I’ve not cooked a lasagna for a while, so I decided to concoct one at the farm this coming weekend. My granddaughters will be there and might find it fun to assemble the pasta dish. I still remember the order of the layers—I think. Let’s see, it’s noodles, ricotta cheese mixture, slices of Mozzarella, tomato-meat sauce. Repeat one more time. Yep, that’s it. Like riding a bike, some kitchen techniques you don’t forget.
A Little Help from My Friends
This week I was eating lunch downtown at Hiro’s Asian Kitchen along with my son and grandson. We were enjoying a vegetable curry and some pot stickers, as only Chef Bernie Lee can create. Also pausing for a bit of Bernie’s cuisine was my friend fashion designer Nina Ganci of Skiff International. Since Nina is of Sicilian heritage and was raised on The Hill, I took the opportunity to get her opinion on lasagna.
Lasagna Opinions Abound
For the meat layer of my lasagna, I usually combine half ground beef with sweet Italian sausage. Nina concurred with that combination and reminded me that I could get sausage with, or without, fennel at DiGregorio. Good idea.
Next we turned to the ricotta cheese. When I mentioned that I often insert part cottage cheese, she expressed shock. “When making a lasagna, never use the word cottage cheese! Only ricotta,” she cautioned. Hmm. . . I always felt that the layers spread better with a little cottage cheese included, but she insisted it was a no-no. We didn’t get to discuss the use of uncooked vs. cooked noodles, which is just as well, since I prefer the cooked—though I suspect she does, too.
Grandma Knows Best
As it turned out, our server got into the discussion, too. He made his grandmother’s recipe with a few embellishments of his own, he said, and it was THE BEST! Frankly, I have the same feeling about my own recipe, so I pulled up this copy on my iPhone. He looked at it approvingly and said it was very much like his grandmother’s version.
That might be because his grandmother and I are the same age. In our kitchen heyday, there was only one widely available lasagna recipe and that was in Better Homes and Gardens red and white checkered cookbook. In the 50s and 60s, you couldn’t walk into any supermarket and find no-cook noodles or sweet Italian sausage (with or without fennel), or ricotta. When cooking Italian foods back then, we settled for parsley flakes, dried basil and Parm in a cardboard cylinder rather than the fresh variety.
Keep with the Basics
Even today, Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond holds out for the old favorite recipe, because of its simplicity, goodness, and number of on-hand ingredients. Still, I’ll be using the fresh ingredients this weekend. And why not? I can get them easily. (For that same reason, I’ve pared down the contents of my kitchen cabinets and freezer. Why stock up when my closest grocery is three minutes away?)
It’ll be fun teaching my granddaughters how to layer a proper lasagna. . . noodles, ricotta, Mozzarella, meat sauce. Then cook it until you’re overcome by the aroma or neighbors start knocking on your door. A dish best enjoyed with friends and loved ones.