|A little planning can make a move go swimmingly
We moved for the second time in less than a year a couple of weeks ago, hence my lack of entries for you here. There truly is little worse than packing up what you own, moving it, cleaning up the old flat and trying to make it all fit in the new. It was particularly stressful this time as we had company staying with us and had (somewhat unwittingly planned) a vacation to celebrate our wedding anniversary within a week of the move-in day.
During these stressful times I always crave something familiar to eat, something I can cook in advance and pull out for days and never grow tired of. For me my Aunt Judy’s lasagna recipe always hits the spot. Even the methodical arranging of the layers is therapeutic to me and the smell while it bakes makes me feel like everything might just be OK even if the cat just puked on the new rug and the movers put a ding in the freshly painted wall. My parents have both made this for my sisters and me endless times through my 40 years and it never ceases to make me smile.
Aunt Judy’s Lasagna
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 2 tsp salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 crushed garlic cloves
sprinkling of anise seeds
one pound 12 ounce can of whole tomatoes
8 ounce can tomato sauce
sprinkle of sugar (for the tomatoes—maybe a teaspoon) one packet spaghetti sauce mix
2 tsp. 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 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. . . . .
I’ve also discovered a delicious vegetarian option for when I want to be a little more healthy. I love taking this dish to people when they’ve just moved or had a baby or are recovering from some other traumatic life experience. Just get yourself a disposable tin baking tray and take it on over and you will never be forgotten. This version is adapted from The Herb Farm Cookbook that I got when I went for dinner at this amazing restaurant in Seattle with my friend Jill. This book is worth checking out if you’re hunting for interesting new flavors all based around herbs you can grow yourself.
One 28-ounce can plus one 14.5-ounce can crushed tomatoes
¼ cup chopped marjoram (I always substitute oregano)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk, whole or low fat
1 pound whole milk ricotta
4 ounces basil, stems removed (2 cups gently packed)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, gently packed
2 cloves garlic
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
8 ounces oven-ready lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded
Boil the tomatoes in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, or until they turn into a thick sauce. Stir in the marjoram and 1 teaspoon salt.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook the roux for about a minute. Pour in the cold milk all at once. Whisk until all the lumps disappear, then occasionally until the sauce comes to a full boil and thickens. Season with 1 ½ teaspoons salt.
Blend the ricotta with one-third of the white sauce in a food processor until smooth. Scrape the cheese out into a bowl.
Without washing the food processor, pulse the basil, parsley, garlic, and ½ teaspoon salt until finely chopped. Add the remaining white sauce and the Parmesan and process until well combined.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Spread half of the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish. Arrange 3 noodles on top of the sauce; they should fit without touching each other or the sides of the pan. Dab half of the basil sauce over the noodles, covering the pasta as best you can. As you build the lasagna think about layering the ingredients in 3 stacks, spreading the filling just over the noodles rather than worrying about the gaps between and around the noodles, but if some spills over that’s fine. Top the basil sauce with 3 more noodles in the same position. For the next layer, distribute the entire amount of ricotta by scooping it in spoonfuls onto the top noodles and spreading it a bit, pressing down as little as possible. Top with 3 more noodles, then the remaining tomato sauce. Finally, put the last 3 noodles in place and spread the top with the remaining pesto sauce.
Cover the dish with aluminum foil, tenting it a little so it doesn’t touch the lasagna, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake an additional 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cheese is evenly browned. Let the lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before you serve it; it will be very loose at first, but will firm up as it sits. The lasagna can be assembled ahead and kept refrigerated until you are ready to bake it (allow an extra 10 minutes in the oven under the foil), or baked ahead of time and reheated in a 350 degree oven.