"True wine enthusiasts don’t collect wines.
They collect memories of wines shared with friends and family."

-Dario Zucconi

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mouthwatering Lasagna with Savory Homemade Meat Sauce

My children love lasagna. Actually, they love Auntie Evelyn's lasagna. They always have seconds and thirds of my friend Evelyn's lasagna. This weekend, I wanted to make a lasagna. I was inspired by this Food and Wine Magazine recipe that I found online (http://m.foodandwine.com/recipes/grandmas-lasagna). But, as I normally do, I changed it up and made it "my own."  I bought all the ingredients over the weekend. But, we had such a busy weekend that I didn't have any time to cook.

On Monday after work, I decided to make the lasagna for dinner on Tuesday. I made the meat sauce from scratch.  Since the sauce takes a long time to simmer, I started the sauce immediately when I got home from work. I let it simmer while we ate dinner and got the kids ready for bed. Once the kids were in bed, I worked on the filling and finished assembling the lasagna. I stopped at the point of baking, and placed it in the refrigerator overnight. Then, on Tuesday night (between my son's soccer practice and my daughter's volleyball practice), we popped it in the oven to bake. The lasagna turned out scrumptiously delicious!  My kids actually loved it. Here is the modified recipe, and a break down of the different components. [NOTE: You can use jars of marinara sauce for this too.]

The Meat Sauce:
(Meat sauce bubbling on the stove.)
  • 1 pound ground beef sirloin
  • 1 pound ground extra lean turkey
  • 6 cloves of minced garlic
  • 1 small red onion (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Two large (28-ounce) cans Italian peeled tomatoes, chopped, with juices
  • One large (28-ounce) can tomato puree
  • 2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 4-6 fresh thyme sprigs, tied together with kitchen string
  • 1 teaspoon of white sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil

(Meat sauce reduced after 1 1/2 hours of simmering.)
In a large Dutch oven, heat about 2 generous Tablespoons of the olive oil over medium- high heat. Add the sirloin and pork, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the meat is brown (no pink). Once cooked, drain the meat on a paper towel and set aside.  In the same pot, add another Tablespoon of olive oil. Add the onions, with a pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper, and cook until soft (about 5 minutes). Then, add the garlic, oregano, basil, and crushed red pepper and cook until aromatic. Return the meat to the pot and stir to mix with the onion/garlic. Add the tomato paste, stir with the meat, and cook until the meat is mixed well with the tomato paste. Add the two cans of chopped tomatoes, including the juices.  Then, add the can of tomato puree. Stir gently. Add the chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, and sugar. Season with salt and pepper (to taste).  

Bring the sauce to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, and simmer (uncovered), stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and reduced by about 1/3, for about 1 1/2 hours. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Turn off the stove, and let it sit while you prepare the filling and boil the pasta. [NOTE: You can use this meat sauce for regular pasta too. Feel free to make extra and refrigerate.]

The Filling and Lasagna Noodles:
  • 1 large (32 ounces) container of fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup Italian parsley (finely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons basil (finely chopped)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups of shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 1 pound bag)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 package of dried lasagna noodles (I used whole grain as it's a little healthier)
(Assembled Lasagna.)
Bring a large deep pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook the lasagna noodles until al dente, stirring occasionally. Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water. Lay the noodles out between layers of paper towels to dry.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, with the chopped parsley, chopped basil, and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Add 2/3 of the shredded mozzarella cheese.  Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the egg.

(Lasagna all layered up.)
Take two 9-by-13-inch glass baking dishes. Spread about 1 cup of the meat sauce in the bottom of each baking dish. Line 4 noodles over the sauce in each dish. Spread 1/4 of the ricotta mixture over the noodles, 1 cup of the sauce, and another 3-4 noodles. Repeat the layering with the remaining ricotta, 1 cup of the meat sauce. Top each dish with 3-4 noodles and cover with 1 cup of sauce. Mix the remaining 1 cup of mozzarella with the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan.  Sprinkle the cheese over the lasagna.

(Lasagna ready to bake.)
[NOTE: If you are making the lasagna ahead of time, STOP HERE. Let the lasagna cool for a few minutes. Then, cover with aluminum foil, and store in the refrigerator. When you are ready to bake, take it out of the Fridge while the oven is preheating. Then, continue with the baking.]

Preheat the oven to 375°.  Bake the lasagna for about 30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, the top is golden, and the edges are crisp but not dry. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before serving.

My kids will always love Auntie Evelyn's lasagna. But, I am happy to say that they also loved Mommy's lasagna. I hope you give this a try. 

Until next time . . . Cheers!


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