Monday, March 22, 2010

Lasagna and Lemon Parsley Bruschetta

Is there any food more comforting than lasagna? Layers of pasta, mounds of meaty tomato sauce and gooey melted cheese, all in one lovely dish. Yum! Lasagna is a food that I always make without a recipe, and that's because making lasagna is an art, not a science. There are very few right or wrong ingredients, the technique is as elementary as building blocks, and the finished product is always a version of delicious.

Here's the philosophy- you have two things to prepare. #1- a meaty tomato sauce; and #2- the ricotta mixture. After that it's just cheese, noodles and layering! And don't hesitate to add any extra ingredients you have laying around.  Goat cheese? Add it to the ricotta mixture. Love veggies? Add a green pepper, zucchini and/or mushrooms to the tomato sauce. Love meat? Add as many varieties as you have on hand. Anyone can make this classic dish. Here is my no-fail technique. Enjoy!

Classic Lasagna
Meaty, cheesy, delicious. Sold! 
Serves 4-6

Meaty tomato sauce:
1/2 lb. spicy Italian sausage
1/4 lb. lean ground beef
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, diced
2 T. tomato paste
1 T. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
Kosher salt and pepper
Optional: Green pepper, zucchini, mushrooms, rosemary

Ricotta mixture:
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, beaten
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped
Kosher salt and pepper
Optional: 4 ounces goat cheese

Other ingredients:
1/2 lb. lasagna noodles (no bake or, if using regular, boil until pliable)
1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Extra Parmesan Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

To prepare meaty tomato sauce: Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and a pinch of salt (and any optional veggies) and saute for 3-4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Push to the side and add meat to the center. Break up with wooden spoon and stir as it begins to brown. Once lightly browned mix everything in pan together. Stir in tomato paste and oregano until combined. Reduce heat to medium and add the can of crushed tomatoes, a pinch of salt and some pepper. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until sauce is thickened. Remove from heat.

To prepare ricotta mixture: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well. Set aside.

To assemble lasagna: Put a spoonful of meaty tomato sauce on bottom of 8x8 dish. Add a layer of pasta using 3 or 4 lasagna noodles. Spread 1/3 of ricotta mixture on top of noodles, then top with 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Then add enough meaty tomato sauce to saturate. Repeat process with noodles, ricotta, mozzarella and sauce twice more. To finish it off top meaty tomato sauce with shredded mozzarella and some extra Parmesan cheese.

Bake in oven for 30 minutes. Let set for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Lemon Parsley Bruschetta
The light lemon flavor perfectly complements the hearty lasagna. 

Italian or French bread, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
Equal parts lemon juice and olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix equal parts lemon juice and olive oil in a bowl. Brush onto bread. Sprinkle with kosher salt and add half of the chopped parsley. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove and add the remainder of the parsley. Serve.

Wine of the Night: 
Imagery Estate Winery
2006 Pallas
Sonoma Valley

Kevin and I received this bottle as part of our Cosentino Wine Club shipment. At $75 it is a special occasion wine, but we opened it without anything to celebrate. It was a Saturday night, and we figured going out for a nice Italian dinner with wine would cost even more, so in fact we were saving money! Gotta love the logic. :)

This estate blend has structured flavors of dark cherry, with notes of cocoa, herbs, and sweet earth. Fully integrated tannins give way to a long, balanced finish. The 2006 vintage of Pallas is made up of 46% Malbec and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 14% Merlot.

I found it light and fruity on the nose, almost mild enough to pass for a Pinot Noir. But then I tasted it, and that gorgeous California Cabernet jumped out and popped me. With the merlot and malbec combo it was perfectly drinkable even without food. But with food? Glorious. It's so fun to be part of a wine club and get to try new and different wines!

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