Inspired by My Father’s Lasagna
My Father was a great cook; he would create the most fabulous and at least to me, exotic dishes, like rice with octopus, fried squid, and homemade sausage. He would of course spend a week’s food budget on one meal, reminding me of Babette’s Feast. Also, I am afraid he would sort of leave the entire kitchen looking like a hurricane had passed through it, but oh my, what remarkable Potaje de Garbanzos he would create and his menudo, though not Mexican menudo, which I must confess is my favorite, was exquisite. He was a very bold and passionate man, including in the kitchen. His lasagna was decadent!
This is a very time intensive dish, but always worth the trouble. You should make this a day ahead if not two days ahead, so that you will have plenty of time to recover from the clean-up, and be able to sit and enjoy it with your company.
It is important to prepare all of your ingredients, and let the cooked elements cool, before you begin to assemble your lasagna. The first time I ate my father’s lasagna I was pleasantly surprised to find ham, between the layers of meat and cheese. I have made a few additions, including the vegetables, and find it is always a welcomed dish.
1 pound of ground Beef – browned
½ pound of ground Pork – browned – may be omitted
1 large Onion
Salt and Pepper
2 tablespoons of Garlic
3 tablespoons of Oregano
1 tablespoon of Marjoram
1 tablespoon of Fennel
1 teaspoon of Rosemary
1 large bell pepper – finely diced
2 stalks of Celery – diced by hand or sliced in the food processor
1 large Zucchini – diced by hand or shredded in the food processor
2 Carrots – diced by hand or shredded in the food processor
Olive Oil, as needed to sauté vegetables
12 Lasagna Noodles, cooked al dente
1 pound of Ricotta Cheese – drained
Fresh Basil, if you have it – about a ⅓ of a cup, if not 3 tablespoons added to meat
1 large Egg
1-2 cups of Mozzarella Cheese
½ pound of ham – sliced
Sautéed Spinach — drained
Boil noodles according to box, adding oil and salt to the water. Drain in a colander, being careful not to over cook the pasta, or to damage it during cooking and draining. Reserve three perfect noodles, without tears, for the top of your lasagna.
In a small bowl mix ricotta with egg, add a teaspoon of black pepper, and ½ a teaspoon of salt. If you are using fresh basil, you want to bruise it, by tearing it or chopping it, and putting it in the ricotta, if you are using dried basil, add it to the meat, after the vegetables are half way cooked. Set aside
In a large skillet, brown meat, add onions and garlic, cook for about three minutes, add the herbs, salt and pepper, and the vegetables, let it cook for about ten minutes, until the vegetables are tender.
Before you begin to assemble, you should have made a pot of marinara sauce, a pan of cooked meat with vegetables, a bowl with ricotta, a bowl with spinach, a dish of shredded mozzarella, béchamel sauce, sliced ham, and cooked noodles.
You start by ladling about a cup of sauce into a 9 ½ X 11 square baking dish. Lay down a layer of noodles, and then, using a spatula, spread a layer of ricotta. Add a layer of meat, then spinach, ham, more sauce, and then mozzarella, and top with another layer of noodles, repeat the process two more times. On the top layer, spread out remaining mozzarella, then marinara, and finally the béchamel, make sure to spread the sauce all the way to the ends, incasing the lasagna in a sauce.
At this point, you can cover it, with aluminum foil, and refrigerate to cook, another day. Or you can bake in a 350 degree oven, for about 30 – 45 minutes, so that everything heats through, and the cheese melts; but not so long that it dries out. I usually pull it out around 30 minutes, remove the foil and let the top brown. This is a very hearty dish, with wonderful flavors.
You can sprinkle a layer of parmesan cheese, if you like, but I do not think it needs it – also, some people include a layer of sliced boiled eggs, I do not, as Kate does not like boiled eggs. I love mushrooms, and would add sautéed mushrooms, cooked according to side dishes, but Kate does like them, so I omit them.