Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lasagna ... Layers of Goodness

With the success of making mozzarella, I've been planning on making some lasagna.  I kept putting it off.  Oven problems, health issues, and just plain being worn out.  I had one excuse after another.

Today, I just decided to do it.  No shortcuts, end-to-end.  I haven't had lasagna, good lasagna for a long, long time.  I had some locally, but it was short on meat, short on sauce, and the noodles were starchy and cooked no dente (no tooth).  Cream cheese was used instead of Ricotta.  Can't blame the restaurant much for that, since Ricotta isn't available on this island.

Normally, I hate to compromise.  But, in the face of no choice, I backed down.  I, too, would use cream cheese instead of Ricotta.  I just didn't have time today to make fresh Ricotta.  Not only did I not have time, I hadn't done it before.

Sorry about the lack of pictures.  We were rushed.  It's a holiday weekend here (All Souls Day and All Saints Day).  The kitchen was just a bit chaotic ... kind of like the Titanic was just a bit of a disaster.

Noodle Ingredients
  • 500 grams flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Noodle Procedure

I put all the ingredients into my stand mixer.  Using the bread hook, I let the mixer run on medium for about five minutes to mix everything and knead for a bit.  Scraping down the sides as needed.

I let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.  Then, turned the mixer back onto medium for about 10 minutes.  Again, long kneading.  Let the machine do it so I don't have to.

Meat Sauce Ingredients
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup diced onions
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 kilogram browned ground beef
  • 150 grams browned Italian sausage
  • 1 kilogram tomato sauce
  • 150 grams tomato paste
  • 1 cup beef stock (made from bouillon)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
Meat Sauce Procedure

I browned the ground beef and Italian sausage.  Draining off all the fat.

Then, in stew pot, I heated up the olive oil.  Once that got nice and toasty, I added the onion, celery, and garlic.  Let those cook for a bit.

After a few minutes, I added all of the remaining ingredients and let it all simmer for about 10 minutes.  Normally, I'd let it simmer longer, but this sauce was intended for lasagna.  It would get another cooking in the oven.  Had the sauce been for spaghetti, I would simmer it for 60 minutes.

Lasagna Ingredients
  • 250 grams grated Parmesan
  • 225 grams cream cheese
  • 500 grams grated mozzarella
  • Noodles
  • Meat Sauce
Lasagna Procedure

I took two 9" x 13" Pyrex baking dishes.  Scoop a thin layer of sauce into the bottom of each.  Then, I put a layer of noodles across the top.

On the noodles, I put a bit of the mozzarella and Parmesan.  I split the entirety of the cream cheese between the two dishes ... spreading it out as best as I could.  On top of the cheeses, I put another layer of noodles.

Then, I put down another layer of sauce.  Most of the rest of the sauce this time.  And, again, another layer of noodles.

Finally, I put the rest of the sauce on top.  Followed by the remaining mozzarella.  Finally, the remaining Parmesan.

Into a 350F (175C) oven for 35 minutes (turning the dishes, front-to-back, right-to-left at the 20-minute mark) ... and out comes cheesy, meaty, life-shortening ambrosia.

I let it sit for about 10 minutes before we dug in.  The locals were brutal, savage, and quick with their consumption of their meal.  Smiles all around.

Test Results

Here are the samples packaged and ready to go out to the test groups:

Primary Test Group: Universally loved. Everyone ate it quickly, even my son ... who is picky, picky, picky.

Test Group C: Mmm ... good!

Test Group M: Very good!

Potential Improvements

I made this using cream cheese instead of Ricotta.  While everyone liked it, I could taste and feel the slight wrongness about this substitution.

Only issue, and this should come as no surprise, Ricotta is not available for sale here on Leyte.  Going to have to make it.


I am really thrilled with how this turned out.  My quest to be able to make world cuisine here on Leyte is beginning to come together.

Lasagna, as I like to make it, is noodles, meat sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, and Ricotta.  The meat sauce contains Italian sausage.  I want to produce everything from scratch.  Well, as much as possible .. I don't see myself making Parmesan anytime soon.

As I noted, Ricotta needs to be made.  Besides the Ricotta and Parmesan, I'm making everything else from scratch (if I'm being a total purist, I need to replace the tomato sauce and tomato paste with raw ingredients ... I'm not there yet).

All that said ... eating a decent lasagna for the first time in 18 months?  So great!


n.o.e said...

Oh, that lasagna looks so good! Congrats on working out the details. The ricotta wouldn't be much of an issue around here because none of us really likes it in lasagna. I know you'll conquer it also, though.

James said...

Thanks, Nancy!

Coincidentally, tomorrow I'm driving across the island (about 100km) to purchase 100 liters of cow's milk. So, the cheesemaking will resume!