut it into meal-sized portions, freeze it in tupperware, defrost it and either bake it in the oven until warm (my preference) or microwave it for a quick meal.

Meaty Lasagna with Tomato Sauce and Bechamel
adapted from New Basics Cookbook and The Art of Simple Food

Tomato Sauce (makes 6 cups):
4 1/2 pounds sauce tomatoes, such as Roma, peeled, cored and quartered, reserving one cup of the juice (or 2 35-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup red wine
2 Tbl tomato paste
1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tbl dried oregano
2 Tbl fresh basil, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste
Pinch of dried red pepper flakes
Splash of balsamic vinegar
Sugar (to taste, if needed)

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, carrot and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onions and garlic have wilted, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, reserved juice, wine, tomato paste, and remaining ingredients except for the sugar. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring once. Remove the cover and simmer another 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once the sauce has simmered, break down the tomatoes with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. Taste--if the sauce is too bitter or acidic, add a little sugar, starting with a teaspoonful until the flavors are to your liking. Continue simmering until the juices have become thick and saucy.

Bechamel Sauce:
3 Tbl unsalted butter
3 Tbl flour
2 cups milk (I used 2%.)
Pinch of nutmeg
2 Tbl freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pot. Stir in the flour. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the milk bit by bit, whisking constantly. To avoid lumps, completely whisk in each addition of milk before adding the next. If your sauce is still lumpy, you can strain it through a sieve after all the milk has been added and return it to the burner to cook. Bring the milk mixture slowly to a boil, stirring constantly. Turn down to a bare simmer and cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the sauce from sticking.

After about 20 minutes, season with salt and the nutmeg. Stir in the Parmesan cheese. Taste for seasoning--feel free to add more salt or cheese if needed. The sauce should be thick, but pourable. Use right away or keep warm to prevent it from solidifying.

2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 Italian sausage (or mild sausage with 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes sprinkled in)
5 cups Tomato Sauce (see above)
4 Tbl fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
3 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (one large tub)
1 cup cooked spinach, chopped and well-drained
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbl dried oregano
3/4 tsp ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 lasagna noodles, cooked until not quite tender
3 cups grated mozzarella cheese
2 cups bechamel sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the beef, sausage, red pepper flakes (if using), and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up the meat, until it is browned. Drain and set aside.

Place the tomato sauce in a large saucepan. Add the meat and 2 tablespoons of the parsley and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat.

In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, Parmesan, remaining 2 tablespoons parsley, oregano, nutmeg, and pepper. Mix well.

Place 2 cups of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Drizzle with about 1/3 of the bechamel sauce. Arrange 4 lasagna noodles on top of the sauce. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles and sprinkle with 1 cup of the mozzarella. Repeat the layers of tomato sauce, bechamel, noodles, ricotta and mozzarella. Top with the remaining tomato sauce, bechamel, and 1 cup of mozarella, sprinkled evenly over the top.

Cover the dish loosely with foil, place it on a baking sheet, and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 20 minutes. Remove the dish from the oven and allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes before serving.

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Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen January 7, 2011 at 4:51 PM  

Thirty seven pounds of tomatoes. Oh my gosh, that's a lot of tomatoes. Your lasagna looks so comforting.

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