With my inaugural The Pantry Supper Club scheduled for Sunday, I am doing a hell of a lot of cooking this week! Six courses, homemade bread, canapes, and a few extra treats here and there, are all mapped out on various sheets on paper taped to my kitchen wall. Slowly but surely, black lines are being triumphantly drawn through the myriad tasks! So when I’m done with a day of work in the kitchen, the last thing I want to do is prepare dinner, but alas, it’s not easy to just go grab a ready-meal here and most of the takeout food is completely unhealthy, not to mention lacklustre. Again I find myself turning to recipes that will be even better the day after I prepare them, will withstand reheating multiple times, and most of all, be satisfying.
Now I’ve posted Aunt Judy’s lasagna recipe before, back in May 2012, but now that more than three years have passed (and upon reading my crappy post that went along with it), I’m once again offering you this gem of a dish. There’s nothing I enjoy more than cooking a dish that brings to mind all sorts of stories as I’m cooking it. Tonight as I threw this together – seriously it’s super fast to get in the oven – the storyteller in my head went into overdrive. Isn’t that what the best food is about anyway?
This version of lasagna was just about the only one I was familiar with until relatively recently. I imagine my Aunt clipped it out of one of her Better Homes & Gardens back in the day, and the magazine page being splattered with greasy tomato sauce and littered with her careful cursive notes about the end results. My dear Aunt, my mother’s older sister, has always been a terrific cook and many of my favorite recipes have come from her kitchen. She’s truly Midwestern and has a fine appreciation for hearty food that smacks you over the head with flavor, and this dish doesn’t disappoint. With her shock of short curly hair and infectious, raucous laugh, she is always the most fun to have at a family dinner – her wit and self-deprecating humor never allowing any of us to take ourselves too seriously. And she’s not just a good cook and good company! I’ve admired her fashionista side for as long as I can remember. My mom used to tell stories about going into her closet when they were teenagers and admiring her array of cashmere sweaters (as a kid this was my idea of what being a grownup would be like). Meanwhile, I was always in awe of her extensive lipstick collection, neatly displayed in her bathroom. Sadly, I don’t see much of my lovely Aunt….and her birthday is in just a couple of days! I miss her terribly.
So this was the lasagna I grew up on. We ate it with great regularity and it was the dish of choice for my mother when she wanted to take “a pan of something” to a friend in need. Now imagine my surprise when I started working at Melrose & Morgan in Primrose Hill and as a test on just my second day, they asked me to make a lasagna that could be sold in pieces as one of their takeaway specials of the day. I immediately started to make Aunt Judy’s delicious recipe but the chef quickly stopped me and asked why I wasn’t making a bechamel. What?? Now I have since learned that a creamy white sauce is traditional in lasagnas of a certain sort. And I can make a bechamel, but why mess with perfection? I do love it in my herb garden lasagna recipe, but I wish they had trusted me and let me go with my version (my Aunt’s version) which is really very American, very little Italian, and certainly not very British as it stands. Now I’m going to go get myself a piece (or two) and put my feet up!
Aunt Judy’s Lasagna
makes one 9×13 inch pan
Note from my mother: Not even Aunt Judy makes the original anymore, but this is it. I have only recently abandoned it as it has become increasingly difficult to find Spaghetti Sauce Mix, a vital component in thickening the sauce (with all sorts of chemicals and stabilizers and thickeners and such, I’d guess).
one pound ground beef (or mix it up with half ground pork or some ground sausage ) 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 crushed garlic cloves
sprinkling of anise seeds
3 – 14.5 ounce cans of whole tomatoes
8 ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
one packet spaghetti sauce mix
2 teaspoons ground oregano
one bay leaf
9 lasagna noodles—I always use the no need to boil ones now
one pound ricotta cheese
½ pound sliced or grated mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan
First make the sauce: brown meat, adding salt, pepper and garlic cloves (and optional anise); then add in pretty much everything else and let bubble for a half hour. This is a good all-purpose sauce for other dishes too.
Assembly: place about a fourth of the sauce in a casserole, then top with three noodles, then 1/3 of the ricotta and 1/3 of the mozzarella. Repeat layers two more times and cover with the last of the sauce. I take a rubber scraper and smooth to the edges, sort of sealing it so air doesn’t hit the pasta and crisp it. Sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for about an hour at 350 degrees.
Of course, you can bake and reheat, or refrigerate and bake, or freeze and bake, or bake and freeze and reheat. . . . .