It’s funny how we get used to the effortlessness of maneuvering in our own kitchens. It’s so much easier to cook in my own domain, where my hand reaches out without thought, without even my even having to look really, to find the colander or the right knife, or a spice.
As I’ve mentioned, we spent Easter weekend in Long Beach on the Washington coast with friends. Michael and I had our own cute little funky beach cottage with a fireplace, a deck, and a kitchen. All of the required elements of a kitchen were technically there—sink, refrigerator, tiny stove, and a rudimentary supply of tableware, pots, and pans. We brought all of the food we expected to need with us from Seattle, and a few must-have kitchen tools like Pyrex lasagna pans and the corkscrew. But for the most part, we decided to be adventurous, to camp out, and use the kitchen items that were there. Items that we did not bring included, but were not limited to: Michael’s calphalon egg scrambling pan, good knives, big red wine glasses, salt and pepper, cloth napkins, and a microwave. Yes, we were roughing it, but it was fun. Michael called on long-buried Boy Scout skills to produce eggs and bacon under pioneer-type conditions. I managed to set off the smoke alarm while using the oven.
On Saturday afternoon, we assembled two lasagnas from our friend Rob’s recipe. We would take these over to the big townhouse our friends were staying in to bake them for dinner. One was a vegetarian lasagna with wild mushrooms, and the second one had a meat sauce and thinly sliced circles of Italian sausage. I was glad that Michael had made the marinara in advance, at home. I managed to soak the dried wild mushrooms, and to sauté the fresh mushrooms without too much difficulty. I was temporarily stumped by the instructions in the lasagna recipe to let the ricotta sit and warm up for a while. Nothing was going to warm up in our damp, frigid cottage kitchen. Finally, I was inspired to place the tubs of ricotta on an ottoman directly beneath the one wall heater in the living room and crank the heat up. Success! This was my first experience with no-boil lasagna noodles, and I was very impressed. It’s a lot easier to spread thick ricotta cheese evenly on a crisp, dry noodle than on a slippery freshly boiled one.
We wrapped the lasagnas with aluminum foil, donned our foul weather gear, and drove the 100 yards or so, through a monsoon-level deluge, to the big house. There, all was light and warmth, and kids running around, and music playing. We uncorked a few bottles of red wine and relaxed while the lasagnas cooked.
- 2 lbs. of whole milk ricotta (1 big 32 oz tub, in other words, none of that part skim bullshit)
- 1 lb of whole milk mozzarella (the fresher the better), thinly sliced. I usually cut it into 1/4ths before thinly slicing for reasons that will become apparent later on.
- 1 1/4 cups of nice import parmesan or pecorino or mix (you know cheeses)
- 1 box of no-boil lasagna noodles (not much overlapping with this, but it should be fine), or alternately, you can use fresh noodles. You’re basically making four layers of noodles in a 13×9 inch pan
- 1 metric ton of marinara
- Wild mushrooms, of whatever abundance you desire, cooked up like Jamie Oliver’s wild mushrooms for risotto. http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/risotto/grilled-mushroom-risotto
- (Alternately, you can make little meatballs of ground beef, and cut up some nice sausage for the layer and use a meat-based sauce in general)
Start with thin layer of sauce in the pan, then put a layer of noodles. For the no-boil noodle this meant about three sheets of noodles per layer. I do two horizontal noodles, one vertical per layer, and alternate the position of the vertical noodle for every other layer. An HTML geek would think in terms of ALIGN=LEFT or ALIGN=RIGHT, pretending the vertical layer was an image and the horizontal were text.
Put 1/ 4 of the ricotta on top of the noodles. This stuff doesn’t spread easily cold, so you might just leave it out for a little bit before starting this recipe. Then you put 1/4 of your wild mushrooms on top of the ricotta. On top of that, put your thinly sliced mozzarella such that you get nice coverage. It’ll melt into gaps, so don’t fret too much about it. Then put a cup of sauce on top of that. Then you put 1/4 cup of grated up parmesan on top of that.
Basically repeat that last paragraph 3 more times. Noodles, ricotta, mushrooms (or meat), mozzarella, sauce, parmesan.
On top of that last layer of sauce, you’re going to add one last layer of noodles, then another layer of sauce (a cup or so, like before), then add the last 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese to make the crust. If I have leftover parmesan, I sort of go to town on top, because you’re just making that nice crust of cheese, and is too much really too much?
Oven to 350, cook it for an hour and 10-30 minutes. You basically want cheese melted and slightly browned on top and sauce bubbling in the sides of the pan. Check on it as it’s cooking and if the cheese on top is browning too quick, then cover it up with aluminum foil. I’ve even used a meat thermometer before just to make sure it was hot in the middle.