It’s officially that time of year when we do not have time for anything but the task at hand. Things look real different these days regarding the holidays, but trying to conjure a magical spirit has still kept my husband and I busy.
We are buying presents, sending Christmas cards and generally attempting to get in a holiday mood despite the weirdness of 2020.
Food-wise, that means lots of comfort meals, and not a lot of time to make them. This is why a giant lasagna was in order recently. It’s a meal I typically associate with this time of year, probably inspired by my Italian background. A big, bubbling tray of is the way to go when you need something that will satisfy, fast.
Lasagna starts with the sauce, as do most Italian dishes. We do a pretty simple one of canned tomatoes (whole and crushed, for some variety in texture), onion, garlic and a ground meat. Beef usually does the trick. Ground pork would also be delicious, or a mixture of the two. Oh, or spicy Italian sausage. Can you tell I’m hungry?
You can make the sauce ahead of time and have it ready if you want, or you can make it while and keep it simmering on the stove while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
For the cheese, ricotta is a must, as is mozzarella for its melt factor. I love a bit of goat cheese in a lasagna, mixed right in with the ricotta mixture. And any hard, granular, grateable cheese is good to round it out: Parmesan, Pecorino, etc.
The meal needs something fresh but quick, so I like to chop up some kale, top it with chopped nuts and whatever fruit I have on hand (apples and grapes are a favorite) and dress it with a simple mix of lemon juice, olive oil and honey. Also, you must have bread on the table. I don’t make the rules. All the more sustenance to get you through the end of this bizarre year.
For the sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium white or yellow onions, finely diced
2 large cloves minced garlic
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1 pound ground beef or pork
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons tomato paste
For the lasagna:
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped fresh parsley, optional
1 pound mozzarella, grated
16 sheets lasagna noodles
Make the sauce: Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and minced garlic and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, until the onions are wilted. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Raise heat slightly, add the beef or pork and cook until meat is browned, about 15 minutes. Add the whole tomatoes into the pot, crushing them with your hands as you add. Add the can of crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and 1 cup lukewarm water. Stir, and simmer for 1 hour. If it’s too thick, add up to 1 cup more water.
Make the lasagna: Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, parsley if using and all but 1 cup of the mozzarella. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly.
Spoon a thick layer of sauce into the bottom of a 9-by-12-inch pan. Cover with a layer of noodles. Spoon more sauce on top, then add a third of the cheese mixture. Repeat for two more layers, using all the sauce and cheese. Top with a layer of noodles, and cover with the remaining sauce. Sprinkle reserved mozzarella evenly over the top. Bake 20 minutes, or until cheese on top is melted and slightly browned. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Source: Adapted from the New York Times