CHEESE LASAGNA – So Good, It’s Hard To Stop!!!

lasagna1 textLasagna is one of those dishes that’s good on many levels: it’s easy to put together, it’s a potluck favorite, it can be made ahead of time, and it’s fabulous leftover.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #1 – I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the marinara sauce can be doubled, tripled, or more, then frozen in portions for future use. I was recently able to extra-quickly make Cheese Lasagna because I already had some marinara in the freezer. However, try the sauce first before increasing the amount – to be sure you like it.

Queen Of Freeze Tip #2 – Save the extra tomato paste in mounds of 1 tablespoons on waxed paper, and place in freezer.  When frozen, store in freezer container for future use.

CHEESE LASAGNA – makes one 9″x13″ casserole

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp sugar
  • 1 onion (about 1½ cups), chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3/4 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 42 oz canned whole tomatoes (1 28 oz can, & 1  14 oz can)
  • 6 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, shredded, divided
  • 8 oz whole milk cottage cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 1/8 tsp cornstarch, divided
  • 14 curly edged dried lasagna noodles
  • 2 cups Italian Fontina cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped

To make the marinara, put the olive oil, sugar, onion, red pepper flakes, oregano, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large saucepan (so it doesn’t splatter).  Cook over medium heat for 5 minutes.lasagna prep8Remove and discard the stem ends, peels, and any imperfections from canned tomatoes. Pulse in food processor or chop by hand. Add to onion mixture along with tomato paste, and 1/2 cup Pecorino (1 1/4 oz). Bring to boil, then lower flame to keep a simmer for 20 minutes UNcovered.lasagna prep15Boil at least 4 cups of water. Place dried noodles in 9″x13″ casserole dish. When water is boiling, pour over noodles so they’re immersed. Gyrate them so they don’t stick. Let set 15 minutes to parcook.lasagna prep10While the noodles are softening and the sauce is cooking, mix together cottage cheese, 4 oz (1½ cups) Pecorino, cream, garlic, remaining 1/4 tsp salt, pepper, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Set aside.lasagna prep16When 15 minutes for the noodles is up, place them on tea towels in a single layer. Pat tops to dry. Cut 2 of them in half widthwise (so they’re each about 5″ long).  Empty and dry casserole dish.lasagna prep11Preheat oven to 375º Fahrenheit.

To assemble lasagna:

LAYER ONE: Spread 1½ cups marinara sauce on bottom. lasagna prep4Lay 3 long noodles, all touching the same short side of casserole. Take one of the short noodles and lay it along the opposite short side. (This will fill in the gap.) lasagna prep5Carefully spread half of the cottage cheese mixture over noodles. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep6LAYER TWO: Place 3 long noodles on top, this time touching the opposite short side. Take 1 short noodle and place it along the other short side of casserole. lasagna prep3Pour and spread 1½ cups sauce. Sprinkle on 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep13LAYER THREE: Place 3 long noodles on top, touching the same side as layer one, followed by (you guessed it) 1 short noodle on the opposite side. lasagna prep14Spread on the remaining cottage cheese mixture and sprinkle with 1/2 cup Fontina.lasagna prep2TOP LAYER: Place 3 long noodles touching the same side as layer two, and the remaining short piece on opposite side. lasagna prep7Pour on remaining marinara sauce. With your fingers, mix together the remaining 1/2 cup Fontina with 1/8 tsp cornstarch. Sprinkle on top of sauce. Finally, sprinkle on remaining Pecorino.lasagna prep17Cover with foil and bake at 375ºF for 35 minutes. Increase oven to 500ºF and remove foil. Bake 10 minutes more. Remove from oven and let lasagna rest on stovetop at least 20 minutes to set. Sprinkle on basil.lasagna prep1

 

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Italian Flag Lasagna: It’s Worth Saluting!

Italian Flag Lasagna

Italian Flag Lasagna

When one walks around with a surname like ‘Antonini’, there’s a certain expectation of Italian-ness. It probably comes from all the vowels. Even though there’s actually not a drop of Italian blood coursing through my veins (I married into the name), I have adopted some of the mannerisms:  talking with my hands, being emotional, and cooking lots of pasta.

The latter (cooking pasta) is what caused me to say, “hmmmm!” when I spied my friend Rose’s Facebook photo of the Italian Flag Lasagna she made. Rose is a fabulous cook so I always pay attention when she talks food.  Her dish had 6 layers:  green, white, red….green, white, red.

As cooks the world over know, we always feel obligated to tweak recipes and make them our own. So, of course, when I decided to pay homage to my husband’s people by making my version of Italian Flag Lasagna, that’s what I did with Rose’s recipe.

The first change was making the lasagna 3 thick layers of green, white, and red – so it’s more flag-like. Then I bulked up the green filling with broccoli and the red with fake ground beef, so the layers wouldn’t collapse. The white layer of ricotta, egg, and Romano cheese would be fine on it’s own.

By now you may know that I’m a wee bit picky (some might say ‘neurotic’) about what I feed my family.  I like to make as much from scratch as I can so I know what’s in our food. I’m also on the frugal side (some might say ‘cheap’) so cooking from scratch saves me money. Always a bonus!

That being said, doing everything yourself takes time. For my Italian Flag Lasagna, I made the pasta, pesto, marinara sauce, and bought fresh spinach that I washed, de-stemmed, and chopped in the food processor. Not gonna lie: it was work. But if you choose, you don’t have to do any of that. You can purchase lasagna noodles, pesto, frozen chopped spinach, and marinara sauce. While it’s probably tastier to make the spinach/pesto and marinara layers from scratch, the main feature of this recipe is that it looks like the Italian Flag – and you can still get the ‘wow’ factor from store-bought ingredients.

As the self-proclaimed Queen of Freeze, next time I prepare Italian Flag Lasagna, I’m going to make several batches of both the spinach/pesto and marinara fillings, then freeze them in portion sized containers. That way in future, all I’ll have to do is make the noodles and ricotta filling.

THIS IS IMPORTANT (you can tell because I used all caps):  For best results, make Italian Flag Lasagna the day before serving. After baking, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. The layers will then solidify. To serve, slice into serving sizes, and microwave until warm. If you don’t do this, the layers won’t be as pert, and you’ll lose the flag effect.

ITALIAN FLAG LASAGNA – makes a 10″ x 7″ x 2″ lasagna

Spinach/Pesto Filling

  • 9 cups packed fresh spinach (or 1¼ cups frozen chopped spinach)
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 1¾ cups broccoli, chopped and blanched
  • 2/3 cup pesto (recipe below)

Chop spinach in a food processor by pulsing several times, or use kitchen scissors.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add in spinach, salt, and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted and liquid is extracted. Turn off burner and tilt skillet, pushing the solids uphill so the liquid can drain. Mix together the drained spinach, broccoli, and pesto.

– Pesto – makes 2 cups (freeze what you don’t need!)

  • 5 cups fresh basil, pack down the basil when you measure
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 T lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1 cup + 2 T Romano cheese, shredded
  • ½ cup + 2 T pine nuts, toasted
  • Put all ingredients in a blender.  Depending on your blender, you will probably have to start and stop quite often in order to reposition the ingredients. Be very careful not to press down with an implement (such as a wooden spoon) while the blender is running. As tempting as it is, I’ve had to throw out a few batches of pesto when the wooden spoon went too far down and got caught in the blades. Wood chips in pesto = not good!

Ricotta Filling

  • 15 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  • ½ cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1 egg

Beat egg in a mixing bowl.  Stir in the ricotta and Romano.

Marinara Sauce

  • 4 cups Roma tomatoes, drained and chopped (I used canned, removing the stem end and any flaws)
  • ½ T olive oil
  • ½ cup onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 1¼ cups fake ground beef (I use Morningstar Griller Crumbles)

In a skillet heat olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until translucent.  Add in the tomatoes, oregano, and wine.  Bring to boil, then lower flame and simmer sauce uncovered until it thickens (about 20 minutes). Stir in the imitation ground beef and simmer another 5 minutes.

Cheeses

  • 1 cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1½ cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Noodles

NOTE:  If purchasing lasagna noodles, you’ll need 11 noodles.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ T olive oil
  • water, as needed

Into a food processor put the eggs, flour, and olive oil. Blend until most of the flour is incorporated. Add water one tablespoon at a time until you can form a ball with your hands, but dough is not wet. Roll dough into 8 balls, 2 of them should be about 2″ in diameter. Let rest in covered food processor 30 minutes.

Start boiling the water to cook the pasta. Run the two large dough balls through the pasta machine working your way to #5 setting.  They should be about 5″ wide and VERY long.  These pieces will form the bottom layer and will run up the sides.  The extra length is to wrap around the lasagna to form the top layer.

Assembly

Grease the sides of the lasagna pan. Spoon some of the liquid part of the marinara sauce onto the bottom of the pan and spread to cover. Boil one of the long pasta strips about 1 minute. Remove and drop into bowl of cold water. Put the other long strip into the boiling water. While that’s cooking, take the cooled strip and cover one side and half the bottom of the pan. Remove the other strip, put in cold water, and lay that one on the other side.

Spread the spinach/pesto filling evenly on the pasta. Top with ½ cup shredded Romano.

Prepare 2 more pasta balls. Roll them to #5, making them 3″ wide. Boil them together 1 minute, drop into cold water, and layer them on the spinach/pesto filling.

Spread the ricotta filling evenly on top.

Prepare 2 more pasta balls as above. Layer on top of ricotta filling.

Spread the marinara filling evenly on top. Top with the remaining ½ cup Romano.

If the bottom pasta strips are long enough that they can fully cover the marinara layer, you don’t need to use the last 2 pasta balls. Prepare them, if needed. Wrap the bottom strips around the marinara filling.

Sprinkle on the mozzarella cheese, cover with foil (making sure it doesn’t touch the cheese). Bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes, remove foil and bake 15 minutes longer.