Former Cadiz Record reporter Eric Snyder found his way home on Sunday for a near-repeat of last year’s get together in which I cooked some Chinese food. It’s always a pleasure to see Eric, and I think he had a good time and a good meal. After the fact, we watched the second-to-last episode of the Showtime original series, “Dexter.” Though new to the show, I think Eric really liked it. Hawkins and I are regular viewers, so it whet our appetites for next week’s season finale. Boy I hope Dexter does not end up in jail.
Since Eric’s meal was a near repeat of last year’s column, I won’t spend any time reviewing it. Instead, I want to talk about the lasagna we ate on Saturday with Hawkins’ longtime friend Aaron Cox, and our former graphic artist Matt Martini.
Yes I know, many of you may be pointing out that I made lasagna just a few months ago. Saturday’s lasagna was all-together different from the first, being a traditional lasagna with red sauce and plenty of meat, compared to a vegetable lasagna with Alfredo “gravy” as I have learned sauces are called from our return to viewing “The Sopranos” on DVD.
To start the meal, I started with my favorite marinara sauce. I’ve been making the sauce the same way for close to 15 years, though having adapted it for lasagna, I might do things a bit differently next time. Since it’s been a while since I’ve made the sauce in my column, I’ll review the ingredients quickly.
Sautee a tablespoon of minced garlic, one diced onion and one green pepper in a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. When the onions begin to grow tender, add a half-pound of mushrooms, with a half-teaspoon of salt and pepper, and cover the pot. When the mushrooms are cooked, pour 32 ounces of tomato sauce into the sauce and a small can of tomato paste for thickness. Season the sauce with the easy-to-remember three-two-one ratio of three tablespoons of parsley, two tablespoons of oregano and one tablespoon of basil. Add a quarter cup of red wine to the sauce, two chopped tomatoes, two or three bay leaves and stir everything well. The tomatoes might make the sauce a bit too acidic, so use a half-to-full teaspoon of sugar to sweeten things up. Add salt and pepper as needed and cover the pot, simmering for a good two hours. To make things a bit different, I thinly sliced one zucchini and added it to the sauce as it simmered, to infuse a little color and flavor to the gravy. As this was lasagna rather than spaghetti, I probably should have added a second small can of tomato paste for extra thickness. I will do that next go-round to see what happens, so the sauce will layer-up a little better.
About halfway through simmering, I browned some ground turkey in the skillet and combined it to the sauce. Though not typical for my sauce, I decided lasagna called for some meat. Typical lasagnas use beef, but I opted for turkey, to eliminate some of the fat, knowing the copious amount of cheese I planned to use would more than make up for it. Stir the meat into the sauce completely, re-cover the pot and continue simmering until finished.
When the sauce is nearly ready, boil a package of dried lasagna pasta according to the directions. While in Oak Grove, Hawkins and I again searched for whole-wheat pasta, and again struck out. I know I have seen whole-wheat lasagna before, and really wish I could find it for my recipes. When the pasta is done, drain it and set it aside.
Dean Dall again provided me with the large 9x13 inch casserole pan for my lasagna. Hawkins asked what I would have done if she was not around. Other than going into full panic mode, I probably would have broken down and bought one. If we keep eating lasagna, I am sure I will. Thanks for the pan, Dean.
Grease the pan with olive oil and lay down a bed of pasta at the bottom. I coated the lasagna with some sauce. This is a three-cheese lasagna. The first cheese, a pound of ricotta, got seasoned with a teaspoon each of basil and oregano, with some salt and pepper. A friend suggested using an egg in the cheese to make it more solid as it cooks. I forgot to do this on Saturday, but plan it for next time. Take the ricotta and blend it well before making a layer above the sauce.
The next cheese was some mozzarella. I used a total of one pound in this recipe. Fresh basil leaves on top of the mozzarella pack extra flavor into the dish. For more meatiness, I fried some spicy Italian sausage, sliced it thin, and added several pieces on top of the mozzarella. The final cheese Parmesan goes on top of it all. Continue combining pasta, sauce, cheeses and sausages, with basil leaves interspersed until the pan is full. Was it ever full. Top the pan off with whatever mozzarella and Parmesan is left. Use fresh Parmesan or whatever is grated in the bag instead of the green can. Top it with any basil leaves that are left.
With the lasagna made, I baked it in an oven preheat for 350 degrees for a total of 50 minutes. When it comes out of the oven, all that cheese is like napalm. Let the lasagna sit and set up for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.
Matt, Aaron, Hawkins and I sat down to watch the Sopranos the Best of Saturday Night Live with Will Ferrell and an animated program known as Boondocks. We enjoyed the lasagna with plenty of laughter. Matt, an Italian American, and Aaron said that my lasagna was the second best they ever had. They had to give the first place award to the dishes prepared by their mothers. To me, that was the highest compliment a cook can ever expect. Thanks a lot guys.
The tribe enjoyed several helpings through the evening, with some fresh Italian bread. I started things off with some bruschetta, but will save that for another column. When all was said and done, none of us could leave the couch to go home, we were so full. With good friends all weekend long, tasty food, and plenty of laughs (and a few SNL groaners) a good time was had by all. Good eating.