Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Lasagna and Green Peas

As a little girl I looked forward to lasagna night. This usually occurred on a night when my dad was in charge of making dinner because mom was out. The lasagna of choice was Stouffers and we always had green peas to go with it. My dad's businss was frozen vegetables and he was adament that the peas be just warmed until they were hot, not over-cooked, because, said he, they had already been subjected to heat in the processing and peas are very tender things. One of his pet peeves, yes, but I am glad that he passed on his expertise to me. For great, tender, fresh-tasting peas, empty the frozen peas in a saucepan and barely cover with water. Cook over high heat until the peas are just hot and remove immediately from the heat. This takes mere minutes. I love the sweetness of the peas with lasagna's savory nature.

I tried this recipe in the slow cooker today because I did not want to use the oven in this heat. The slow cooker retained too much water in the finished lasagna. I should have tried to skim the liquid off of the red sauce and perhaps even strain the cheese a little. Or maybe it would have worked better to have used traditional lasagna noodles rather than the thinner no-boil variety. At any rate the slow cooker is promising but I have bugs to work out before making a confident recommendation.

1 lb Italian sausage
1 large or 2 small/medium onions, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 shallot, minced (nice but optional)
½ cup water
1 Tbsp grape juice concentrate
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 tsp fennel, crushed
½ tsp red pepper flakes, crushed
1 bay leaf
2 tsp Italian herb seasoning
1 tsp salt
16 oz (?) shredded mozzarella or Italian cheese blend
32 oz ricotta or cottage cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated parmasean cheese
1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ tsp garlic salt
2 9 oz packages of no-boil lasagna noodles

Brown the sausage in a Dutch oven that has been lightly coated with cooking spray over medium heat, stirring often to prevent sticking. Remove the sausage and add the onions, garlic, and shallot if using. Increase the heat to medium high and cook until the onion is translucent and fragrant. While the onion is cooking combine the water, grape juice concentrate, and vinegar. Once the onion is finished pour the liquid into the hot pan over the heat and scrape the bottom to deglaze. Return the sausage to the pan and add the tomatoes, fennel, pepper, bay leaf, Italian seasoning, and salt. Allow this mixture to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour.

Preheat the oven to 425-degrees. Combine the ricotta, eggs, parmasean, parsley, and garlic salt and set aside. Lightly spray two 8-inch square baking dishes with cooking spray. Place approximately ½ cup of sauce in the bottom of each baking dish and layer two noodles on the top of this. Spread ½ cup of ricotta mixture on top of the noodles and top with a cup of sauce and a sprinkling of cheese. Repeat this process four more times and end with a layer of noodles, sauce, and cheese. Cover the baking dishes with foil and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes and allow to cool before freezing or serve after the lasagna sets for about ten minutes.

VEGAN NOTES: Use marinaded, roasted tempeh in place of the sausage. Simmer a block of tempeh in boiling water for 10 minutes. Remove and crumble when it is just cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, make a marinade of 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 2 tsp liquid smoke, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds, and 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes. Toss this with the warm crumbled tempeh and allow it to marinade for at least 15-30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees and spread the tempeh crumbles on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast until the tempeh is crispy. Make your own ricotta with soy milk in lieu of the ricotta called for above. Use 1 gallon of soy milk and bring to a simmer over moderate heat with 1 tsp salt. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the juice of two small lemons. Continue to stir until curds separate from the whey, which looks clear and liquidy. Strain through a cheesecloth or muslin dishtowel lined sieve and allow the milk to drain for an hour. Discard the whey. Use 2 tsp corn starch in lieu of the eggs. Omit the parmesan and mozzarella cheeses rather than using icky cheese substitutes. Consider topping with oiled breadcrumbs, or breadcrumbs mixed with some nut cheese, and broiling them to approximate the toastiness of the cheese.

GLUTEN NOTES: Use alternative flour based lasagna noodles.

© Katherine C. Otterstrom, June 2012

1 comment:

  1. My helpful friend Cristie reminded me that Worcestershire sauce is indeed not vegan. It's amazing where those flavorful little anchovies sneek in. Use 2 Tbsp soy sauce, rather than one and omit the Worcestershire. Thanks Cristie!