Monday, 9 June 2014

Mom's Lasagna

This is Part 1 of 2 for lasagna!

I LOVE lasagna! It was a comfort food from my childhood, and although it was not my mom's favourite, it certainly ranked high in tastiness for us kids, so she made it frequently despite the fact that lasagna is not a ready in 30 minutes kind of meal, primarily due to the preparation of the various components. Now that I think about it, despite the rather time consuming preparation process, lasagna really was a convenient make ahead meal for a busy family of 6 because it could be made several days in advance or or it could be frozen, thawed and then cooked when required! More importantly, junior cooks, like myself when I was 10, could get dinner ready by popping it in the oven and making a side salad.  It is also a great potluck dish... Easy to take to a gathering and it is always a welcomed dish on a buffet table! What more could you want in a casserole type meal?

I adored mom's recipe and still do. It was from a Better Homes & Garden recipe book circa 1950's-ish. To this day, this is my go to lasagna recipe. Of course, I have tinkered a little with it with great success! The nice thing about this recipe is that I don't find it especially rich or heavy, primarily because I tend to use less mozzarella than called for and the wonderful tomato and basil flavour shines through too. Yes sir-we, this is a satisfying and tasty recipe!

Mom's Lasagna

1 lb lean ground beef
1 clove garlic, minced (I use 2 or 3 depending on the size)
1 tbsp. basil
1 tsp salt
1 large can plum tomatoes
2 cans (6 oz.ea.) tomato paste (I use 1 large 13 oz can)
8 lasagna noodles (I use whole wheat)
2 eggs (I use happy chicken eggs)
3 cups cream-style cottage cheese (I use organic 2%)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
2 tbsp. parsley flakes.(fresh is nice but not mandatory, dried or frozen work)
1 tsp salt (I use sea salt or Kosher)
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly ( I use my cheese slicer, on thinnest setting and slice enough cheese to neatly cover the surface of the lasagna 6-8 slices depending on the width, maybe 1/2 lb?)

In a large skillet, brown the meat slowly; spoon off excess fat. Add next 5 ingredients. Simmer uncovered 30-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Cook the noodles according to package instructions in large amount boiling salted water till tender; drain and rinse. Set aside.

Beat eggs. Add parsley, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to eggs. Set aside. 

ASSEMBLY:  Layer half the noodles in a 13x9x2 in. baking dish; spread with half the Ricotta filling; add half the mozzarella cheese and half the meat sauce. 

Repeat layers --> My little rhyme to remember ... cha - cha - cha and said with a funky little beat... Noodles, Cheese, Mozzarella, Meat!

Bake in a 375° F oven for about 30 minutes (or assemble early and refrigerate ahead of time; bake 45 minutes). Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serve with a green salad and pass me a slice of garlic bread!

This lasagna can be double wrapped in foil and frozen for a month or 2. Thaw in the fridge over night and bake as directed.

Things I have done to tweak this recipe to add a little more healthy and to make this dish a little more budget friendly includes combining 1/2 pound of ground beef, 1 cup cooked green lentils and 8 ounces of finely diced mushrooms, white or cremini when making the sauce. This is a good way to increase the plant-based content AND make the the "meat sauce" a little more budget friendly.  I also use organic cottage cheese and eggs; but sadly, I have yet to find organic blocks of cheese in my local stores.  One of these days, I am going to try 2 flax eggs in the cottage cheese mixture; a little more omega 3 would be a plus since the lasagna is already loaded with protein.

Yes, lasagna is a little heavy in the saturated fat from the meat and the cheese, but that doesn't mean you can't have it. Take a smaller piece and load up 2/3 of your plate with a mixed green salad with some amazing toppings like red and yellow bell peppers, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, broccoli and cauliflower florets and a few pumpkin seeds. YUM! If you aren't in the mood for salad, a medley of your favourite steamed veggies would be lovely too - broccoli and cauliflower together or a big stack of asparagus or green beans!

Whenever I cook a tomato based sauce that needs to simmer for any length of time, it drives me crazy to be wiping up little splatters of red sauce from EVERYWHERE ! I used to use a metal mesh splatter guard which worked quite well.  Eventually, that gave up the ghost and my hubby bought me the silicon version. It did the job admirably as well, but it has started to tear near the rim. Apparently, this splatter guard's days are numbered too.  

As they say, "necessity is the mother of invention", and I believe I came up with the perfect solution. It requires spending no money (YAY for me) because the solution to containing the tomato sauce splatter is already in my kitchen!  See below, my pot of bubbling tomato sauce. If unprotected, my beautiful backsplash (that my handy husband installed) will soon be covered and splashes of red! Fear not, help is on the way! 

Tada! Another use for my metal sieve.  

I wouldn't be inclined to try this with a plastic one because it would probably melt, but this stainless steel one does an excellent job. I might not be replacing my splatter guard after all! WOW... save money, don't buy what you don't need, and make do with what you have on hand... wallet friendly AND eco-friendly, what more could a budget conscious, eco-holic girl want?

Watch for Part 2 of this post which will feature Lasagna Roll Ups!

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