Sunday, January 29, 2012

Homemade Lasagna

There are few things as reminiscent of a warm home cooked meal, as a lasagna. It has always been a favorite in my home and try as I might I'm still working my way towards achieving the level of perfection my Mom's lasagna is renowned for. Recently, I tried, my hand at it again and I was fairly proud of the outcome. Between the smell coming from the kitchen and the collection of pots and utensils piled up, I felt like a true homemaker!

There were some very distinct differences. I converted my Mom's recipe in order to satisfy kosher dietary guidelines. All of the recipes I'll post are kosher - essentially recipes will either be exclusively dairy, containing meat or neutral containing neither dairy nor meat, 'pareve.' Feel free to modify the recipes to your liking! I am incredibly fortunate; when I started keeping kosher, my mother's initial reaction was warm and amazingly accommodating (truly the ultimate homemaker and anchor holding our family together). She's been very helpful in converting recipes and finding alternatives to meet kosher requirements (and more often than not she'll even find the exact ingredient I need, certified kosher, when no one else could!).

I decided to make this lasagna, dairy. My Mom's version contains ground beef sauteed in an array of spices and sauce, a great alternative that can be modified to suit all preferences! Another tip I learnt from my Mom is to use fresh noodles. They're available in most large grocery stores, a bit harder to find kosher. If this isn't an option, than I suggest opting for noodles which require cooking prior to baking. I've experimented with no-boil, ready made noodles and although they're handy after a long day at work, the lack of malleability and starchy taste makes for a poor compromise. Along that same line, my Mom only uses homemade tomato sauce in her recipe. She makes a large batch in September that carries her throughout the year. This better enables you to control the salt, sugar and texture of your sauce. I will post a version of a homemade sauce below. If you're in a bind, a simple alternative is to select a ready made pasta sauce from your local grocery store and add sugar, garlic powder and basil while boiling on the stove. Add a touch of flour if you'd like to thicken the sauce.

Lasagna is great because it can be modified to meet any budget, time limit or taste preference! You can also vary the size of your dish with minimal effort, and the larger the quantity you make per batch, the more you can freeze and thaw on a rushed day, when a ready made meal that avoids using the take out menu would be useful! It thaws beautifully and when stored in individual tupperware are very handy!
On a cold, winter day a fresh lasagna straight out of the oven, with a side salad and garlic-bread warms the house, the table and all appetites after trekking and commuting through the elements!

Pasta Sauce
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 small white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes undrained
1 cup pareve chicken soup broth (1 tsp pareve chicken soup base in 1 cup boiling water)
a touch of salt
a touch of basil
a touch of ground pepper
a touch of italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon of white sugar
1 teaspoon of flour (add more depending on how thick you'd like your sauce to be)
Add can of crushed tomato, olive oil and chicken stock to a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Sautee onion and add to tomato mixture
Add seasonings and garlic and simmer for 5 minutes

Lasagna
1 package of uncooked lasagna noodles (or fresh if available!)
8 medium sized, white mushrooms
extra virgin olive oil to sautee
4 1/2 cups of shredded mozzarella cheese
4 tablespoons of ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
Prepare noodles as directed on package and arrange in a baking dish

Slice mushrooms thinly and sautee in extra virgin olive oil
Add sauteed mushrooms to prepared tomato sauce while simmering and stir
Pour 1/3 of the sauce overtop the first layer of noodles arranged in the baking dish, top with a cup of cheese and one tablespoon of ricotta cheese (spread evenly overtop). Repeat this step until all layers are complete.
On the top layer spread a thin layer of sauce and sprinkle remaining cheese generously. Sprinkle breadcrumbs overtop.
Bake in oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Allow to cool before slicing and allow approximately half an hour before placing into tupperware to freeze (you'll want to assure that it's completely set and cooled before transferring).