Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Lasagna Recipe

Since I haven't been posting very much lately (even though no one is sick in the house anymore), I thought I'd tried to throw in a little post tonight. I do apologize for the lack of posting lately, though. I swear I have good excuses everyday, but you probably don't care much about those.

Problem is, I don't have any pictures of my most-recent knitting. I'm a zipper and a collar away from having a finished cardigan. I'm really excited about that sweater, but I can't bring myself to come to a decision about the collar, so it just sits there. I may have made the collar a bit short, but I hate undoing a cast-off row and slipping stitches back on the needles. So, until I can decide if the collar is okay the way it is, the whole thing is in limbo. So, about an hour and a half of work is keeping me from cozy cashmere warmth. Pathetic, I know.

Then, there is the cute little sweater I'm currently knitting Lambchop #1 in some pink Knit Picks Merino Style. I'm really enjoying this yarn, and if it washes and wears as well as it knits, it's going to becoming a staple around here, I'm sure.

But, alas, no pictures of any of this.

So, intead, I offer you a recipe for lasagna. This delicious meal is brought to you by my ex-husband, who spent a year in cooking school in his youth and had a mom who really knew her way around a kitchen. So, who says exes aren't good for anything?

Over the years I've been using it, the recipe has changed a bit, so this is my version, but it's a pretty standard Lasagna recipe, I've found. The ricotta stuff you see in the US, though it can be tasty, just can't compare to the bechamel sauce, in my opinion. And, what's even more wonderful about the bechamel is that no weird ingredients are called for. Most kitchens are regularly stocked with butter, milk and eggs, whereas ricotta isn't necessarily always in the fridge. Bechamel sauce, by the way, is a wonderful thing to know how to make. It's what the French put on top of those yummy Croque Monsieur (ham and cheese) sandwiches before sprinkling with cheese and toasting in an oven. I'm not sure of the origin of this sauce, but my ex's mother, who is Catalan, always swore this was a Catalan sauce. To me, it doesn't much matter. It's just good. This recipe looks long, but really, it's not that complicated. My only complaint is that it dirties so many dishes, but it's so worth it.

Meat (or vegetarian) Sauce Ingredients:
Canned chopped tomatoes (two normal sized cans - sorry, I can't give the actually size, but you should get the idea - you could substitute with one of the jumbo cans)
1 onion, diced
1 garlic clove chopped or pressed
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sugar or some apple or white grape juice (yes, I'm serious - this corrects the acidity of the tomatoes)
1 lb. (1/2 kilo) ground beef
salt and pepper to taste
dash of cayenne pepper to taste
1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Directions for Sauce:
Heat oil in skillet. Sautée chopped onion on medium heat till almost tender. Add garlic and continue till onions are tender and transparent. Add, ground beef and salt and pepper to taste. Brown the meat. Then, add canned tomatoes, bay leaf, sugar, and vinegar. Allow to simmer on medium-low flame till tomatoes become saucy (I love me some saucy tomatoes!) and turn orange-red in color. Remove bay leaf, and add cayenne pepper if desired (just a dash of this gives an excellent flavor without much heat).

Note: For a vegetarian lasagna, you can substitute a variety of veggies for the meat. Eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers work well. Another variation would be to reduce the beef by half and add vegetables to have half meat/half veggies.

Bechamel (white) Sauce Ingredients:
1 tbsp butter or oil (if you're worried about cholesterol, try canola)
2 tbsp flour
two cups milk
salt and white pepper to taste
dash of nutmeg (freshly grated is tastiest)

Directions for Bechamel Sauce:
While meat sauce is simmering (but close to done), heat butter in medium sauce pan. Melt on low heat till bubbly but not browned. Add flour and whisk together. Immediately add milk and whisk till no lumps (or not many) are present. Heat, stirring constantly till mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add salt and pepper and sprinkle in some nutmeg. Set aside.

Assembly Ingredients:
Lasagna pasta (either you can get the no boil type and skip an annoying step or you can buy the real thing and boil them before assembly - if using the no boil pasta, the pasta cooks better in the oven with slightly more liquidy meat and bechamel sauces)
Meat (or veggie) sauce
Bechamel sauce
Parmesan cheese (grated)

Assembly Directions:
Place a layer of pasta (either preboiled or the no boil easy-bake kind) in the bottom of a bread pan (for a small but tall lasagna that feeds a family of four with salad or some other side dish) or a small casserole dish (for a flatter, larger lasagna for the same number of people). Pour a layer of meat sauce (just enough to cover the pasta) over the pasta. Add a layer of bechamel over the meat sauce. Continue in this order (pasta, meat sauce, bechamel) until you are out of sauces, making sure the bechamel is your top-most layer. Sprinkle grated parmesan over the top to cover.

Place in hot oven (like 375F, maybe - I can't be exact here, because my oven is a gas oven without temp settings). Cook till bubbly and browned (20-30 mins).

Serve with a salad and think nice thoughts of exes.

I really do apologize for the lack of yummy-looking pictures here, but I was so excited to eat the thing that I didn't even think to document its loveliness. It was lovely, though. Take my word for it.