While I do not currently work outside of the home, I remember well the days not so long ago when I juggled the responsibilities of job and family. The worst of course was the years that I managed as a single mum; having to do it all…alone. There were some tricks I learned then. And the value of lasagne was one of those lessons.
The beauty of lasagne is multiple. First of all, it can be made on the weekend and stored in the refrigerator for up to three days before needed. The second reason to love this simple, but gourmet dish is that it is a great way to hide vegetables from those finicky eaters. If you chop them finely, you can get a full serving of vegetables in each slice; and your picky eater not even notice them. The other beauty of lasagne is that there are so many different variations on the basic dish that you can never tire of it. Of course, the hearty taste is another great reason to make this dish a staple of your menu choices.
In addition to being a regular feature of our family’s diet, I have also catered several events with variations of this dish. I always offer both a meat and vegetarian option. You can also make a great dish with chicken or even veal. I always get compliments on it and requests for the recipe. In the future, I can simply send them to this blog.
So what is my secret to this dish? It is simple. No, really it is simple.
Begin by spreading a can of chopped tomatoes along the bottom of your casserole dish. Then arrange a layer of UNCOOKED lasagne noodles on top of this. That’s right I said uncooked. By preparing this dish ahead of time, you eliminate the need to boil your noodles first. They will soften over time in the refrigerator. But if you are preparing this dish for immediate use then you will need to boil them until they are at least half cooked.
Now stir fry your vegetables in olive oil. Notice I did not give a specific list of ingredients in terms of vegetables to be added. That is because you can use whatever you have or whatever your family likes. Some common choices include onion, mushroom, zucchini (couchette), egg plant (aubergine), carrot, broccoli, and celery. You do not need to fully cook them, but they should be softened or what is commonly called sweating them. To this mixture, you can then add your hamburger (mince). Continue to cook until the meat is browned.
In a bowl combine a small package of cottage cheese and another of ricotta. Into this mixture grate a bit of parmesan cheese. You may also add a touch of mixed Italian spices if you desire.
Now we begin the layering process. On top of the bottom layer of noodles, spread a generous amount of spaghetti sauce (about a third of a large jar) and a third of the cheese mixture. Spread this evenly over the noodles and add a third of the meat and vegetables. Continue this layering until your noodles is gone or your dish is full. Make certain that the top layer is especially moist. Add a touch of water at the end if it looks too dry.
Now cover in foil and refrigerate overnight or for up to three days. When ready simply pop the covered casserole dish into the oven at 350°F, 250°C or 5 setting. Bake covered for forty-five minutes or until it is hot and bubbling. Then cover with grated cheese: cheddar, mozzarella or your favourite. Return to the oven for fifteen to twenty more minute or until the cheese is melted and golden.
As I said this dish offers almost limitless variety. In the UK, many people prefer béchamel sauce to the cheese mixture I use. You can also make it with just the vegetables or even with chicken. Spinach is another wonderful option. Get creative and use your imagination to feed you family a traditional favourite.