I am going to go out on a limb and say that, if you are reading this post, you probably like lasagna. Maybe even love it and want to marry it. I have spent the cooking part of my life searching for the perfect lasagna recipe.
I think I found the perfect fried chicken recipe.
I know I found the perfect donut recipe.
But I was still searching for the perfect lasagna recipe. Have I found it? I am not quite sure.
There are some frozen lasagna out there that aren’t too hideous. But tastes change too. We used to love Stoffers frozen lasagna back in our early ‘salad years’. Then we found better and better lasagna and left that in the dust.
When I go out to eat, and we happen to get a lasagna, I will perform a dissection first, carefully peeling back layer upon layer of noodles to reveal its delicious stuffing’s.
Fillippis in San Diego was my first taste of jaw dropping lasagna. Theirs was different in that it was layer upon layer of cheese stuffed noodles, with a ‘mama mia!” sauce slathered over the top. I guess like a giant multi-layered cheese stuffed ravioli, covered in sauce.
Cortinas Italian Market and restaurant has amazing and wonderful lasagna, smothered in a delicious meat sauce.
I wanted mine to rival theirs.
Now, lets step into the way-back machine and step back several years ago. Hubby and I were in San Diego, and, while driving along, came upon a unique little book store. We stepped inside to pass the time, since we were early for…something. I wandered toward the cookbooks while he checked out books on sailing.
Thats where I found this interesting book called “Carmine’s family style cookbook. More than 100 classic Italian dishes to make at home” (whew). The picture of spaghetti and meatballs on the cover still makes me drool. I am currently drooling on the keyboard right now, with the book at my elbow. There is also a picture of a restaurant on the cover. It would seem Carmine’s is a famous Italian place in New York (and now in DC. as well.) All the pictures looked wonderful and I purchased the book.
I have never regretted it. Every recipe I have tried from that book has won me accolades. Whether it’s the “halibut with seafood risotto” which is actually halibut, shrimp and scallops with a white wine sauce, and risotto. Or steak with peppers and onions. What I really like about it is that each recipe teaches me some basic skill or recipe that I can use across the board with other recipes. Like the Carmine’s bread crumbs. Basic, but it has made all the difference in my meatballs!
Anyway, enough about the book review.
The things I learned about lasagna are this…
Are you ready?
First, make the sauce ahead of time. Like, days ahead of time. It needs to be cool or cold when assembling the lasagna. I never knew this! This one simple thing makes quite a difference in the ease of assembling. So lavage is not a last-minute decision, but must be planned ahead.
Make the noodles a bit ahead of time, rinsing with cool water and tossing with oil.
After baking the lasagna for an hour, let it sit an hour to settle. Who knew? That way it doesn’t slop around the pan and your plate when you go to serve it up.
Lastly, have some hot marinara sauce on the side to pour over it.
So, what happened when I went to assemble that turned it into lasagne-zilla?
I followed the instructions most carefully. I had everything ready to go, cool, mixed and so on.It called for an 8 x 11 pan, which just looked too small to me. So i used my Pyrex 9 x 13 pan. It didn’t look deep enough, but after rummaging around the pantry, garage and cupboards, I realized that I did not have anything deeper that wasn’t just too big.
Or oval. I did not want an oval lasagna.
But it should be alright, right?
I read the instructions and found it would have 5 layers. A meat sauce layer, a ricotta layer, meat sauce layer, another ricotta layer then the marinara layer. All these layers had some mozzarella and Parmesan as well.
I started building.
3 layers in it became apparent that this pan was NOT deep enough. So what to do? It’s not like I could unbuild it. And I had no deeper pan!
E gads! What’s an Italian mama to do?
Then a little voice whispered in my ear. Kind of Field of Dreams.
“Build up the pan with foil” it whispered to me.
“Build up the pan with foil”.
I kind of wish it has said something before I started building. But whatever.
I tore off some aluminum foil, folded it in half and proceeded to ‘tuck’ the foil strips around the edges. But the gooey lasagna did not want to give. Where I pulled away here, it slithered over there. It was like trying to put panty hose on an octopus. I finally took a bench scraper and used it to pull the noodles away from the edge. I pushed the foil down as well as I could and made a dam as it where all around the pan, raising the level of the pan.
It seemed to be working!
I put the whole baking dish on a baking sheet, (forgetting the parchment, oops) and popped it into the 400 degree oven.
It bubbled and cooked.
It grew and grew.
It reached up to just about the top of the foil!
Then I took it out and let it rest.
It settled. It shrunk, it toned down a bit.
And it was fabulous. When I pulled the foil away, there it was, at least an inch above the baking pan, sitting high and beautiful.
It was lasagna heaven! The best I’ve made yet. But not for the faint of heart. First, you had better get a freakishly deep pan to bake it in!
Then, allow yourself several days to leisurely prepare everything. Sauce one day. Ricotta another. I used Costco marinara sauce in jars, so that step was easy.
For those few of you who are not scared away, I will share the recipe in my next post. This one is too long already.
So good-bye for now.
Hasta la Vista.