Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lasagna for a friend

This is one of Richard's favorite meals, and the meal I bring when friends have a baby. I have experimented a lot with lasagna and finally figured out my perfect layering order for a hearty lasagna. It doesn't stay together very well, but I claim that it is super yummy no matter what it looks like.

Kristy's Super Yummy Lasagna.

Jar of good spagetti sauce (Muir Glen Cabrenet Marinara is my fav.)
15oz Can of tomato sauce
Small can tomato paste
Noodles (I used to get the no boil kind but lately I get DeBoles)
1 lb ground beef (I like Local, organic, grass fed. Ground turkey or crumbles work too.)
Mushrooms-slice em up (I mix porabella and button or whatever is available)
Dried basil, parsley & Rosemary
2/3 container of ricotta
Mixed Italian cheese bag (pre-grated multi cheese goodness)
1 large egg or 2 small eggs
Green bell pepper
Fresh parmesan when serving

Mise En Place
Boil the noodles. I never use a whole box and they only take a few minutes to get al dente so I do ~6 noodles at a time in a huge pot so they have room to boil. When they come out lay them out flat on a clean cloth so they don't stick together.

Brown the meat and add a touch of worstershire, sauce, some basil, parsley & Rosemary. Push the meat to the side and add the sliced mushrooms so they touch the pan. I do this so that they get caramelized and not just soaking in meat sauce. Then they cook down a bit then mix it all together. For veggie friends I do the same but with just shrooms.

The following can be done while you are cooking the meat and noodles. (or before hand, intermittently over a 3 hour period of entertaining a toddler if you are me)

in a medium bowl mix 1/3 container of ricotta (you'll see why its important to save some later) 2/3 bag of mixed italian cheese and egg.

Wash and chop spinach. Dice the bell pepper and a a couple cloves of garlic. put all these ingredients together in a big bowl.

Use a veggie peeler to make ribbons of carrots. (I've been using veggie peeler for cheese on salads too.)

Time to Layer!

  • Put a bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  • add noodles the length of the pan
  • using a mini spatula, paint the noodles with the paste! (This is my special secret* technique that I think helps the lasagna be extra rich and hearty)
  • Add the meat mixture - or just mushrooms
  • noodles width ways - you may need to cut them to fit
  • paint the noodles
  • put ricotta mixture and smooth it out.
  • add the spinach mixture and squish it down by pressing.
  • Pour a bunch of your favorite sauce on top. the spinach will keep the cheese from becoming a saucy mess, and do it before the carrots or the sauce will just go off the sides.
  • place the carrots 1 layer thick on top of spinach and sauce in pretty rows like they are noodles.
  • put a little more sauce
  • noodles length ways
  • paint with paste
  • put the rest of the bag of cheese on top of the whole thing.
  • put tinfoil on the top. don't press down too hard or the cheese will stick a little.

When I am giving this meal to someone I put it in the fridge now. This way I can make 2 in the beginning of the day, deliver one and the recipient can cook it when they want & I put mine in the oven when we are ready to.

  • Put it in a preheated oven @ 350 covered for 45 min. bake uncovered for 15 min to get the cheese gooey and crispy.

let it cool, and enjoy for a couple days.

What do you do with the leftover ricotta? 
Make chocolate ricotta pie!

*This is not a healthy recipe, it is a version of chocolate cheesecake. I repeat, not very healthy...but sooo good.

I saw Giada De Laurentiis make this pie on the foodnetwork christmas special. The first time I made it, for Christmas dessert, I pretty much followed the recipe forgoing the hazelnuts because I didn't have them. It is an incredibly rich pie. This last time I made the pie I tried to make it less rich by using milk and dark chocolate bars instead of semi sweet and added a touch of cream as the chocolate melted. For the crust I used Annies Chocolate Bunnies, following my grandma's graham cracker crust recipe. I also had a bit less ricotta then called for so added the difference in more cream cheese. The result was a creamier pie with lighter chocolate flavor and a killer crust!
I do like the way it turns out with the called for amount of ricotta, it is airier and has more texture than a cheese cake.

Here is Giada's recipe with my noted changes.

Giada's Cornmeal crust

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup skinned, toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
For the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor combine the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, cornmeal, salt, and 1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, and pulse to grind. Add the butter and pulse, just until the mixture forms a dough. Press the dough over the bottom and about 2 inches up the sides of an 11-inch diameter tart pan with a removable bottom. Refrigerate until the dough is firm, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Line the tart dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake the tart shell in the lower third of the oven until just set, about 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil and pie weights. Bake the shell again until golden, about 10 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and cool completely.

Chocolate Bunnie Crust

process 2 cups of bunnies. add 1/4 cup melted butter and 1/4 cup brown sugar. Pulse. Press into pie pan. Bake @ 350 ~10 min. 

Pie Filling:

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 1/3 cups) (milk chocolate and 70% dark)
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • (when using less ricotta I made sure to substitute with cream cheese so the cheese content stayed the same total amount.)
  • 1/3 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts ( I didn't use these)

For the pie filling:

  • Add the chocolate to a double boiler, over very softly simmering water and heat until melted. (I added 2 TBS of cream here)

  • Combine the water with the sugar in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool.

  • Add the ricotta cheese and cream cheese in a food processor and pulse until smooth.
  • Add the egg and egg yolks, 1 at a time, and process until smooth.
  • Add the melted chocolate and the sugar syrup and pulse until combined.
  • Pour the custard into the tart shell and bake @ 350 until the custard is just set, about 30 minutes.
  • Scatter the remaining 1/4 cup of chopped hazelnuts on top of the filling. (if you what)
  • Let the tart cool completely before serving. 
  • The tart can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 3 days. Return the tart to room temperature before serving.(its good cold too)
of course there is already a piece taken out - Do you really think I would wait till it cooled?!

Happy Cooking.

P.S. Friends that just had babies like chocolate ricotta pie too, so be nice and share.

*not so secret