I took the summer off from writing my blog, and now I believe it is time to ramp this thing back up. My writing muscles are well-rested, and I’ve had a few months to think about topics for blog entries that might be interesting for you to read. It’s good to be back. As always, I appreciate each and every person who takes the time to read and comment.
So how was everyone’s summer? I hope everyone made new and wonderful memories that will last a lifetime (Side note: I’m going to use that sentence if I ever apply for a job as a card-writer at Hallmark). My summer was pretty good. I officially joined the CrossFit cult – wait, no, I mean to say: the CrossFit physical fitness program – definitely not a cult, no sir. I made a new “friend” in the checkout line at Publix (which I am genuinely hoping does not turn into a Kathy Bates / Misery situation). My 16-year-old dog Frasier died. And, I discovered over-priced gourmet popsicles, which I love. Rest assured, you will be hearing about all of these topics in the coming months, but for my first entry after a long sabbatical, only one topic will do: lasagna.
Southern people love casseroles. Southern people also love any food that is equal parts gooey and cheesy. It is no wonder, then, that the gooiest, cheesiest casserole-like dish of all, lasagna, has become a beloved southern staple at church pot-lucks and weeknight family dinners.
I have no idea if southern lasagna bears any resemblance to any dish ever created and served in Italy, but that’s not important. Southern cooks do not fret over the pursuit of culinary authenticity. Southern cooks prepare and eat things that taste good. A good southern cook may not serve you a lasagna that is authentically Italian, but I can say with confidence that this Italian-inspired dish, when interpreted by a good southern cook, is probably an improvement over the original incarnation.
My mother is a good southern cook, and her southern lasagna recipe is well-known in the family and among friends as being excellent. I have taken her recipe and tweaked it just a bit. Never would I say that my version is better, only a little different. Good southern recipes are designed to evolve, so I encourage you to take mine, experiment, and try to make it your own.
Grant’s Southern Lasagna
(For the meat sauce)
Good olive oil as needed (2-3 TBSP; Colavita recommended)
1 medium white onion, minced
6 medium garlic cloves either pressed through garlic press or minced
1 pound lean ground beef (at least 90% lean, but preferably 95%)
1/2 TSP table salt
1/2 TSP fresh ground black pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 28-oz. can tomato puree (Muir Glen Organic recommended)
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes, drained (Muir Glen Organic recommended)
(remaining ingredients for the ricotta, mozzarella and pasta layering)
24 oz. ricotta cheese (whole milk recommended), approx. 3 C
3 oz. fresh grated Parmesan cheese, approx. 1 ½ C
½ C chopped fresh basil
1 large egg, beaten
½ TSP table salt
½ TSP fresh ground black pepper
12 no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla recommended)
1 lb. shredded whole-milk mozzarella cheese, approx. 4 C (Sargento recommended)
1. I recommend cooking the meat sauce in a large ceramic-coated cast-iron Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium heat for a couple minutes. Cook the onion until soft, about three minutes, but not browned. Add the garlic and cook about one minute. Stir in the meat, salt and pepper, and cook until the meat loses its pink color, about five minutes.
2. Stir in the heavy cream, bring to simmer and cook until the liquid has evaporated, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato puree and drained diced tomatoes. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook about five minutes to let the flavors blend. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
3. For the ricotta filling, stir together the ricotta cheese, 1 C of the Parmesan cheese, basil, egg, salt and pepper, and set aside.
4. For lasagna assembly, spread ½ C of meat sauce over the bottom of a 13×9-inch baking dish, preferably non-stick metal. Place three noodles in a single layer in the dish. Spread 3 TBSP of the ricotta mixture evenly over each noodle, then sprinkle the entire layer with 1 C mozzarella cheese. Spoon 1 C of the meat sauce evenly over the cheese. Repeat the layering of the noodles, ricotta mixture, mozzarella cheese, and meat sauce twice more. Then, place the three remaining noodles on top, cover with the remaining meat sauce, 1 C mozzarella cheese, and ½ C Parmesan cheese.
5. Cover with foil (be sure to spray foil with nonstick spray). Cook in a 400 degree oven covered for 35 minutes, then remove foil and cook an additional 25 minutes, or until cheese is browned in spots. You may broil 2-3 minutes at end to brown the top, if necessary. Let stand 10 minutes before serving (very important!).