Thursday, March 12, 2009

My lasagna, myself

My mom's lasagna is light. Not lite, as in low-fat, but light as in airy and fluffy. She achieves remarkable lift between layers of ricotta and pasta; I do not know how she does it.

My sister's lasagna is bright and vegetal. It thrusts its flavorful tomatoes and spinach right to the front of the stage. It is fresh; it feels healthy. It screams: I am lasagna, and I contain cheese. But remember: there's also a lot of iron in this here spinach.

My lasagna is cheesy, and melty, and, well, heavy. It is hearty and rich and sort of makes you want to run a mile after you're done eating it. It is something to be savored on occasion, a dish to be enjoyed in moderation lest you wish to apply for the next cast of The Biggest Loser.

Mom's lasagna, Sister's lasagna and my lasagna are all the same recipe. It's amazing to all of us how the same ingredients in the hands of three different -- related, nonetheless! -- people can result in such distinct dishes. It's Mom's recipe originally. She taught me and Sister how to make it many years ago. In each of our hands the dish has evolved into something that reflects our personalities well: Mom likes her food to be light. She likes salad and vanilla ice cream with fresh raspberries while I find salad to be mostly a waste of time and prefer my ice cream to be chocolate laced with peanut butter cups. Sister likes her food to be healthy. She chooses a variety of fresh vegetables and healthy ingredients when she cooks for her family (even if sometimes her young sons only want pizza). She's reaching for kale or mushrooms while I'm reaching for a chunk of cheese and a heel of crusty bread. Is it any surprise that my lasagna is the richest of the bunch? I am not one for moderation, never have been. My lasagna, myself.

Back when I only knew how to make about five dishes, I knew how to make lasagna. I remember making it in my first kitchen in my apartment senior year of college. I remember having friends over for dinner and using my desk as a buffet, sauce splashing up onto my Macintosh Performa. A few years later, I remember making it for my friend Cara's boyfriend Henry after he broke his leg. I took it in a cab from my Chicago apartment to his, only one El stop away. The pan burnt my thighs as I attempted to keep the lasagna level in the back of the cab. No small feat; you know how cabbies drive.

Interestingly, now that I have a buffet that I can use as a buffet -- and now that I don't have to transport it anywhere in a taxi -- I don't make lasagna very much anymore. I'll tell you what, though: that is about to end. I probably won't be taking any to Henry, who is now Cara's husband, because they still live in Chicago while I am in Ohio. That's a long cab ride. But I will make it more often for my husband, and for Mom and Sister.*

Even though they can make their own.

*Dad, you can have some too. But my house is B.Y.O.S.: bring your own sausage.



This lasagna makes a surprisingly easy weeknight dinner provided you have the sauce already made. I almost always have a batch of my marinara on hand -- it is a staple in my house -- so the dish comes together pretty quickly.

I use half full-fat and half part-skim ricotta, just to "lighten" it up a little. You could certainly use 30 oz. of full-fat ricotta, if you so desire.

Note: Since I first published this recipe, I have become a big fan of the no-boil lasagna noodles, specifically, those made by Barilla. They are delicious, and SO MUCH EASIER to work with than the old-fashioned boil kind. By all means, use those instead, and save yourself the hassle of cooked lasagna noodles that stick together something fierce. Just layer them, dry, in the lasagna as you're assembling it. Bake as usual.

One more tip: I have also since discovered that the easiest and cleanest way to wring the moisture out of defrosted spinach is to place it in a ricer and squeeze away. Works like a charm; doesn't stain your kitchen towels green! Pass it on.

1 lb. lasagna noodles
Olive oil, for drizzling
15 oz. ricotta
15 oz. part-skim ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 c. pecorino cheese, grated, plus more to finish
1 lb. provolone cheese, grated, divided
2 10-oz. packages frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/4 t. freshly-grated nutmeg
1/2 t. freshly-cracked black pepper
1/2 t. kosher salt
3 c. marinara sauce

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the lasagna noodles according to the package directions. Stop the cooking about a minute shy of al dente, as the noodles will cook a little more in the oven. Strain the noodles and place them in a large bowl. Immediately drizzle with a little olive oil and mix to coat the noodles; it really is the only way to prevent them from sticking together something fierce.

In a large bowl, mix together both ricotta cheeses, eggs, pecorino, 1 1/4 c. of the provolone, spinach, nutmeg, black pepper and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.

(I love the way the inside of a nutmeg looks.)

Place a ladle-full of sauce in the bottom of a 13" x 9" oven-proof baking dish. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Place a layer of noodles on top of the sauce, then a layer of the ricotta mixture. I like to use a spring-loaded ice cream scoop to place the ricotta mixture in the pan, then I spread it with an offset spatula. Mom does no such fancy thing; she uses a spoon.

Spoon a layer of marinara over the ricotta mixture, followed by another layer of noodles. Repeat this order -- noodles, ricotta, then marinara -- ending with noodles. (You might have a few noodles left over.) Top the lasagna with a layer of marinara, then sprinkle with the remaining provolone and a few tablespoons of pecorino.

Place the lasagna on a baking sheet and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the cheese is browned and the lasagna is bubbly. Remove from the oven and allow it to sit for about 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Serves 6.


Anonymous said...

That looks so good !!!
Can't wait to make this, although we really should be trying yours....and moms.... seeing as we have tried sisters and really enjoyed hers.

Chantal said...

Mmmmmm, looks delicious. I really enjoyed reading your post. It's so true that our personalities are shown in our food.

Anonymous said...

OK,(are you sitting down?) so you may have actually inspired me to cook. This looks phenomenal - better that the TGIFridays salad bar

Dianne said...

The Byswongers! Hello, Byswongers!! You should know that I laughed out loud when I saw that! Since you've already had Sister's lasagna, I guess Mom and I will have to come visit and make you some. That way, you can compare all three. :)

Chantal, thank you!

LJS, hello! So glad to see you here. Most gladdest that I might possibly have inspired you to cook. And yes, I did fall out of my chair. While I was drinking hot coffee through a straw. Not a good scene.

Anonymous said...

Terrific idea !!!
See you soon.

Creative Classroom Core said...

My goodness this looks tasty! I am a huge lasagna fan, and yours looks delicious! Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

That's weird because I put the same amount of vegetables in it as you and mom do.... strange!

Arlene Delloro said...

It's amazing how many variations of lasagna there are. You're so right that they reflect our "inner cook."

Anonymous said...

Found you via Flickr - nice blog! I was searching for Akron photos. I grew up in your town. I lived on Main St, next to the phone building (it was an Alltell building then, I guess it's Verizon now?). Nice to meet you. :)

Dianne said...

Hi Lelah, thank you! Nice to meet you, too. Glad you're enjoying the blog! The Alltel building is now the Windstream building...just so you know. Because I'm sure you were dying to know! Thanks for stopping by.

Byswongers -- With the fares the way they are these days, don't be surprised if we show up on your doorstep someday soon!

Anonymous said...

We're so excited!!! I'll get the ingredients ready now.

Wasif Ahmad said...

Hi, it is very great blog. It is very useful and helpful for people. I like it very much. I read it and take benefit from it. best lasagna pan