Sunday, February 10, 2008

La La La La Lasagna

Here's my recipe for lasagna, beloved food of Garfield, the Mafia, Weird Al Yankovic, my dogs, and me. The specimen here is standard issue vegan, with home-made tomato sauce and a tofu ricotta sprinkled with basil leaves. I was roasting eggplant slices for this one, but I forgot they were in the oven and ended up with blackish eggplant chips. Too bad. Other favorites for layering into lasagna are roasted red peppers, spinach pesto, veggie burger crumbles, and black olives. This one has about 6 ounces of sliced mushrooms too, come to think of it. Like pizza, lasagna ingredients are limited only by your imagination, and the size of the pan.
8 sheets lasagna noodles
Let's talk for a second about lasagna noodles. Some recipes, and brands of noodles, claim you don't have to cook them before assembling the lasagna. That very well might be true, but I've been burned a couple of times by this claim, and ended up with undercooked noodles in an otherwise good lasagna. Lasagna is too much work to be ruined by noodles that aren't done, so I recommend boiling the guys for about 10 minutes, regardless of what your recipe or noodle package tells you. They don't need to be completely soft, but tender enough that they cook completely while the lasagna is baking. That said:
1. Bring about two quarts of water to boil in a soup pot. Place lasagna noodles in boiling water for about ten minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water when they're done, just to make them easier and safer to handle - no steamed fingers. Some cooks will probably say that takes the starch off the noodles and whatnot, but this is my blog (and the people's blog, of course), so I'll cook my noodles how I like, thank you very much.
Tomato Sauce
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
1 tsp. dry basil
1 tsp. dry oregano
1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
salt to taste
olive oil
1. In a medium sized sauce pan, saute onions in a little olive oil over medium-high heat, until they just start to soften. Add garlic and spices, and saute for about a minute more - as always, be sure not to burn the garlic, which can derail the whole operation.
2. Add tomatoes and sugar, bring to a simmer, and continue at medium-low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Tofu-Basil Ricotta
1 12 oz. package firm tofu (not the silken kind)
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves, or a heaping tablespoon of dry basil
1/2 tsp. salt
1. While your tomato sauce is simmering, combine all of the above ingredients in a large bowl and mix with your hands, or a fork if you're into that. The idea is to get the tofu completely crumbled, but not pureed - don't put this in a blender to save time, please, because it kind of ruins the texture, which is meant to evoke ricotta cheese. (You can't see it, but I'm wagging my finger at you right now).
Building a Better Lasagna
1. OK, I think we have everything ready to go. The rest is easy, and you get the satisfaction of building something - a feeling that is sometimes evasive in cooking.
2. Spread just enough tomato sauce to cover the bottom of your baking dish. Place a layer of noodles (you may need to cut them to fit), a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of tofu ricotta, and a layer of whatever else you're using. Repeat with successive layers of noodles. The trick here is keeping an eye on your remaining ingredients and working your spatial estimation bone, so you don't end up running out of tomato sauce while you still have a ton of other ingredients to work in. Honestly, you're on your own at this point. All the best.
3. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. I usually cover the pan with aluminum foil at first, and remove the foil for the last 10 or 15 minutes.

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