Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Monday Afternoon Project: Lasagna

As some of you may have read throughout this blog, I’m big time pregnant right now. In fact, I could pop any day. I’m basically waiting around at home until the big day comes, which has great advantages. The downside is that I don’t have much energy left in me. Consequently, I’m not always in the mood for cooking. Still, I put a great effort to make sure I do keep on cooking. First, to stay healthy. But also to have great recipes to add to this blog.

You can also imagine that my fridge is pretty much kept full at all times. I’ve been like a small ant lately, making provisions for the hard times to come (because you never know what you’re going to get!). I have all sorts of frozen goods ready to be heated up, either in the microwave or in the oven. There is no way I will be cooking in the first few days after giving birth. Which is why yesterday I gave myself a big kick in the butt and made an astronomical quantity of Lasagna.

Don’t get me wrong, I love lasagna but it’s not something I eat every week. More like twice a year. Yet I find that when you make lasagna, it takes so much time that it’s not worth it if you’re only going to make one. Which is why I made 3 huge ones and froze them. I can keep them all if I want to or, I could give some out if I feel like it. You could do the same.

The following recipe is pretty traditional. If you want to make a few lasagnas at the same time, you’re going to have to multiply the ingredients. With the Bolognese sauce recipe below, you’ll be able to make 3 big lasagnas and you might even have some sauce left over. If you’re not planning on making many lasagnas, you can choose to cut the quantities to make less sauce or, better, keep the quantities and freeze the extra sauce for spaghetti. Same thing for the Béchamel recipe. You’ll have enough to make 3 lasagnas. This sauce doesn’t freeze so you should cut the quantities if you only want to make 1 lasagna. Finally, I like to buy aluminum lasagna pans that I can throw out after one use. There cheap, the perfect size and you can keep your good baking pans out of the freezer.

Oh yeah! I didn't eat lasagna last night so I froze all 3 of them without cooking them, which is why I don't have a great picture of the final result. I'm sure you can imagine what it'll look like once it's perfectly roasted! 

Makes 1 lasagna
(Make sure you multiply the ingredients if you’re making more than 1 lasagna)

2 tbsp vegetable oil
About 12 dried lasagna sheets 
Black pepper
2 ½ cups Bolognese sauce (see recipe below)
1 ½ cups Béchamel sauce (see recipe below)
1-pound ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 packs of 10z frozen spinach, chopped, unfrozen and dried
3 cups mozzarella cheese
¼ cup freshly ground Parmesan cheese

If you’re planning on eating your lasagna on the day of preparation, preheat your oven at 375˚F.

Fill a large saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Add the vegetable oil (so your lasagna won’t stick together). Add the lasagnas and cook for about 6 minutes (they have to be all dente). Take the pasta out and pass under cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside, covered with a slightly humid towel so they don’t dry out.

In a large bowl, mix together the Bolognese and Béchamel sauces. Adjust taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Set aside.

In a separate large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, the eggs, salt & pepper. Set aside.

In a 13”x 9” ovenproof pan, spread 1/3 of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce. Cover with 5 lasagna sheets. Evenly spread the ricotta mix over the lasagna. Cover with spinach. Add 5 more lasagna sheets over the spinach and cover with another 1/3 of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce. Add ½ cup of mozzarella cheese. Cover with the remaining 5 lasagna sheets. Empty the rest of the Bolognese-Béchamel sauce and cover with what’s left of the mozzarella cheese, as well as with the Parmesan. Put in the oven and cook for 45 minutes or until the cheese makes bubbles on top. 

Notes: I believe real traditional lasagnas should be made with Marinara sauce and separately cooked meat. Since I’m a little lazy sometimes (!), I prefer to make a simple Bolognese sauce so the meat is already integrated to the tomato sauce.

If you choose to unfreeze and cook, make sure you take your lasagna out of the freezer at least 10 hours before heating it. 

Makes about 10 cups

½ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves (or more if you like!), finely chopped
1 ½ pounds ground beef
4 celery branches, finely diced
2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
Salt & pepper
3 - 36oz preserved tomatoes
2 dried laurel leaves

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions and the garlic. Cook for about 8 minutes. Add the beef and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the celery, carrots, 1 tsp of salt and 1 tsp of freshly ground pepper.  Cook for another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and the laurel leaves.

Simmer over low heat for about 1 hour or until the sauce has thickened.

Take off the heat. Throw out the laurel leaves. Adjust taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 4 cups

5 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
4 cups hot milk
Salt & white pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

In a small pan, heat the milk until it’s just about to boil.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Bring the temperature to medium heat and cook for about 2-3 minutes.

Add the hot milk to the mixture, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until the mixture is very smooth. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Set-aside until you’re ready to use it. 

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