WHO: Patty Ruppel, 58, of Largo, a substitute teacher and teacher's assistant at St. Patrick Catholic School and mother of four.
WHAT: Lasagna Roll-ups
ABOUT THE RECIPE: "I'd always wanted an authentic Italian sauce recipe," Ruppel said.
And then, about five years ago, her priest invited her to a dinner where he served lasagna roll-ups in a light Italian sauce. It was exactly what she had been looking for. Ruppel asked him for the recipe, and she has been making it ever since. "Everyone seems to love it," she said. "It's always been a big hit in our family."
The lasagna is a great dish for entertaining because it's both elegant and convenient.
"It looks pretty when you serve it because everyone gets their own individual rolls," Ruppel said. With sauce drizzled on the plate and a meatball on the side, it looks gourmet. Plus, it's perfect for company because you can make it ahead of time, she said.
Before guests come, Ruppel prepares the lasagna but doesn't bake it. Her 11-year-old Brittany spaniel pads into the kitchen and watches her as she stirs the sauce. "Spaghetti sauce is his favorite meal of all time, so any time we're using garlic or he smells tomato . . . he can't wait to be helping me in the kitchen," she says, laughing.
Once the lasagna is ready, she sticks it in the refrigerator, then pops it in the oven half an hour before it's time to serve. To save even more time, she sometimes freezes the meatballs a week in advance. She places them in the freezer to harden on a tray for 10 to 15 minutes, then bags them to be put back in the freezer.
TIPS: You can use about 10 fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes for the sauce. It gives it a lighter, fresher flavor, Ruppel said. The sauce can cook for five hours or even all day. "The more you cook tomato sauce, the thicker it gets," Ruppel said, so she suggests adding water to give it the consistency you like. Use a blender if you want a really thin sauce.
ON THE SIDE: "I usually serve it with homemade garlic bread and a nice, big tossed salad."
FAVORITE MEMORY IN THE KITCHEN: Ruppel said cooking is a way to bring people together — whether at gatherings of friends or at nightly family dinners. "Some of my best memories happened around the family dinner table," her daughter, Stephanie, said.
Growing up, Ruppel said she loved making homemade chicken noodle soup with her mom. They made everything from scratch — even the noodles!
Emily Young, Times correspondent
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