I am anticipating some special guests at my home tomorrow, so in addition to beautifying the home today (and by that I mean getting rid of all those cobwebs which must be made by stealthy ninja spiders as I never see them) I will be making lasagna.
My parents made lasagna once a year because it was such a Herculean task. All the ingredients need to be assembled: the requisite amounts of canned tomato puree, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste; onions, garlic, basil, oregano; mozzarella, ricotta, locatelli; ground beef, sweet sausage, and noodles. They usually did it over New Year’s so they had unhurried time to cook it at a non-frenetic pace.
Sauce is first. This sauce was not to be confused with our regular tomato sauce, which had the meatballs and sausage added for the final two-to-three hour simmer; this is plain sauce used as the glue for the layers. Honestly, they taste exactly the same to me but my folks knew the difference in their sleep. Since we weren’t browning meatballs in the 12-quart sauce pot first, the onions and garlic needed to saute in plain old olive oil. Why not brown the ground beef in the sauce pot first I hear you reasonably asking? Because that’s not how my parents did it, that’s why. That got crumbled and browned on its own so all the grease could be drained off and held off to the side. Likewise the sausage, except they used to buy the sweet sausage links, cook them, then open the casings and crumble the sausage. Now I go to the butcher and ask for sausage with the casings removed. For some weird reason, you cannot buy loose sausage around here, maybe there are laws against it. (Heh heh, loose sausage.)
So now we’ve got sauce simmering, loose sausage all browned up and hopefully learned a bit about morals, the ground beef nicely browned and drained. The mozzarella needs to be shredded, except that I don’t do that, either. I do slices in the middle layers and shredded on the top where my folks did all shredded all the time. Hubby prefers thicker layers of melty stringy cheese and who am I to argue against that? It might become my new religion if I believed in religion. The ricotta needs to be salted and an egg or two mixed into it. Why I don’t know for sure, unless the egg helps it to be firmer and not oozy. (Lasagna is full of technical terms.)
And the noodles. Such a source of controversy! Get the regular noodles that require boiling first, and layer them in the pan and weep when they rip apart? Or get the no-boil noodles and wonder how much authentic pasta you’re actually getting? I’ve done both. I love the ease of the no-boil but I like the taste and appearance of the regular. I think I’ll play a game at the supermarket today and do eenie-meenie-minie-mo; I like adventure in my life.
There were great discussions, revisions, debates, and controversy surrounding the assembly of the lasagna proper. In my parents’ battered old recipe book, I believe there are four separate pages scattered about that say “THIS is the one!” and I have no idea which is really the one. About the only thing they all share in common is the fact you put a little sauce in the pan first, then the first layer of noodles. The sauce keeps the noodles moist and tasty and doesn’t cement the noodles to the bottom of the pan. After that, it seemed the proper ratio of cheese/meat/noodle for each bite was paramount and needed experiementation. This normally resulted in a lasagna that was about three feet high which no human mouth could put into one bite so you ended up with a fallen tower of meat/cheese/noodle and ate it how you wanted, anyway.
Sauce, noodle, sauce, meat, sauce, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, sauce, ricotta, noodle, sauce, sausage, sauce, noodle, mozzarella, locatelli.
Sauce, noodle, meat, mozzarella, sauce, noodle, ricotta, sauce, sausage, sauce, noodle, mozzarella, locatelli.
Sauce, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, noodle, sauce, meat, sausage, noodle, sauce, ricotta, noodle, sauce, mozzarella, locatelli.
(If you type “sauce” as frequently as I just did, you start to pronounce it “saw-yoos” in your head. You also start to spell it “sause” because of typing “sausage” frequently. My fun tip of the day for you.)
Either they were in search of the definitive lasagna recipe or they had extremely dull lives and created this controversy to spice up their lives a bit. I suspect a little of both.
So after it stops snowing today I shall buy what I need and spend a lovely, messy time in the kitchen having an internal dialogue with my parents and imagining the discussions we’d have over what goes where. I shall prepare it in the enamel pan my father swore was the only decent lasagna pan ever made, and I’ll heat it tomorrow and serve it to my guests with a decent Cabernet and a romaine salad. And my parents will be there, if only in my memories because that’s what family food does for us.
My father was not Tommy Lee Jones, but he used to look at me over the top of his glasses when I was being particularly sarcastic. I choose to believe it was pride.