Lasagna BobBob Wydock
"Hey Bob, can you make some of your world famous lasagna for Darlene's birthday? You know how she loves your cooking. She won't even taste mine. Oh, and I need it tomorrow. Thanks."
The answering machine clicked off. I sighed. This was the fifth request from friends and relatives this month for my lasagna. I should have been upset, just as a mechanic would be if a friend asked him to fix his car, or a doctor if he was called by a sick relative at 2:00 a.m. for advice on what to do for a common cold. I work 60 hours a week managing a restaurant, so I hardly want to cook when I get home. But lasagna? That's a different story.
I try to feign my anger, but my wife sees right through it. She knows how much I love to see other people enjoy my cooking. I like to see their faces light up when they fork that initial mound of sauce-laden pasta into their mouth. I want to see that look of pure ecstasy on their closed eyes as they chew that first cheesy bite. What a deliciously-delectable life I lead. Michelangelo couldn't have felt greater satisfaction.
Lasagna has a rich history. The first recorded use of lasagna to feed people can be found all the way back in biblical times. We find this quote in the New Testament, Restaurant Manager's Edition: "One of his disciples, Angelo, Tony's brother, saith unto him, 'There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small lasagne: but what are they among so many?'" (Antonio 6:9) All of us know the story of how the multitude was fed with such meager offerings.
Then there was Marie Antoinette, queen of France, who said to the angry, hungry mob, "Let them eat lasagna." She lost her head because she wouldn't fix it for them. She should have used that guillotine to cut ingredients.
But the world is rife with amateurs.
Take my brother-in-law for example. He's convinced that the only reason Darlene prefers my lasagna is because she is my sister. I've tried to tell him that chili powder doesn't belong in lasagna, but he is convinced that he will become famous for his Tex-Mex Lasagna.
Then there are the restaurants that buy pre-made lasagna and expect us to believe that there is a chef, somewhere in the kitchen, creating this stuff.
The Italian word lasagna describes the broad, flat noodle which is the basis for the dish. It is assumed that further history of the word comes from the Vulgar Latin lasania, which is from the Latin word lasanum which means cooking pot, and also possibly from the Greek word lasanon meaning chamber pot.
Although I did say to experiment with your spices, you should stick to those that are primarily used for cooking, rather than baking. You should also remember "the brother-in-law rule" and stay away from the so-called hot spices, such as red pepper, paprika and chili.
Lasagna begins with your favorite tomato sauce. If you have a spaghetti sauce that you really like, or if you are in a hurry and use (I can't believe I'm saying this) pasta sauce from a jar, prepare it so that it is slightly watery. This is because the sauce has a long way to go before it finally hits your taste buds. After simmering and then baking, you don't want to end up with sauce that is too thick.
My favorite sauce is made from 48 ounces of plain tomato sauce, 12 ounces of tomato paste, and I add enough water to make it thick soup. Feel free to add any or all of the following: onion, green pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary, thyme, marjoram, sage, salt, pepper, sugar, and anything else that you'd like to try. Season it to taste, just remember, don't over season. You don't want the spices to overwhelm the delicate tastes of the cheeses. Also, the longer the spices sit in the sauce the stronger they will taste. It is much easier to add a little spice, than to try to take some out.
In a little olive oil, fry one pound of lean ground beef, mixed with either one pound of sweet Italian sausage or one pound of country-style sausage. Keep it as fine a grind as you can so the flavor spreads throughout. Add this to your sauce and continue to cook it on very low heat.
Next, cook the lasagna noodles in boiling water for about nine minutes. You may add a little olive oil to the water to keep the noodles from sticking together. If you can't fit all that you need in one pot, don't worry - cook them in batches.
When the noodles are slightly underdone, take them out of the boiling water and put them immediately in cold water to arrest the cooking process. Once they are cooled, lay them out on wax paper or such until you are ready to assemble your masterpiece.
Layer the sauce in the bottom of your pan. I usually use two special pans, but you can use any pan that you like, as long as it is at least three inches deep. Make sure that the sauce completely covers the bottom of the pan or your noodles and cheese may stick.
Next, add a single layer of noodles, slightly overlapping. If they don't fit exactly, feel free to cut or tear them. They should cover a single layer from edge to edge.
Spoon on another layer of your sauce mixture. This one shouldn't be as thick as your bottom level.
Next, you will add little marble-sized puffs of your ricotta cheese mixture [ricotta is most easily dispensed with a pastry bag - ed.], followed by a layer of shredded mozzarella cheese, a much smaller layer of provolone cheese, and a heavy sprinkling of a fine grated Parmesan / Romano mixture.
Continue adding ingredients - pasta, sauce and cheeses - until you have three layers. I do not recommend you exceed three layers or your lasagna may not cook all the way through. If your pan is not deep enough for at least three layers, then you are either making too thick of a layer or your pan is too shallow.
Cover your creation with foil and bake in a 350° F oven for about 45 minutes. Feel free to spray the inside of the foil with a vegetable spray to keep the cheese from sticking. Carefully remove the foil, then put the lasagna back in the oven for another 15 to 20 minutes. Watch closely to see that the top layer of cheese doesn't burn. It should be lightly browned and completely melted and bubbly. The internal temperature should be at least 180 degrees.
Let your gastronomical creation rest for several minutes before serving.
Lasagna can be as simple or as complex as you desire. Use lasagna as a rule for life: Experiment, learn and have fun. Remember, though, when you get too good, your brother-in-law will be asking you, "Hey, how about some of that world famous lasagna for the party tonight?"
Epicurean's Three Sauce Lasagna
The following recipe resulted from a case of serendipity, where various leftovers were combined into a new and surprising dish. For preparation and cooking follow Lasagna Bob's directions, as above, except that you will use a different sauce for each of the three layers. Start with the tomato sauce as outlined above, and sprinkle some oregano over the top (fresh is preferred, but dried will do). Next layer the pasta, followed by pesto (see instructions below), and sprinkle the pesto with whole pine nuts and four cheeses. Follow with another layer of pasta and top with pepperoncini sauce (as instructed below) and the four cheeses. The last layer of pasta is topped with tomato sauce and the four cheeses.
For the Pepperoncini Sauce:
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