Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Veggie Lasagna with Creamy Sauce

hi there.

sometimes you get all the way to layering your lasagna in the pan and realize you have no noodles.  luckily sous chef Brian can stop on his way home from school, but that means dinner is late.

I make a few lasagnas and I'm sure I'll get around to posting some of the less traditional ones, but this one is pretty direct - noodles, filling, and creamy sauce.  Creamy sauce is about making a bechamel, adding parmesan and mixing it in with your regular sauce.  Let's start with the bechamel, because that's scary.

I should make an actual rule against making french sauces when I'm home alone.  You're stirring constantly for 10 minutes and can't do anything else.  It makes me panicky.  But it's worth it - promise.

You'll find better instructions on making bechamel elsewhere.  Just google it.  But this is one of those things that's like baking - you can't fuck around with the measurements unless you know what you're doing (and I sure as hell don't).  So it's one tablespoon each of flour (white) and butter (for real) to each half cup of warm milk.  For me, that's two tablespoons of flour and butter and a cup of milk.  Then you can add other stuff, classically it's nutmeg and pepper, for me it's parmesan and garlic and pepper.

Put your stuff out in advance - seriously, this is science.

i know i just said the other day i don't do mise en place, but this is a fairly serious sauce
Melt your butter

and when it's good and liquidy add your flour.  Now stir and don't stop.  Stir like crazy.  Break up your flour (a lot) and keep stirring. You'll get a liquid soon enough. 

4-5 minutes of this, it turns golden.  Mine actually went past golden, but it's still delicious. They call this white sauce, I'll call it tan.  I use the microwave to warm my milk, because I don't want to wash another pan.  

maybe stop before it gets this dark
Add milk. Stir!  Bring it to a boil and then back down to a simmer.  Keep stirring.  Add two cloves of garlic.  Keep going.   7-10 minutes.   When it's a nice sauce - like your spatula clears a good path on the bottom of the pan and then that path refills pretty quickly, you're done.  Add in your parmesan and pepper.  Whew!  Set that aside.  It'll thicken, and if it gets too thick, warm it back up (AND STIR).

This is not my post on how to make red sauce, seriously, pull out whatcha got in the freezer or a jar of something.  I had to make my own, because long before I realized I was out of lasagna noodles, I realized I was out of red sauce.  I make a sauce that takes hours and is complicated with layers of flavor, and I make quick sauces of fresh tomatoes and herbs and such, but in a pinch with a can of diced tomatoes on hand, I add that to some veggie stock (I live on this) and a splash of red wine and some sugar and onions and spices and such.  Make the sauce how you like it (or open a jar).

Add in your bechamel, which isn't really bechamel, because of the cheese and all.  Stir a bit. Simmer on low until you're ready.

some people might call this pink sauce, i call it orange
Preheat to 350.

Now for the filling - ricotta, veg, mozzarella, herbs and spices, and more parmesan if you're up for it.  I defrosted a bowl full (cup and half?) of spinach, grated a zucchini, diced an onion, grated a few baby carrots, and thought I was slick, what with the grater and all, and tried to grate a bell pepper.  I don't recommend that.  Just cut it up small.

When I used to cook my noodles in advance, I'd dry out my filling - spinach in the salad spinner, then between towels, etc. With dry noodles, you need a little extra wet, so just gently squeeze out the spinach and keep the moisture in the rest of the veg.

maybe peppers can't be shredded.  who knew?

Get the ricotta

and add it to your veg.

Season it up - I did oregano, red pepper, garlic powder, black pepper.

And mix it together.

Now it's time to make some decisions about cheeses. I went for it. This isn't a "layer of filling" "layer of cheese" "layer of sauce" "layer of filling" lasagna, at least not for me, so I put the cheese into the mix. I had this hunk of fresh mozzarella that I needed to use up, so I put that in.

i tore it into bits, i didn't just drop it in and hope for the best
And I shredded up the end of my parmesan.

i save parm rinds, and use them to make sauces and stocks and things richer.  it's awesome.  throw it in the freezer until you're ready.
Cheese is delicious, cheese is not health food. What else did you eat today? Do your own math on the cheese.

Stir it all together. Don't add an egg. Why are you adding an egg? Don't do that. Leave out the egg and you can taste it to be sure, add in an egg and tasting it means food poisoning roulette. Taste it. Is it good? If not, fix it. It's fine without the egg.

Now make a lasagna out of it. Sous chef Brian got home just in time with some noodles.

Spread a translucent thin layer of your creamy red sauce onto the bottom of your pan.

Add noodles.

Then another thin layer of sauce.

This is gonna get tedious for me to write and you to read. Do this - sauce, noodles, sauce, filling, noodles, sauce, noodles, sauce, noodles, sauce, mozzarella.

try not to get it everywhere

Top with mozzarella and put it in the oven at 350 for 40 minutes, covered in foil.  After a while (more than 30 minutes?) take off the foil and leave the cheese exposed.  Leave it in there another 5-10 (totalling about 40 here) until it's all golden and lovely on top.  

Let it sit 5 minutes.  Longer if you can take it and it's not already almost 10 pm.  Let it set.

Once dinner is over, I cut it into individual servings and freeze it that way - instant lunch. 

Honestly, it needed more sauce.  Out of the pan the sauce was ridiculous, velvety and rich, just cheesy enough, but it got a little lost with all the flavors, so I'd add 50% more sauce.  Recognize that you're making 12 servings here.

Simplified and Idealized Recipe

Red sauce - yours, someone else's, whatever, like a jar and half worth
3 Tablespoons of butter
3 Tablespoons of flour
1.5 cups warm milk
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup parmsean, grated
Make bechamel - add garlic and parm, mix with red sauce

One tub of ricotta
One zucchini, grated
One bell pepper (cut it, don't grate it)
Half an onion, diced
A carrot or two, grated
Spices - red pepper, garlic, basil, oregano, black pepper
Optional cheese - mozzarella, parm - maybe a quarter cup each

Make it all into a lasagna.  Top with mozz.  
350 for 35 minutes covered, then like 5 uncovered.  Let sit a few.

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