Although spaghetti — at least the way I make it — is my favorite Italian dish, I reserve lasagna for special occasions. This used to be because lasagna is (or was, rather) just so damn hard to make, with the boiling and separating of noodles on a limited stove-top, in a kitchen where the oven and sauce were going simultaneously, but these noodles changed all that. The “no boil” variety cuts out the hardest step of all, but lasagna is still a surprisingly expensive dish, given the ingredients. There’s the ricotta, as well 3 other kinds of cheeses, there’s the large amount of vegetable filling, there’s the search for good-quality meat, and unexpected things like nutmeg and lemon that might not always be on hand. On average, a large tray costs me roughly $35-$40, which, while still better than eating out, is still a splurge for me.
Anyway, the concept for lasagna is the same as for most of my pasta dishes. The emphasis is on 3 key ingredients: shiitake (thin variety, and fresh), basil, and tomatoes. After much trial and error, these are the 3 most complementary ingredients I’ve found, and although shiitake isn’t Italian, the ‘umami’ flavor of tomatoes certainly is, which shiitake merely amplifies, much more so than portabella or button mushrooms. More heads of garlic is better than less, black pepper is good, and bell peppers work quite well, staying firm, as they do, even with an hour in the oven. The real deviation is the cheese. Parmesan/romano is my usual staple, but for lasagna, I also bring in mozzarella and ricotta. The ricotta needs to be fluffed with lemon and lots of nutmeg, then set aside. This gives the pasta a taste that is almost sweet, at times, and unique among most pastas.
Recipe For Beef & Mushroom Lasagna:
- 1 can of Trader Joe’s basil marinara
- 2 boxes of DeLallo Whole Wheat Lasagna, no-boil
- 1 lb of grass-fed ground beef
- 1 lb of tomatoes, diced
- 1 lb of mixed bell peppers, diced
- 1 lb of ricotta
- 1 lb of onion, diced
- 3 heads of garlic, crushed
- 1/2 lb of mixed cooking leaves (spinach, chard, baby kale, etc.)
- 1/2 lb of fresh basil
- 1/2 lb of shiitake mushrooms, fresh, diced
- 1/2 lb of mozzarella
- 4 oz of parmesan/romano
- 1 lemon
- 2-3 tbsp of rice bran oil
- 2-3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- black pepper — more is good!
- 2-3 tsp nutmeg
- 1. Empty Trader Joe’s pasta sauce into a 5 or 6 quart pot, on medium heat.
- Slowly add in 1/2 the diced vegetables, basil, and cooking greens, then cover.
- After the leaves have cooked down some, add in final vegetables, with the garlic last. Order doesn’t really matter.
- Add rice bran oil, parmesan/romano cheese, pepper, and ground beef. Stir until well-mixed.
- As the sauce continues to cook for 15-20 minutes, covered, make the ricotta by squeezing out the juice of 1 lemon into the cheese, then mixing it all with 2-3 tsp of nutmeg.
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 F, and turn off the sauce.
- Layer lasagna thus: thin layer of sauce on bottom of a 9×13 baking dish, lasagna noodles, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, lasagna, ricotta, sauce, mozzarella, lasagna, remaining sauce.
- Cover in aluminum foil, then stick in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove, cool on stovetop for 15 mins.
- Remove foil, cut lasagna into plates, and top off with olive oil and more black pepper.