I’ve been craving lasagna for a while and this weekend marked the perfect occasion: Rick & I celebrated our 73-day anniversary! We have officially been married longer than Kim Kardashian & Kris Humphries.
Okay, that wasn’t very nice.
Sorry Kim, of all people, I know things happen. People make mistakes. Not judging. Promise.
Anyway, I didn’t discover my passion for cooking & baking until a few years ago. People have actually asked me when and how I got started and I don’t have a concise answer. I’ve always loved to watch cooking shows on tv and I’ve never been afraid to go to town on whatever random stuff I might find in the pantry or fridge to create a meal for myself. I’ve never been one to eat for the sake of sustenance. I eat for pleasure. If I’m starving and the only thing available is an ordinary turkey sandwich, I’ll continue to starve.
Even if I don’t recall that one defining culinary moment, I do remember exactly when this lasagna first came into my life and that it was probably the catalyst for a serious shift in my desire to cook & entertain.
This is Linda’s Lasagna. Her recipe (which is a full letter-size page of prose, single-spaced, ten-point font) discloses up front that it is merely a “guideline,” and goes on to make dozens of suggestions for additions & modifications to the original ingredient list. This might have been the first time I received written permission to cook like I do. Free-form. Organically. A tad loosey-goosey on occasion. Only once or twice have I really botched a dish (don’t ever put crab and green peppers together, EVER, trust me).
But I still use this “recipe” for lasagna, and I stick more closely to it than many of the more structured recipes I use. Doesn’t that seem backwards?
I’ve only made this three or four times because it’s a little bit involved, but every time it has turned out wonderful and different than any lasagna I’ve had in restaurants or out of the freezer. It’s quite light on the sauce. The noodles are thicker and never mushy. The filling is rich, not too salty, not too sweet, not too herbaceous… It’s just perfect.
This time I used ground sirloin and baby portabella mushrooms. I also added a tiny shot of wine to the sauce. The “recipe” below is truly a guideline, but it was sooooo amazing I want to write it down exactly how I did it so I can try it again like this someday. I say, next time you have a couple hours to spare and something fabulous to celebrate, make this. You will not be disappointed.
Thank you, Linda, for your inspiration. Also, thank you for being so much more fun and down to earth than Martha Stewart and equally as talented in the kitchen!!! Oh, and for the recipe and the lovely baking dish, too ;-)
Sirloin & Portabella Lasagna
Lasagna noodles (half a box)
1 pound ground sirloin
1 pound sliced baby bellas
15 oz can Contadina Italian herb tomato sauce
dry red wine
1 cup low fat ricotta cheese
4 oz softened cream cheese (don’t use low fat)
1/2 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2-1/2 - 3 cups shredded Italian cheese
crushed red pepper flakes
course black pepper
Boil a huge pot of water. When boiling, add salt (at least a tablespoon, I use sea salt) & a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent the noodles from sticking together. Add 10-12 Lasagna noodles (you’ll likely only need 9, but I make extra in case some tear) and cook al dente according to package directions (I used the Meijer brand – not the “oven-ready” kind – and cooked them for 9 minutes). Stir a few times during cooking but be gentle.
As the water boils, sauté a pound of sliced baby bellas in a heavy-bottomed NON-non-stick skillet (in other words, a stick skillet – whatever, you know what I mean) in 1 T butter & 1 T olive oil (I used light olive oil because I don’t like the taste of mushrooms cooked in extra virgin) until brown. Season mushrooms with garlic powder, salt & black pepper.
Remove mushrooms from the pan & set aside. In the same pan, add another tablespoon of light olive oil & brown 1 pound ground sirloin. Season with salt, black pepper and a little crushed red pepper flake.
To the beef, add 1 can (15 oz) Contadina tomato sauce with Italian herbs and about an ounce of dry red wine (I used Gabbiano Chianti Classico, my favorite spicy red wine to serve with savory pasta dishes). Let the sauce come to a simmer, then turn off the heat.
When the lasagna noodles are done, drain in the pot and cool by filling & dumping cool water in the pan a few times.
You can do all this stuff at once, it’s fun – like a circus on your stove!
Preheat oven to 350.
Mix together cream cheese, ricotta cheese, parmesan cheese, one egg, garlic powder, salt & pepper.
In a lightly-greased baking dish, place one layer of noodles. It helps if they’re mostly dry. Layer on top of the noodles about half the cream cheese mixture. Add about a THIRD of the meat sauce (there will be leftover meat sauce – this is not a saucy dish) and then a third of the shredded cheese.
Add another layer of noodles, cream cheese, sauce & shredded cheese. Then another layer of noodles and more shredded cheese on top. Sprinkle lightly with fresh basil, red pepper flakes & dried oregano.
Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.
After taking it out of the oven LET IT REST for at least 15 minutes, and even longer if you can stand it. The more it firms up the prettier it is to serve. Conveniently enough, our garlic bread needed to bake for 10-12 minutes at 450, so that created perfect timing.
The salad I served with this was crazy good, too. Normally I’m not a fan of salad in general, but this was so great I’m actually going to post about it later this week.
This meal was out of this world! Don’t be intimidated by a multi-step dish like this. There’s nothing demanding about it if you give yourself an hour to prepare it and an hour to bake it. It is such a reward to serve your family something this beautiful and you won’t find a better lasagna in any restaurant.
NOW, Linda’s suggested additions & modifications:
Use half beef and half Italian sausage – Sweet and Hot, one link of each – just slice out of the casing & brown with the beef.
Substitute cottage cheese for ricotta – I thought I didn’t like ricotta but I was totally wrong – and add another egg to the mixture if you like it a little firmer.
Forego the mushrooms & add a layer of spinach instead.
Use different kinds of shredded cheese – she suggests mozzarella, provolone, munster and others.
Add a few bits of green or red bell pepper.
Feel free to use more sauce. (But I love it this way.)
If you don’t like oregano, use more basil. Fresh basil is best, but dried can suffice.
Double the recipe and make an extra pan to freeze for later (best suggestion YET!)